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Sidhpora fields are located just 200 meters from the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan in Teetwal block of Kupwara district. Village is 40 km distant from the nearest town Tangdhar. Cultural and language distinction between Pahari and Kashmiri Muslims is exemplified by the name of village. Kashmiri Muslims pronounce and spell it as Sidhpora; Pahari Muslims whose culture and language resembles Punjabi, write it Siddhpura. Middle school sign board in village uses word Sidhpora. ‘Pura’ in Pahari became ‘Pora’ in Kashmiri.
Suffix “forward” is attached to its name as village is situated near forward posts of Indian Army on the LoC and even surrounded by Pakistani Army posts from three sides on hills. Geographical location of Sidhpora suggests its being situated in a curved triangular area. A nallah flows in the middle that divides India and Pakistan and acts as the LoC. Sidhpora is located on this side of nallah even as both sides of nallah are hilly. A portion of Sidhpora (Forward) is situated at lower site on plain land besides the nallah. Other portion of village is hilly. Approach to village by the outsiders is possible after strict security checking. Even entry into Tangdhar town (40 km from village) is subject to strict security checking at several checkpoints. Besides, organizational letter, authority letters of permission from District Development Commissioner (Kupwara) and Divisional Magistrate (Tangdhar), after checking of personal identity of survey team, were submitted to the security forces to reach this village. Just at entry point of village, last security check is conducted. Village residents are free from such formalities as simple checking suffices.
Village situated at hill on the opposite side of LoC-nallah in Pakistan is called “Pak Siddhpura”. Undivided Siddhpura village was apportioned and shared between India and Pakistan during the Partition in 1947, with nallah as a natural line of divide. Total area of Sidhpora (Forward) is 187 acres (hilly and plain), of which 3 acres (2%) is common land. It is one of the smallest villages in J&K State. Agricultural land is 63 acres (37%). Remaining 121 acres (65%) is lost/ wasted/ out-of-reach of villagers, since it falls in nallah in “no-man’s land” or foothill above nallah -hence inaccessible and unusable due to security reasons. Landmines are laid around this unusable area. A similar situation exists meters away on the opposite side across LoC in “Pak Sidhpura”. Average size of holding in Sidhpura (Forward) is one acre per household. Minimum holding is 0.19 acre and maximum 1.50 acres.
In pre-1986 period, people of Sidhpura (Forward) used to visit “Pak Sidhpura” directly across the LoC for ‘ziarat’ (prayers) in Treda Sharif Dargah each year. This was called ‘Treda Sharif Ziarat’. A ‘mela’ (religious fair) and winter festival for 10 days, from 11-20 November was organized each year and it is held currently also. But now crossing and going over there is not permitted. Prior to 1986, they just crossed the nallah (200m) by walking and next 200m was Pak Sidhpura. After 1986, Sidhpora (Forward) people started celebrating festival in this village only. Villagers expressed that due to exotic reasons, two-halves of Sidhpora are deprived of celebrating brotherhood by barring from participation in holy religious festival. There has never been any infiltration attempt reported on this part of LoC (40 villages of Teetwal). There was never any incidence of militancy reported from Sidhpora-LoC. Never did any villager commit any offence regarding violating LoC sensitivity. Army has cordial relations with Sidhpora (Forward) people, even constructing and sharing drinking water tank. People feel annoyed and hurt that despite peace and tranquility decision was taken by the authorities concerned to stop villagers visiting Pak Sidhpura for ‘ziarat’ at Treda Sharif through LoC after 1986.
Sidhpora (Forward) has no bank branch. Drinking water storage tank was constructed on hill top with the help of army. Water is supplied to households through pipes using gravity flow. There is no medical facility in village. Villagers take first-aid help from neighboring village. An international NGO called JK Millennium associated with World Health Organization (WHO) having Resource Center at Sidhpora (Rear) gives first-aid medical service to the villagers. But it does not have ambulance service for emergency. Condition of link road is extremely poor. Streets in Sidhpora Forward are kutcha; so are houses. A few pucca houses constructed with stone got totally damaged in earthquake and are lying abandoned. Life in Sidhpora is difficult despite tranquility on LoC.
Pak Siddhpura village on Pakistani side can be seen from Indian side of Sidhpora (Forward) on hill across nallah. Irrigation water through this nallah is released/controlled from Pakistan even as Sidhpora Forward pays annual water fee (‘abyana’) to Pakistan (Rs.10000 per farmer). Water supply is inadequate and sustains maize crop only though villagers want to grow paddy. Maize crop attracts fear of forest bear also. Villagers live in danger zone, with all types of scarcities faced by them. Their problems relate mainly to: (i) transport; (ii) road connectivity; (iii) landline and mobile phone connectivity; (iv) irrigation; (v) ration store; (vi) insensitivity of administration; (vii) social discrimination on ‘Pahari’ basis; (viii) bhalay nomadic life; (ix) shelling on LoC; (x) safe drinking water; and (xi) ban imposed in 1986 by government on people’s visit to Siddhpura Pak village of Pakistan across LoC situated a few hundred meters away for ‘ziarat’ (worship) in ‘dargah’ on the eve of annual function held there. Villagers do not have coping mechanisms to protect themselves against difficulties. Nonetheless this village never reported infiltration or militant-encounters though common in neighboring Tangdhar and Keran sectors on the LoC in Kupwara district.
Village requires private mini bus service or Tata Sumo vehicle facility for local people to connect with Tangdhar or Teetwal. There is Tata Sumo facility from Todd village but they have to walk up to 4 km from Sidhpora Forward to Todd to catch Tata Sumo from there. Materials or goods are carried from Todd on head load. Link road from Sidhpora to Todd is totally damaged since not repaired even as road is not used as motorized road. Beyond Todd, link road is in bad shape and typical of border areas. Village does not have landline phone connectivity due to security reasons. However, difficulties faced by villagers need to be taken into account since mobile phone connectivity is also poor. They demand restoring telephone connectivity at least for limited hours. Farmers depend on rain water for irrigation though rainfall is very limited. Kajinag nallah flowing from Pakistan side also irrigates fields of Sidhpora Forward but many times water flow is restricted despite the fact that farmers pay ‘abiyana’ to Pakistan. Flag meetings of both sides of army officers (including SHO of Police and Sarpanch) are conducted only then relaxation is given to farmers by releasing more water. Otherwise farmers cultivate mainly maize crop. Farmers of Sidhpora Forward demand that alternate irrigation facility be provided. Farmers use diesel generated set to lift water from Kajinag nallah but investment gets wasted if flow of water from Pakistan is restricted. Sidhpora Forward with population of 330 persons does not have ration store. Villagers are forced to go to Todd walking 4 km to procure ration and carrying the same on head load. The quantity supplied (35 kg per month) is inadequate as they buy substantial amount from open market. Villagers demand a ration shop in village.
Villagers feel that district administration is insensitive to their demands for basic facilities. They are living a life in captivity on LoC. They aspire for freedom of movement as they could not come out of their house many a times despite the fact that this LoC did not see any infiltration incident or attempt from across the LoC. Villagers share harsh account of a neighboring village Jabri where going and returning by villagers is popularly termed as “coming from Pakistan” and “going to Pakistan” because strictness of security apparatus is too much. Relatively, Sidhpora Forward does is no match with such strictness though villagers compare their living conditions with Jabri just to emphasize the need for greater relaxation and freedom of existence and movement deserved by them on LoC. Suspicions run so high amid occasional moments of trust. Sometimes villagers are not allowed to raise arm or make gestures with hand by shaking, or turning face towards nearby check post as it involves perceived threat for security forces.
A few nomad (‘bhalay’) shepherd households from Sidhpora each year migrate to hilly forests beyond one famous village ‘Tee-Pee’ crossing Tangdhar block with livestock (goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes, horses, hens) for 3-4 months. There they live in “dharays” (kutcha huts) and sometimes in tents, walking 15-20 km through forest pass ways. They demand slight relaxation in frisking and checking by army check posts on the way though they duly submit LoC pass (card) to the army to retrieve the same while returning. Their second demand is issuing ration cards to the uncovered 10% households. When tension on LoC is heightened and crossfire erupts this village is mostly under threat of machine gun fire and mortar shelling without safety mechanism of underground bunkers. Landmines are laid near nallah but the place is never visited by villagers in “no-man’s land” at LoC. However, crossfire is their sole threat, being too close to the LoC. Firing from hills on all sides is unexpected and they are caught unprepared.
Villagers demand greater supply of drinking water from piped water supply scheme (WSS). Army constructed a small water collection chamber a few years ago for use by villagers. However, water is supplied only for one hour per day. Remaining need of water is fulfilled by fetching water from nallah on LoC though it involves risk of being caught in crossfire. WSS is also used by army. Villagers demand access to similar WSS constructed with bigger water collection chamber for adequate supply for 2-3 hours per day. They demand that they should be allowed to visit Pak-Sidhpura across the LoC for annual fair and ‘ziarat’. Families, which got divided on both sides during Partition, desire to visit their separated relatives. The Partition of 1947 let loosed a process of silent human sufferings by ruthless familial separation of undivided Siddhpura households that has continued in the form of alienation of ‘Pahari’ from ‘Kashmiri’.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)