Borderlands are the sites and symbols of power. (Donnan &Wilson). This power is visible through watch towers, barbed wires, and fencing, which are the nation’s symbols. The border remains an essential category for defining the state’s limit and the people’s identity. The borderlands in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir are alienated and characterised by rigidities, fierceness, unpredictability, and no worthwhile interaction between people from both sides. Caught between the hostilities between India and Pakistan, the people from border areas usually are trapped in a situation of uncertainty. These people face challenges that mainland people do not encounter and require special attention.
The J&K shares a border with Pakistan as an International Border (IB) and Line of Control (LoC). Cross-border firings and terrorism have been a constant source of anxiety & worrisome since 1947. Economic activity, farming, livelihood, education etc., all suffer, and people are unable to exploit their talents and capabilities. So building resilience through the ‘Capability Development’of the people staying at border areas is essential.
The government of India is strategising and acting on various fronts to counter terrorism in J&K and re-establish peace and prosperity in the region. Various measures initiated include eliminating terrorists, foiling the infiltration bids, identifying and dealing sternly with the terrorists’ sympathisers, taking pro-human developmental measures, and proactively countering the anti-India narrative. Significant attention is now being paid to developing borders and remote areas.
People living in areas adjoining International Border LoC and ALC are now entitled to reservation in government jobs. The Village Defence Committee (VDC) scheme launched in 1995 for the self-protection of the identified vulnerable villages in Jammu province has now been revived. Under the scheme, the Village Defence Guards (VDG) shall be responsible for the defence of community installations and infrastructure facilities within the defined areas of their village, and the Village Defence Guards would systematically conduct night and day patrols. A retired defence/police official will head each Village Defence Group, which will be under the direct charge of SP/SSP. They will also undergo periodical training.
The Centre Govt has agreed to construct about 14,460 individual and community bunkers for the border residents in Jammu, Kathua, and Samba districts covering the villages along the IB and Poonch and Rajouri villages on the LoC. About 8500 bunkers have been constructed for the safety of cross-border firings.
Ministry of Home Affairs, the Govt of India, is implementing the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) through the State Governments/UT Administrations in habitations located within 0-10 km. from the first habitation at the international border in 460 border blocks of 117 border districts in 16 States and 2 UTs. The BADP aims to meet the unique developmental requirements of the people living in isolated and distant areas near the international border and to provide essential infrastructure in the country’s border areas. Various steps have been undertaken to expedite the implementation and timely completion of infrastructure projects approved under BADP in border habitations. Some of these are developing an online monitoring system for effective physical and financial monitoring, the appointment of Prabhari Officers with a mandate to visit sites and give feedback on implementation etc. (Ministry of Home Affairs, Lok Sabha, 22 March 2022).
In Sept 2021, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence and Tourism Ajay Bhatt visited the border district Kupwara in north Kashmir and said there would be numerous growth opportunities in future, including border tourism. The government has plans to develop the border areas in Uri, Rajouri and Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch, among others. The construction of a 600 km road will touch tourist attractions like Kieran, Gurej and Machhal. The road will connect all new tourist spots and picturesque valleys and help open them for tourists. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, in October last year, initiated a ‘Retreat Ceremony’ at Octroi Post, Suchetgarh, on the India-Pak International Border, intending to encourage border tourism. The occasion was witnessed by hundreds of tourists and residents of J&K.
Such initiatives have brought much relief for the border dwellers, where tourism-related activities have gradually started. Trekkers, tourists, and locals have started crowding to watch the beauty of nature in villages near the LoC in Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora. After three decades or so now, tourists are visiting the border areas.
The people have been the hapless victims of the ‘proxy war’ initiated by our adversary since 1989. Nevertheless, the Indian Army (IA) is carrying out the arduous task of guarding the borders and countering terrorism. It is also doing a lot to alleviate people’s miseries and expand their quality of life in rural areas and highly inaccessible and remote locations. To help the people of J&K, the IA proposed an all-inclusive programme to address the people’s basic needs and empower them. The IA in the 90s initiated the project ‘Operation Sadbhavana’. Since then, this project has benefitted many people, mostly belonging to society’s weaker and less privileged sections, especially in border areas. From humble beginnings, this project has grown into a multifaceted initiative that aims to empower the people of J&K and not merely pamper them. In a significant initiative, IA has identified education, skilling, and employment generation as key focused areas for development. These schemes are youth-centric, specifically targeting people from borders and remote areas.
Indian Army, over the years, has forty-three Army Goodwill Schools (AGS) and helped several Government run schools in remote areas through renovation, construction of additional classrooms, libraries, toilets, playgrounds, sports facilities, provisioning of furniture, computers, educational software packages, stationary, and books. Roughly one lakh fifty thousand plus students have benefitted. More than 14500 students have received a quality education in primary/ higher secondary levels, and over 1500 scholarships have been distributed to people who belong to economically weaker sections from inaccessible areas. In a unique initiative, the Army has set up three schools at Nathatop, Patnitop and Sanasar to enrol the children of the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities. The children’s education suffers when the ‘deras’ move from one place to another. This will also generate employment for the locals in remote and border areas.
In addition to conducting numerous professional courses to make the youth employable, the IA has given dedicated training to the youth so they could be recruited under the ‘Agniveer’ scheme. It aims to provide the J&K youth with an opportunity to render their services for the country’s defence and employ them. The IA is trying to provide the necessary knowledge and training to the youth living in remote and near the border areas to perform well in recruitment. Various training programmes are being organised in Mankot, Mendhar, Lorn, Mandi, Poonch, Riasi, Kishtwar, etc. The training programme is for boys and girls who want to be recruited under the Agniveer scheme.
Conclusion: Successful ‘Capability Development’ initiatives require the conviction, commitment, and confidence to make them sustainable. There is a need to focus on the areas such as primary & health infrastructure, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusiveness and skill development. Provisioning basic facilities and opportunities for sustainable living for the people of the border areas would help them integrate with the mainland, create a conducive environment and motivate people not to migrate. This will certainly go in a long way to eradicate terrorism from J&K.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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