Villagers living close to the international border between India and Pakistan are bearing the brunt of the incessant conflict between the two countries leading to increased mental distress.
Located twenty nine kilometres from the winter capital of the northernmost Indian state Jammu and Kashmir, the residents of Subdivision Akhnoor are the direct recipients of any movement that takes place at the International border which is a stone's throw away from its villages. Villagers, owing to the cross border firing that used to take place in the past, are hitherto paying the price of being located at the border. Worst affected is their mental health with an unwanted increase in cases of stress, anxiety and depression.
Moreover, police records for past one decade reveal that cause of death in majority cases in these areas is suicide. As per the police records, from 2000 to 2012, one hundred and twenty five suicidal deaths were reported in Akhnoor Subdivision.
Rayees Mohammad Bhat, IPS, Sub-divisional Police Officer, Akhnoor said, "In a survey conducted for past two decades for Akhnoor and Khour we have found that the number of suicidal deaths has increased significantly. The most common mode of committing suicide here is consuming poisonous material like fertilizers or pesticides, which are readily available at households as most of the community depends on farming."
He said the other common mode of committing suicide was by jumping into the river Chenab and in some cases drug overdose was also registered.
"Most of the times cases go unregistered and a delay in investigation is caused as due to social stigma people do not register the report in time," Bhat added.
Akhnoor subdivision consists of two hundred and twenty seven villages, of which about thirty five villages are located either on International Border or Line of Control with Pakistan.
According to Nagendra Singh Jamwal, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Akhnoor, the two major causes for mounting stress among the residents is border firing and its consequences - loss in agriculture production is a major reason for distress as agriculture is the main source of livelihood. About twenty four thousand Kanals of land has been lost due to firing incidents. He said many ended their lives as they could not cope up with the financial crisis over the years. They were burdened with loans, which they have taken over their lands.
These incidences have also left people internally displaced which further affect the existing services of the area where the inhabitants of the borderland migrate. "You can assess the situation here that if the services were meant for a fixed population and suddenly the number doubles, it becomes quite difficult to manage the delivery," Jamwal added.
Over three hundred families were displaced in border firing during the Kargil War in 1999. These families are presently dwelling at a migrant camp - Gurha Jageer about nine kilometres from Akhnoor and thirty eight kilometres from Jammu. Sixty one hundred plots, measuring 25X50 have been allotted to the migrant families.
"We have been agrarian society and the only legacy we got from our ancestors was agriculture but unfortunately we could not pass this on to next generation. Our children are now forced to struggle for insignificant jobs and our voice goes unheard. You cannot spot even a single person, who is here without any mental trauma," said Tara Chand, an elected member of Panchayat, said Chapriyal who is currently running a small general store at the same camp.
Majority of plots are seen with half raised structures as people don't possess enough amount to construct a small house even. They have been a part of a gory past, their present is dismal and thoughts of future lead them into depression.
Dr JP Singh, Block Medical Officer, Khour says that there has been an increase in the number of patients suffering from various mental disorders. "It is observed that majority of depressed youth have started consuming alcohol. Even men of other groups have also become alcoholic. During medical examination we find that most of them are depressed and this has also lead to increase in domestic violence cases in this region. This Primary Health Centre receives many cases of women assaulted in domestic violence."
A visit to these villages is enough to realise the wounds and irreparable losses its dwellers have suffered. Every house narrates a story of sacrifice - some have lost their loved ones and some their security.
At village Pragwal, a similar family has been left with a never-ending silence after losing its only daughter in cross border shelling at the International Border.
"My daughter Shashi Devi was quite young and vibrant. It was in 2002, when she was warning people to stay away from our house outside which cross border shelling was transpiring and in course of saving others, the brave girl herself became a victim. We have five kids and she was the only daughter. Her mother could not convey any emotion after she saw her charred body," shared Somnath, father of that courageous young woman.
Every resident of this rural belt reels under an everlasting threat of losing everything. Fears of the young generation are no less than the insecurities of the older ones. The majority of young people in the Village Paddly in block Khour are without jobs and have nothing to do.
"We do not have stable jobs or any other mode of earning. Opportunities in government sector are negligible and private jobs are not available here. Industrial hub of the Jammu region is located in Samba district and if we chose to work there, the entire salary would be spent on transport. Although few of us have raised these small structures we call shops but we hardly have customers," rued Praman Singh, a young local who spends his entire day playing cards.
Talk to any individual and it would not take more than a minute to realise the mental burden being carried by these people. They have spent all of their lives under the cloud of uncertainty and fear. Time is now to focus on the development of these people safeguarding the nation at its border. Else, the entire nation will have to pay a cost! By Dr Varun Suthra