Intro: In one of the worst ceasefire violations, Arnia village along the International Border in Jammu district bore the maximum brunt of Pakistan’s unprovoked firing.
Schoolmaster Rakesh Chander and his family were still recovering from the trauma of September floods, when horror visited them again exactly a month later – this time shattering their personal space in the middle of the night.
This is village Arnia, situation 5 km from the International Border in the RS Pura sector of Jammu district. On the night of October 5, Rakesh and wife Sudesh were resting in their bedroom and their two sons were studying on the terrace when they heard heavy fire. Sudesh called up the boys on the mobile and told them to come down immediately. It was 12.40 a.m.
Within a few seconds, there was another blast. This was not the usual firing but heavy shelling, Rakesh realised. Worried, he got up to check on the boys. He had just opened the door when the third shell blasted just outside their room. By this time, the boys had run down the stairs and reached their parents’ room. It was then that they realised their mother had been hit. The splinter of a shell had struck Sudesh in the neck and she was bleeding profusely. Sudesh was rushed to hospital and discharged after four days, but the splinter is still lodged in her neck as doctors say it would be risky to remove it.
Just a month earlier, the family had undergone another harrowing experience when Rakesh and his eldest son got caught in Srinagar floods on September 6. They were stranded on the fourth floor of a boys’ hostel for four days. On the 5th day, they managed to swim across the road along with 55 others, and walked many kilometers to the airport. They finally reached home on September 12.
The trauma is writ large on Rakesh’s face as he relates his experience. But he is thankful to God that his wife is alive to tell the tale. That night of horror left five dead and 29 injured in Arnia. It was also the night of Eid al-Adha (Bakrid)!
For border villages here, firing is like a routine part of life. But heavy shelling came as a rude shock for the residents as well as the Border Security Force. The entire stretch from Sambha to RS Pura is lined with villages and agricultural land. The Pakistan Rangers seem to have specifically targeted civilian population this time.What was most surprising was the timing of the attack. Eid officially commenced in the evening of October 5 and ended on October 6 evening. Muslims residing on both sides of the borders were celebrating when Pakistan Rangers opened machine gun fire and started heavy mortar shelling.
The BSF commandant, in fact, called up his Pakistani counterpart asking him not to escalate tension on such an occasion. “The BSF’s appeal fell on deaf ears and they continued firing,” BSF Inspector General Rakesh Kumar Sharma told Organiser. He added, “The BSF, in such a situation, was compelled to return fire.”
“Pakistani shells fell everywhere, virtually in every gali and mohalla. They must have fired at least 200 shells in and around Arnia. From 2ndOctober to 11th, we were virtually under siege,” recalls Pawan Gupta, who runs a shop in the market area. “We’ve never heard of anything like this before. Our elders tell us this is the first time since 1947 that there’s been such war-like firing and shelling from the Pakistani side,” said Tara Singh, a local businessman.
Over 30,000 people from Arnia shifted to relief camps or to relatives’ houses during the period. Things settled down only when the BSF retaliated fiercely enough to send the Pakistan Rangers scurrying for cover.
Having lived through ten days of horror, the people of Arnia understand that there is no guarantee Pakistan will behave itself in future. However, their resilience is commendable as they go about their activities as if nothing had happened. “This is our home, our land. Pakistan cannot scare us away. We are glad the BSF gave them a befitting reply this time,” a local resident told us.
Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is a senior journalist and social worker)