The bustling settlement of Arnia and a chain of border hamlets along the Indo-Pak border now wear an empty look, with over 40,000 villagers abandoning their homes to escape heavy shelling by Pakistani forces.
Arnia town, with a population of 18,000, resembles a ghost town with only a few people left each in its adjoining hamlets to take care of animals and guard homes.
Farming, schooling, cattle rearing and everything else on which border dwellers survive has come to a halt due to the shelling episodes.
Villagers at the forefront of Pakistani shelling say they feel they are in a war zone with sounds of mortar bombs and rattle of automatic weapons booming in the area.
In the hamlets, the devastation is visible all around — blood stains on the floor, broken windows, injured animals and splinter marks on the walls.
Dressed in battle fatigues and bulletproof jackets, jawans of the Border Security Forces criss-cross through borderline hamlets and paddy fields to take the position to give a befitting retaliation.
Some families that had initially decided to hold on to their homes have finally decided to move after intense shelling.
Night after night, 80-year-old Yashpal and his family huddled together under a bed in one corner of their room as soon as the shelling started.
After heavy cross-border shelling for over two days, the family finally decided to leave their home along the India- Pakistan border yesterday.
On Friday night, the situation got worse and two shells hit our house and damaged it, he said.
“It had happened during the 1965 and the 1971 wars.Such large number of mortar bombs had not since fallen in Arnia,” he said.
Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO), R S Pura, Surinder Choudhary told PTI that, “Arnia town has been vacated. We have evacuated a large number of people from Arnia and border hamlets…Most of the hamlets are now vacated”.
Choudhary, who led the police from the front in carrying out the massive evacuation of the border population from R S Pura and Arnia sectors, said houses and cattle have bore the brunt of the shelling.
Deputy Commissioner Jammu, Kumar Rajeev Ranjan said 58 villages in Arnia and Suchetgarh sectors of Jammu district have been affected due to the shelling by Pakistan.
“Over 36,000 border dwellers have migrated from their homes”, the DC said and added that 131 animals have been killed, 93 injured besides damage caused to 74 buildings and houses.
While most of the border dwellers are living with their relatives, over 1000 are camped in boarding and lodging places set up by the government in schools.
Over 5000 cattle have been shifted from various border hamlets to safer places, he said.
In Samba and Ramgarh sectors of Samba district, over 5000 people have migrated besides over 3000 from Hiranagar sector of Kathua district.
Hundreds of grass houses (Kullas) have also been gutted and bovines killed in the fire triggered by bursting of mortar bombs fired by Pakistan troops in Jeora farm, popularly known as “hamlet of milkmen”.
The hamlet houses over 100 families and is famous for supplying milk and other milk products to Jammu.
“We have left our hamlets. We have lost everything. Our kullas have gutted in Pakistan mortar shelling and animals have perished. They were our source of income”, Sattar Din told PTI.
“Over 150 kullas have been gutted in the fire and several animals have perished in the fire triggered by Pakistan shelling”, Choudhary, who himself led the rescue operation, said.
Another Arnia dweller Asha Rani, who fled her house along with her family of five in a bullock cart, said “People have not seen such intense firing and shelling even in the 1965 and 1971 wars. Pakistan was solely shelling us (civilians) in Arnia”.
It is also for the first time that shells fired by Pakistan exploded in Gajansoo town, killing a 25-years-old.
As this PTI correspondent was on his way to Kanachak to report the ground situation, two mortar bombshells exploded barely two kilometres ahead at the Ganjansoo bus stand triggering fear among residents.
At Gal-da-Chak, 500 meters from the spot of the shelling, people stopped vehicles, asking visitors not to move ahead in wake of the shelling.
“This is for the first time in decades that shells have landed in Gajansoo town.It is dangerous to stay here”, Sham Lal said at Gal Da Chak.
Pakistan Rangers started shelling areas along the IB on Wednesday and till now nine people including 6 civilians and 4 jawans have been killed and nearly 60 people, including over 50 civilians, injured along the IB and LoC in Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region.
Over 300 educational institutes have been closed for the next three days along the IB and LoC in Jammu region by authorities in the wake of tension along the Indo-Pak border due to shelling.