'Blast has left me at the mercy of others'
"Before the fatal accident of 2002, I used to trade in warm clothes and shawls in Sar Hind Shareef, Punjab. When I returned to my village in 2002, as usual, I took my cattle to graze in the nearby forest. It was 4 o'clock in the evening. My daughter Jameela was accompanying me. I felt something beneath my feet. Before I could realize anything, a huge blast threw me off. All I could feel was intense pain, blacking out with the impact."
"Only much later when I began to recover did I realise to my shock that both my legs were severed from my body. This was a body blow to me and I learnt to my horror that I had stepped on explosives planted by the armed forces in this border area to curb infiltration in Kashmir.
The explosives instead made me handicapped forever; it left me at the mercy of other people." These are the words of Mohd Gulzar Mir, 50 years old, living in Gujran of Warsawan region, 22 km from the border district of Kupwara in Kashmir.
He goes on to add "I have six daughters; three very young sons amongst them. My elder son Mohd Sadiq is deaf and dumb. My parents, about 90 years of age, live with me and I need to look after their needs as well."
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Image: Indian soldiers comb a mountain road for landmines or explosive devices near the border down of Poonch.
'I can walk with these prostheses, but it is artificial after all'
The border region is treacherous in more than one way. The trails are stretched over craggy mountainous paths, which become extremely slippery and dangerous during the rains or when the snow melts. Even for those who are physically fit it is tricky to negotiate those paths. For those who are disabled like Gulzar, it is an ordeal.
Initially he tried to make do with locally made prostheses and even sold off his property to pay for the expenses. But it was to no avail, a wasted effort. The workmanship for making these custom-made simply does not exist in remote regions like Kupwara.
It was a chance meeting with Dr Shahid, Mohd Yusuf Khan, former manager of J&K Bank and Gharpal Sharma, former deputy general of police of Barzala, which turned the tide for Gulzar. They arranged for him to go to Delhi where he was fitted by prostheses which were near perfect.
Today Gulzar Mir is a much happier man and yet the shadow of the tragedy lingers, "Now I can walk with these prostheses. But, it is artificial after all. I strongly feel that losing an organ, a gift from Mother Nature, hurts a lot. Human organs are so precious! I look at walking people with wistful eyes and pray to god that no one should ever lose an organ of his body."
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Image: A technician holds an artificial limb for Mohammed Aslam who lost his foot in a landmine explosion.
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
Landmines, a deadly inheritance of war
There are many people like Gulzar Mir, in Kupwara, in Kashmir, in Jammu and in all the border areas of our country. Many of them would have ventured out on a day which seemed like just another day in their life and taken their cattle to graze, to collect firewood or to play. And returned with a limb or limbs lost.
The Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission, which looks into such cases, comes up with recommendations for compensation. Unfortunately, at the level of implementation, these lag behind. Some of the victims do get Rs 400 per month from the Department of Social Welfare but that is grossly inadequate.
The Army must regularly sweep the border areas to remove landmines, which may have moved from their original locations, a common enough occurrence. They also need to play a more pro-active role in rehabilitation of innocent victims of warfare.
Landmines are a deadly inheritance of war and civilians must be protected from these. The survivors of these landmine blasts are in need of support. They should not feel neglected by society, by the government.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that it is necessary that steps should be taken to infuse among the victims a feeling of being wanted. The entire government machinery and indeed the system need to live up to that.
Image: An Indian Border Security personnel checks for possible landmines in Srinagar.