Geeta Devi is relieved. Her three-year-old niece, Tanu, has fallen asleep after crying for hours.
“We fled our homes without taking anything with us. We had a little stock of food and milk which we have consumed. Tanu is hungry and has been crying for hours... she has just fallen asleep,” Geeta said.
The 20-year-old woman is among the 30 families of Suchetgarh Kulian village near the international border with Pakistan who have fled their homes and taken shelter in a community hall, some three kilometres away at the Kali Bari village in Samba sector.
Pakistani rangers have repeatedly shelled Suchetgarh Kulian village, just 400m off the Zero Line on the border, on Friday night.
“Some of the shells landed on our homes. We were too scared to venture out that night,” Balvinder Kumar said while showing exploded parts of a Pakistani shell with a POF (Pakistan Ordinance Factory) mark. “Our crops are ready for harvest. But we are afraid to go to the fields... Pakistan may target us again.”
All roads leading to the village are empty. Herds of cattle are lying unattended outside homes.
Some of the male members visit their homes during the day but rush to safer locations as dusk falls.
For the families of Suchetgarh Kulian it is reminiscent of 2002 when villagers were forced to migrate during Operation Parakram, which followed the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001.
Sardar Chand, 80, has seen almost five migrations since the 1971 war. And this time around he too has lost hope. “We migrated from Sham Judia during the 1971 war and lived in various temporary camps before moving to Suchetgarh Kulian. But this time things are bad. Our paddy crop is ready but nobody is ready to harvest it...,” he said.
Yashpal Kundal, MLA from Samba constituency, came down heavily on the government. “The entire village has shifted to a community hall. I have told villagers that one male member should stay at home to take care of cattle and see to it that houses are not looted. The administration has failed to come to their rescue. I arranged rice and other food stuff for them. The government is still sleeping.”
The Omar Abdullah government, however, does not want to call it a migration. RK Verma, district collector of Samba, said the firing is nothing new. “It is a routine matter. Women and children have shifted following heavy firing. Male members are still at home. People have shifted temporarily for a day or two till the problem subsides,” he said.