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The Rediff Special/Mukhtar Ahmad

December 03, 2003

Eid this year was unforgettable for 47 year-old Bashir Hussain and his fellow villagers in north Kashmir's Baramulla district. For once, the sounds of explosions were expressions of joy and came from ordinary firecrackers instead of the artillery that, for more than a decade, has destroyed homes, taken lives and maimed many in this once beautiful valley.

Even as India and Pakistan have done battle at the Line of Control, it is the ordinary villager, on both sides, who has borne the brunt of the constant friction between the neighbours.

This Eid, though, told a different tale. On November 23, Pakistan announced a ceasefire along the LoC, to which India responded a day later by offering a truce in Siachen. Ten days later, the ceasefire is holding.

This meant that Hussain and his fellow villagers in Kamal Kote village and other Muslims in the Uri sector of the Kashmir valley could celebrate a peaceful Eid.

Hussain, though, is still recovering from his wounds. He was wounded on October 21 when he was busy harvesting a crop of maize that he had cultivated on his small patch of land. The crop would barely last his family six months, but Hussain was happy that his labour had borne fruit; more importantly, his crop had not been destroyed by the shelling that is so much a part of life in the border regions.

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light. Though he recovered his vision presently, it took the farmer a while to realise that he had been hit by shrapnel from an artillery shell fired from across the LoC.

His relatives moved him to a nearby hospital. But Hussain was not worried about his injuries; he was more concerned about the damage to his field and worried whether his crop could be salvaged. It would be his family's only source of sustenance until the next crop.

At the hospital, the doctors who examined him said his injury was too serious to be treated locally. He was referred to the valley's main hospital in Jammu and Kashmir's capital city, Srinagar, where he spent weeks battling death. Though he has now been discharged, his injuries -- which are still covered with plaster -- are yet to heal completely.

Yet, Hussain considers himself a lucky man.

"The news [of the ceasefire] is a great gift for me and my family," he said. "The whole village is buzzing. Guns have fallen silent in this area and that means we have a new lease of life. I don't need to worry for my children and the cattle, for whom we always worried each time the armies of India and Pakistan targeted each other.

"I am grateful to the leaders who made this possible," added the emaciated Hussain, who is overjoyed even though he has had to spend his life's savings on his treatment.

"We can only pray the ceasefire holds. We are sitting on our rooftops and enjoying the rays of the sun after many days. The air is cool here, but what is even better is that the atmosphere is tension-free," said Mohammad Arif, another resident of the village.

In fact, after the ceasefire, Hussain's village is showing signs of business and social activity for the first time in 14 years. Encouraged by the return of a semblance of normalcy, children in the villages burst firecrackers for the first time in many years to celebrate Eid. Traders from Uri town dispatched dozens of trucks with essential commodities to the village where, amid much haggling, the residents rushed to buy whatever was available.

"After a long time, we roamed around freely in remote villages," Abdul Rahim, a local businessman, said. "We carried essential items and lots of firecrackers. The atmosphere is relaxed; we did not have to worry about another sudden attack." Similar reports were received from almost all the villages along the Line of Control. The ceasefire, say locals uniformly, is the best Eid gift they have received in a long while.

Yet, it is much too soon for them to forget their horrifying past. Even though children and cattle remain outdoors longer these days, even though adults go about their daily business without worrying when the next shell will bring death, the peace seems tenuous.

Tomorrow, the ceasefire could end and the guns could start booming again.

Photograph: Ami Vitale/Getty Images | Image: Dominic Xavier

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: Nice; shall this ceasefire lasts forever

I pray to Almighty Allah to keep this ceasefire forever. Let poor's citizens of this valley to enjoy their lives. Let them re-build their houses, ...

Posted by syed khaja saifuddin

Sub: ceasefire

ceasefire on LOC brought hopes for many innocents and peacelovers both sides. Let us hope the fire burning in the hearts be ceased by continuous ...

Posted by rashmin purohit


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