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Weapons, drugs and sim-cards
The dangers of farming on a neutral strip between India and Pakistan
Singh, a 30-year-old Indian farmer who can only be described as "skin and bones", leans against a sign that reads: "Glory to the soldier, glory to the farmer" and waits to be checked before crossing the fence, behind which are his rice fields - on neutral land adjacent to the international border. On such days, verification can take more than three hours: border guards remove seats and tires from tractors in search of weapons and explosives, rummage in lunch boxes to check for Pakistani SIM cards, and escort farmers behind the fence to prevent their possible communication with Pakistanis or with each other. “You can work in the fields with your brother, but you cannot tell him that you have a stomach ache until you are back in India,” Singh says. “This is our reality.”
For peasants like Singh living in the vicinity of Amritsar, a city about 30 miles outside Pakistani Lahore, division still looms on the horizon. The 1947 event that divided India and Pakistan was accompanied by the hasty drawing of a border over fields, villages and rivers, sparking protests and clashes that killed about a million people. The division also pushed people to the largest displacement in world history, forcing about 10 million people to relocate - Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India. Punjab, considered the cradle of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of the 10 Gurus and Scripture, has become the only state in India with a Sikh majority.
During the struggle against the creation of Khalistan, New Delhi began to suspect that Islamabad was waging a war with someone else's hands and was training Sikh terrorists. India's first goal for a defensive line, according to Prakash Singh, who was Inspector General of the Punjab Border Force from 1987 to 1991, was to close the poorly guarded border by erecting a 343-mile barbed wire fence. Punjab surname). "Terrorism was at its zenith," he said, and internal operations against the rebels "were neutralized by the regular supply of weapons and explosives from abroad." Even today, terrorists in Khalistan, associated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadist group, are said to live with impunity in Pakistani cities, including Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab.
The border crossing point "Waga" is located approximately halfway between Lahore and Amritsar. Every day at sunset, Indian and Pakistani soldiers march with ferocious expressions and draw attention by exchanging battle cries during the elaborate flag-lowering procedure. The ceremony, which was targeted by a suicide bomber on November 2, attracts thousands of jumping and screaming spectators on both sides of the border and acts as an outlet for barely contained outrage from the two countries.
When the barbed wire fence was erected in the 1980s, he divided Harjinder Singh's fields - 15 acres remained in India, 15 in no man's land (between the fence and the control line). The half of the land behind the fence is under curfew from 8 pm to 6 am. The pass gives Singh the opportunity to enter his fields once a day, but he is only allowed to grow rice - no more than 30 centimeters, so that border trespassers cannot hide.
Thus, according to Singh, the land near the international border brings in half the harvest and profit compared to the Indian part. “They took food from our plate and gave us difficulties in return,” Singh says. He began to wear a short hairstyle (long hair in Sikhism is a symbol of piety and strength) in order to avoid humiliation from the border guards who search his turban.
In 2012, farmers from 1876 villages in the border zone, who own land next to the fence, filed an application with the Punjab Supreme Court, petitioning for the demolition of the fence. As an alternative, they asked New Delhi to compensate them for the loss of 34 thousand acres of land between the fence and the international border at current market prices for land.
In response to the petition, Jagat Singh, the Inspector General of the Border Troops recently dismissed from his post, said New Delhi was considering moving the fence closer to the Indian-controlled line. The fence is currently about 450 meters (500 yards) from the international border. He also added that the government does not consider it possible to take possession of the no-man's land, as it would be "a loss to the nation because the crop will not be harvested," and farming helps keep this strip free of weeds and discourages "anti-Indian elements." The petition is still pending in court.
Since May 2014, there have been at least seven cases of ceasefire violations, culminating in the presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the inauguration ceremony of the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hostility at the border - especially when an exploding mortar shell killed five people and injured another 25 in the Indian part of Kashmir - has led to a heated diplomatic dispute.
Living in Rorawala Kurd, a village overlooking a fence and watchtowers, Gurjiit Singh, a 27-year-old Indian farmer, says the authorities' games in New Delhi and Islamabad are far removed from the realities of life on the border. He recalls November XNUMX, when the walls of his house began to shake; a black cloud rose from the site of the explosion at the Vag.
“If we heard another sound like that ... we would have gathered what was at hand and ran away ... so would each of the inhabitants of our village,” he says, looking into the distance. He sits in a triangle of sunlight, watching his three-year-old daughter climb onto a swing made from an old scarf. “Before we buy a house, a sideboard, a bed - anything that can be called an investment, we have to think carefully,” he says seriously. "It cannot be ruled out that at any moment we will have to flee and save our lives."