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June 2, 1999
Drass sees off bus-load of hope
Mukhtar Ahmad in Drass
The arrival of a state corporation bus in Drass was the only good news for the handful of residents who had been waiting for four days to move to a 'safe' area.
It was the bus of hope that brought smiles on the otherwise gloomy faces of the Drass residents. They have been rendered homeless by the heavy shelling which continued even on Tuesday.
"We prayed and prayed and finally our prayers have been answered. We want to get out of Drass as early as possible lest we become innocent targets of Pakistani shelling," said Fatima Bano before she boarded the bus with no clear destination.
"It can either take us to Sanku, Kargil or anywhere. It depends on the situation. It can even be hit by flying splinters," said a resident.
The residents only wanted to leave Drass as they had spent sleepless nights waiting for the bus to take them to either Kargil or Sanku.
"I slept in this building and we were prepared for the worst with shells hitting the deserted town,'' said another resident. ''A majority of the residents fled Drass in the first week of May as shells rained on the town, located on the Srinagar-Leh national highway. Even those living in the vicinity of the town fled.''
In all over 10,000 residents have fled to Kargil and later to Sanku, 20 kilometres away. But some of them, mostly men, stayed back to look after the fields and cattle as it was peak farming time.
However, shelling has destroyed their crops -- only barley is grown in abundance in Drass. Today stray animals are feasting on their budding crops.
The devastation shattered the villagers, and tears welled in their eyes. However, they have no choice but to leave.
"Either I should do farming in the village or save my life at Sanku. The decision is tough but I think saving my life is all the more important," said Juma Khan. His family shifted to Sanku last month but his love for Drass had been forcing him to stay back.
"I love Drass very much. It is such a nice place. But separation from the family is painful. I will join my family today but it may not be too long before I return. I will miss my home and the river," said Mohammad Ahsan.
Drass is in the artillery range of the Pakistani troops and the intruders who have occupied the snow-clad mountain peaks around the town.
Intense shelling has razed houses, government offices and the district hospital. "It is very difficult for people living here to save their lives. They have no option but to shift," said a senior army officer.
The residents lug as many belongings as possible as they grapple with each other to hop into the bus.
Fatima Bano was an exception. She left everything behind, except a pressure cooker and a school bag. Asked why she was doing this, she said, "I want to cook a good meal this evening to feed my hungry children. This war has brought more trouble for the village and the children. I want my child to study even during our stay at Sanku.''
Fatima longs for the day when the same bus would bring her back to Drass.
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