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A night at border migrants' shelter home
6/13/2018 12:27:41 PM

Jammu, June 12: Repeated violations of ceasefire by Pakistan at the villages along the international border in RS Pura sector have not just caused death and destruction but temporarily uprooted many a lives. Many of those who were forced to abandon their homes and hearths had to stay in make shift shelters including schools, temples and government buildings for days together during shelling. One such make shift shelter home was established at RS Pura in the third week of May where I along with lensman Naresh Bhagat spent a night and peep into the life of migrants in a migrant camp.
A row of straight grown eucalyptus trees along a footpath separates the playground of Boys Higher Secondary School RS Pura into four equal squares. This school was converted into a Shelter Home by tehsil administration RS Pura for the border residents from Suchetgarh tehsil, who had taken shelter here following intense shelling by Pakistan in the third week of May.
Desks from the school classrooms were placed in the open ground while piles of mattresses and quilts were placed in the corners of classrooms. The availability of quilts instead of cotton sheets, during the month of overheated days of May, was something weird but later it was learnt that same were probably used as mattresses.
In a 30X20 feet classroom, two apparently tired ceiling fans were breezing hot dry air, making it difficult to stay for a while inside the warm rooms. The responsibility of providing three meals a day to the 'refugees' was given to the school administration. In the dinner, the cook had prepared mixed lentil, rice and a vegetable dish.
The clerk of School was made in-charge, who informed that they got rice, milk, sugar, flour from Tehsil Supply Officer of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department on the instructions of Tehsildar RS Pura whereas remaining items such as spices, salt, cereals, bread from a local grocery store. Though the food was delicious but some villagers had a petty complaint with the rice served. In a humorous tone, an old woman said, "We eat world famous Basmati rice in our houses and here we are getting short grained rice, which we never ate". Despite reservations with variety of rice the attendance at shelter home swelled to over 200 during dinner hour.
SDM RS Pura Naresh Sharma visits the camps regularly. He said that the tehsil administration had attempted to provide best facilities to the migrants. "I had instructed the staff to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner as per the choice of the migrants", he said.
The evening was hot but a week breeze had lowered the night's temperature for a while. During dinner, one person, who was appeared to be badly drunk, suggested a plan to his counterpart, of blocking RS Pura road, to call attention of the government. Though most of the migrants were in agreement with their opinion but none took his ill- conceived plan seriously. After dinner, women sitting on the desks started cursing Pakistan, 'Kashmir centric' government and 'biased' Chief Minister.
Banso Devi (80) was the most vocal among women, to criticize Chief Minister for visiting Johra Farm and skipping the RS Pura Camp. Banso Devi was repeatedly corrected by youth that CM had visited ITI College RS Pura, where another shelter home was established.
People of different political affiliations were criticizing each other's party for their failure to address the issue of border firing. They were unison over the permanent resolution of ceasefire violations either by a full-fledged war or by any other mean. Most of the migrants were equally sympathetic with common public of Pakistan, which was also facing the brunt of shelling but were criticizing the Pakistan army for repeated violations.
Apart from few small children and their mothers, who had slept inside the classrooms, most of the migrants had either slept in the corridors or on the desks kept in the school's ground. Two standing fans were also given by tehsil administration. In friendly tone, Banso Devi lashed out at some youth for encroaching upon the standing fan. Migrants were found satisfied with the facilities but were uncomfortable at the Shelter home. "We can eat dry chapattis with salt at home but here we don't want to live anymore. Our animals are still in our villages", Rakesh Kumari of Suchetgarh said.
She was mocked by other ladies and youth, for making MLA Suchetgarh brother when he won the elections. The migrants were unhappy with the stance of MLA Choudhary Sham Lal, who allegedly made a visit only for namesake. Another female was remembering about stray dogs of their village, who were given regular food by them.
Some philanthropists had visited the camp and had distributed juice, cold drinks, biscuits, glucose packets etc. Some youngsters were also there to take care of their grandparents. A group of youth Sunil Kumar a student of Graduation First year, Gara Choudhary a student of 11th class, Raman Choudhary, Rohit Choudhary of class 12th also shared the miseries of student community.
They have been brought up under the constant threat of firing from across the border. They have no desire of going for higher studies and claimed that they have been preparing for physical test so that they might get recruited in security forces. "Not even a single person from our village Suchetgarh or from Korotana is a gazetteed officer. Most of youth prepare for recruitment in belt forces and those drop out from schools, end up doing some odd works in villages or in unorganized sector", the group of youth said.
Sunil Kumar said that most of border students were poor in studies and could not compete with city youth. "We villagers have to assist our families in farming and livestock rearing. Moreover tutors are not available in our villages. Time and again shelling disturbs our studies. How under such situations, can we compete with students of cities?", Raman Choudhary, who is studying in Graduation Part-I at RS Pura college opined.
Nearly two dozen people had slept on the volleyball court, just in front of the Science block of the School. The mosquitoes had taken temporary leave due to winds but when all the entire camp slept, they reappeared with full vigour. Some four dogs were locked inside a room and were making cries for help. They kept on making noises but the door was found locked from outside and keys were with the night watchman, who had slept at some unknown location. We took a mattress and tried to sleep on a cemented bench along the path but despite hot, I didn’t muster courage to put off socks due to over population of mosquitoes, who make sounds near my ears. There were no cotton-sheets available so I put my hands in trouser pockets and bag on my face. Finally I had to put my face inside the laptop’s bag to have sleep of few minutes.

A policeman Kishori Lal did his duty sitting on the gate and he also made a failed attempt to free the dogs. It was 3 AM, when chirping of birds awoke me up. I attempted to snooze but at 4 AM the chirping of crows grew louder. Finally at around 4:30 AM, I stood up due to mosquitoes attack. My cameraman Naresh Bhagat, who had shaved his head just one day-back, had to fight mosquitoes whole night without a minute of sleep.

Kishori Lal was making rounds of the school ground and first thing he did was to call Chowkidar to free open the dogs. The thirsty dogs drank a lot of water at hand-pumps. Finally we left the shelter home at 5 AM and move towards Suchetgarh.
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