The Everyday Trauma of Living in the Borderlands

“Incursions at the Indo-China border have flared up, there are talks about banning Chinese-goods. God knows what do they intrude for every year? As if all their sheep have been let loose and are wandering inside Indian territory! Tell me, Baji, why else would they cross our borders year after year?,” said Sabah*, a distant friend’s younger sister.

Young Sabah was worried about the mounting tensions at the borders because she lives in Gurez, a borderland located near the line of control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.

Any news related to a border dispute stimulates the senses of people like her who have learnt to survive in the hostile borderlands of India and Pakistan. Sabah, though young, can easily grasp any news report that has to do with activities along the LoC.

“Gurez is safe Sabah… the disturbances are brewing up far away in distant lands… they won’t harm you. You should prepare for the upcoming summer after a long spell of winter’s chill. May this summer be gentle and warm on you,” I said.

Only a month ago, I wrote a story detailing a similar disturbance in Poonch, my hometown. The cross-border cease-fire violations have been the deadliest at a time when the whole world is trying to survive a pandemic. If any pandemic in the world had the capacity to lock the guns down at our borders, I would have wished for it to stay a little longer.

I recall an interesting visit to Mohammad-ud-din’s* house a few months ago. A tribal Gujjar residing at one of the last houses in the last village, Mohammad-ud-din seemed to have made peace with the sounds of everyday firing in his area.

“Assalamwaleikum/peace be upon you,” he greeted me as soon as we approached his patio.

“I heard you visited the other day as well, my apologies I was away in the fields pruning grass. Glad I am here to receive you today, you are welcome.”

Also read: For Kashmiris in India, War is an Everyday Meal

Unlocking the visitor’s room, he gestured to his wife to brew tea for us. His son Javid, nearing his thirties, seemed indifferent to our arrival. With a notebook and a pen in hand, Javid was lost in murmurs to himself.

“It happened in 2002,” Mohammad-ud-din said, as the conversation gradually paces up.

“It was a usual return from the fields and I was only a few feet away from my backyard. All I could hear was a boom and everything went fuzzy and haywire. I can visualise how one of my slippers flew away with loud grunts of my buffalo deafening my senses…last thing I can recall is trying to look at the direction these grunts were coming from. You see it costs thousands to purchase cattle, and a large amount of our household economy depends on dairy and farm products.”

He had stepped on a land-mine by mistake and they had to amputate his left leg. “Luckily, my buffalo came out unharmed,” he said.

Mohammad-ud-din’s house is located barely few metres away from the mined forested patch that seals the boundary and keeps a check on infiltration. Entire area starting from his backyard to the LoC has been mined, he said and continued:

The land-mines grow in number with each shift in paltans/platoons. Soon as the new unit arrives, they fill the area with more mines for surveillance. Some of them are small in size, of the size of a match-box. They wash off easily in a few heavy downpours and camouflage with pebbles in the trails that we have identified for our use.

Our fields are located up at those front-positions, we have to walk past the forested patch in order to harvest the grass which sells at a good price as it is a major source of feed for the cattle. We take our cattle along to graze on a freshly trimmed field.

While keeping an eye on Javid through the window, who was scribbling something in his notebook, he said:

A few years after the unfortunate incident, Javid, my son was walking the buffalo down the trail when it consumed him as well. He lost his right leg along with his psyche. The trauma shook him and he has been blabbering senselessly since then. He is not sick you see! He is a grown man. Perhaps the shock interfered with his nerves a bit too seriously

After the first round of tea, I had a brief introduction with Javid who showed me his notebook and asked me to keep it forever. Muhammad-ud-din then excitedly asked me to accompany him to his backyard.

“Come I will show you where it happened. It is just a few metres inside.”

Noting the apprehension on my forehead, he added, “Don’t be afraid, we use this path everyday to move back and forth, nothing will happen.”

He asked me to follow his footsteps and place my feet right where he was putting, and asked me to cover my head with a scarf to not get caught as an outsider.

Also read: In India’s Borderlands, Education Needs to Start at Home

“They have recruited pretty good snippers on both sides these days, you should look like a village girl,” someone said.

Between managing to place my foot in the correct spots and covering my head was a sea of thoughts – but they did not frighten me at all. By that time, I was comfortable with the surrounding.

I don’t know why but this hullabaloo around the ongoing tensions at these borderlands have always reminded me of ‘The Dog of Tetwal/Tetwal ka Kutta’ by Sadat Hasan Manto.

I don’t know why, but I see Sabah, Mohammad-ud-din, Javid and myself as the dog of Tetwal that Manto wrote about – na iss paar ke na uss paar ke (neither from here, nor there), lost in the neverending hope that one day either this side or that side shall stand for peace in these unfortunate lands.

*names changed

Malvika Sharma researcher in Borderland-Studies. The snippets are from her on-going work at borderlands in Jammu and Kashmir. She has been writing about these borderlands for a while now. 

Featured image credit: Noor Sethi/Unsplash