Villages along the loC suffer from cross-border shelling but also poor infrastructure. Mobile phone towers do not exist in these remote areas, writes RAMEEZ RAJA
That entire night, ear-deafening sounds of firing and shelling across the border dominated the sky. All of Shayeen's family stayed together in one room, as they were not too sure if they will wake up alive the following morning. In that tense hour, they were equally worried about the livestock tied outside the house — with no shelter. Shayeen kept thinking about her father who was posted in Doda and unaware of the situation.
“I wish I could have called my father and listened to his voice, as we waited for our deaths”, said this 18-year old girl from Bharooti, a nondescript village tucked away in the border land of Poonch District in Jammu & Kashmir. Shayeen could not call her father, not because she didn’t have a mobile phone but because there were no mobile phone towers in the village. The ‘waiting for death’ moment is not new to those who hail from villages like Bharooti, located merely five to six kilometres from the line of Control.
It started with the killing of two Indian soldiers at the loC in January 2013, which was followed by the killing of five others in August last year. In the aftermath of such killings, a total of 150 incidents of ceasefire violations have transpired, the highest in the past eight years. For those residing away from the border, ceasefire violation is just news but for the ones living there, it is a nightmare.
To compound the problem, villagers have to face development challenges all alone. One of the major challenges faced by those inhabiting near zero line is connectivity. This is not talked about much but it is a challenge that affects their life quite severely.
Sixty-two year old Rasham Bi, a resident of village Ghani, shared her experience. She said: “last month, I had to go to the sub-district hospital in Mendhar as I was feeling unwell. I was alone as my only son lives in Saudi Arabia working as a labourer there. Doctors, post checkup, suggested that I get admitted to hospital for a minimum of two days.” It left the old lady in distress as, although she had a mobile phone, she couldn't contact her daughter back home as there is no tower in her village. later that night, her daughter had to come searching for her mother spending Rs 900 on a hired cab. Availability of a single mobile phone tower could have avoided the chaos.
Rabina Kousar of Ucchad village narrates the story of her mother-in-law who had to travel 21kms to reach an STD booth in Mendhar tehsil to talk to her son, currently residing in Saudi Arabia. “Network connectivity is a major issue in our village. Hapless, we have to travel long distances and spend huge amounts to make just one call. We feel cursed to spend our lives in isolation”, rues Kousar.
One would assume difficult geography and inaccessibility of these border villages is the reason behind the situation but, not very far from Poonch town lies another village, Salotri, which is confronted by a similar problem. located on the zero line, this village, despite its sensitive location, is deprived of network facility. “Our mobile phones at times catch the network of Pakistani service providers but our own network facility is pathetic”, expressed Suresh Kumar, thesarpanch of the village. The people of Poonch have it particularly rough. On one hand, extreme weather conditions, be it rain or snowfall, disrupt normal life and on the other, the worrying ceasefire violations along the border does not allow them mental peace. Amid all this, mobile phones, they had thought, would be the means of staying connected with their loved ones but poor services rendered them hopeless. The handsets that they bought saving every single penny lie useless today.
In July last year, Mr Madan lal Sharma, Member of Parliament from Poonch, called upon Bharat Sanchar Nigam limited to improve its mobile connectivity service in the area, and reach out to uncovered areas as well. Mr Sharma stressed upon the need of installing towers in border villages so that people there can also avail the benefit of mobile and internet services. He also noted that private telecom players were offering better mobile connectivity despite BSNl having the largest infrastructure and Government support.
“People of Poonch have been living in such false hopes for a long time now. No one understands the pain we undergo in difficult times”, said Mr Nazam Din Mir, a social activist from the border village Keerni suggesting that there is an urgent need for roping in other service providers. Hopefully this message will reach the concerned authorities via this ‘network’.