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June 3, 1999
For fleeing villagers it's from frying pan to the fire
Mukhtar Ahmad in Pandrass (Kargil)
Ghulam Rasool Khan, 50, found himself going from the frying pan to the fire yesterday. Khan braved a barrage of artillery shells to flee from his village Berass near Kargil two weeks back.
Now he is packing his bags to move out of Pandrass, but there is no place to go.
"I am frustrated. This was the only place in and around Kargil where I could stay with my relatives. Now I think I and my family should stay in these open fields. Let the shells land on us," a desperate Khan said, wiping away tears.
"This war is only spreading," he complained. He still remembers that night when nearly 50 shells hit his village. Two persons were killed and several got injured.
Pandrass was a trouble-free area till then and the residents, most of whom farmers, stayed back and even provided shelter and food to those who fled Kargil and other areas.
But last morning a posse of soldiers led by an officer came to the village and asked the locals to shift "for their own security".
The soldiers set up camp in the school building. Pandrass's government high school had opened only the day before and teachers from other far-flung areas, including Srinagar, had made it to the village despite the war-like conditions.
"We have nowhere to go now. But I think we will have to leave this place by evening and the only choice left is going to Jammu," said Zahoor Ahmad. "If we shift to some other village nearby, there is the danger of shelling and tomorrow, who knows, we might be forced to evacuate again."
The villagers this morning began shifting their cattle and sheep. "There is no government. No one has bothered to visit us. You see, we are suffering badly. Please tell the deputy commissioner to provide us transport so that we can at least leave safely," Mehraj-ud-Din said.
The villagers we met at Matayan, Pandrass and Drass had only one complaint: that the administration collapsed the day shelling began in the Kargil area.
The state road transport corporation stopped plying buses in and around Kargil for "security reasons" as the Srinagar-Leh highway is very vulnerable to artillery fire.
Adding to their problems is the serious viral infection -- causing high fever and chest pain -- that has begun to spread in this area. There is no medical aid available as of now.
The children in the village can hardly walk. We saw children who were seriously sick. The villagers say the medical assistant fled the village when the shelling began.
Wiping her tears, a woman exclaimed: "Tell the officials in Srinagar that we are also human beings. Tell them to at least send a doctor who can examine our children and later if they die we will have no complaints."
The villagers are also worried about their farming. ''This winter we won't have anything to eat. What should we do? The shelling has destroyed our livelihood," one of them lamented.
An army officer said on condition of anonymity that the "villagers have to move out for their own security. You see, this area is also getting tense."
A few metres down the road soldiers were seen plotting artillery positions. And while we were returning these guns had started booming.
"It is my ill luck that we have to move out of this village too,'' says Khan as he prepares to trudge with near and dear to wherever safety beckons.
How safe their next destination will be is anybody's guess.
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