Uproot from their homes and living in schools-turned-camps, people living along borders on Monday demanded setting up of "individual bunkers" at their residences near the Line of Control as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh reached out to them in Nowshera.
Over 5,000 people living in 23 hamlets along the LoC were forced to shun homes and hearths in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district following heavy firing and shelling four months ago.
Four civilians were killed and five others were injured while over 100 cattle perished and 40 houses damaged in firing and shelling by Pakistani troops in different sectors of Rajouri in the recent past.
"Our first and foremost demand is that government should set up individual bunkers in each of the border house, if we have to live again along the LoC. This is most and first demand of the LoC people," Jangarh resident Prashtom Kumar said.
Kumar, who is the president of Border Migrants Coordination Committee, conveyed to Singh, who visited one of the six camps setup in Nowshera by the government, said, "We need bunkers more than food. It serves as a bullet-proof jacket to us and our families from Pakistan shelling."
Sarpanch of Kalsian border hamlet Bahadur Choudhary said, "If all the residents get individual bunkers at their homes, no one will leave the LoC hamlets no matter how worse Pakistan may shell us."
Nowshera MLA Ravinder Raina also supported their demand and said a chunk of land should be provided to the LoC dwellers to build safe places.
"I appreciate Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh reaching out to the LoC migrants in Nowshera sector of Rajouri ... The visit will on one hand boost the morale of security forces while the people living along the LoC will feel they have full-backing from the state and the central governments," Raina said.
Forced to take shelter in camps in five schools in Nowshera sector, border dwellers are said to be reluctant to go back to their homes even after four months due to repeated shelling and firing.
The affected villagers rue lack of proper medical facilities and other amenities at the camps which have become their "second home".
"How can we go back when Pakistan army is firing and shelling our homes? We have been facing Pakistani aggression for decades but over the past two years... We prefer to stay away from our homes rather than becoming sitting ducks for unprovoked firing by Pakistani troops from across the border," said Sarveshwari Devi, a resident of Sair Makri village along the zero line in Nowshera sector.
The Union home minister, along with minister of state in the prime minister's office Jitendra Singh and J-K deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, today interacted with men, woman and children at the camp.
"Just wait for some more time, Pakistan will be forced to stop firing. Whether they stop firing today or tomorrow, they will have to stop firing and ceasefire violation," Singh told the border dwellers.
"Whatever is possible, I will do it (to resolve problems of the border dwellers). You are facing unnecessary problems," Singh said.
"I know that whether it is Indo-Pak border or any other border in the world, if their locals will not be living there, and if border belts would be vacant without habitation of people, you never known which foreigners will come and start its activities and encroachment the borderlands. Nothing can be said with confidence about it," he said.
"If there is any biggest strategic asset of India, it is the India citizens living on the borders of the country. If we get strategic successes, it is because of your contribution," he said.
Singh told the border dwellers that he could not visit them earlier due to bad weather conditions and said he has been briefed about their demands and do whatever is possible.
"If need be to talk to the prime minister, I will talk to him too," he said.
He said that five Indian Reserve Police Force have been sanctioned and for Jammu and Kashmir 60 per cent of recruitment should take place from border areas.
He also assured the locals that recruitments in para military forces will be undertaken in border belts too.
District Development Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said the government was planning to construct nearly 7,000 underground "individual and community" bunkers along the LoC for the safety of civilians.
The project report has already been submitted to the Centre for its approval and funds.
The government has started construction of 100 bunkers in the worst-hit Nowshera district under the local area development fund and the work is in progress, he added.
IMAGE: Border residents take shelter in a bunker. Photograph: PTI Photo