‘A ghost that haunts’: Living with landmines in Kashmir

One night in December 2000, Mohammad Yaqoob says he was selected by the Indian army for patrol duty along the Line of Control (LoC), the border dividing the Indian and Pakistani-administered regions of Kashmir.

Twenty years ago it was standard but informal practice in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir for the army to select young men from nearby villages for night patrol along the 734km LoC, to keep watch for “infiltrators” from the other side of the border. For this, Yaqoob says he and other men from his village did not receive any training, pay or compensation.

As he returned home just before dawn, the 30-year-old stepped on a hidden landmine and, in an instant, lost his leg.

Fellow villagers who were also part of the patrol that night took him to the nearest army hospital in Tangdar, Kupwara. While medicine was provided by the army free of cost, Yaqoob had to pay for the surgery he needed.

When Al Jazeera contacted the Divisional Commissioner of the Indian Government to clarify what the official policy is towards using villagers for patrols and the treatment of landmine victims in Kashmir, we were asked to submit our questions, which we did via email. These remain unanswered several weeks later.

A telephone call and email with questions to the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, the Administrative Head of the State Secretariat, also went unanswered.

The spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Defence, Rajesh Kalia, referred us to the Indian army for comment. The spokesman for the Indian army, Aman Anand, also asked us to email questions, but these, too, were not answered despite numerous follow-up emails and text messages.

Former Director-General of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency Kamal Dawar did talk to us. He said: “These are localised practices and not official. The station army officer may take villagers to guide them through their area, for patrolling purposes. I am not sure if they pay them or not.” He further stated that India does not lay landmines during peace time but only when there is “a threat from an enemy state or possibility of an imminent war.”

‘My wife divorced me’

For Yaqoob, that night changed the course of his life. A member of the Pahari tribe, he lives in the village of Prada in the Kashmir district of Kupwara, just 4km from the LoC.

Sitting in his house, Yaqoob explains that he used to work as a labourer and, during summers would take his cattle to graze up in the mountains. After losing his leg, however, he cannot go to the mountains or take on any labour work. For the past two decades, this has left him with no income apart from a small pension.

After a landmine injury, victims must file a First Informer’s Report (FIR) in order to qualify for a 1,000-rupee ($13.60) monthly pension paid by the Indian Social Welfare Department to landmine survivors.

“While I was in the hospital after surgery, my brother went to file the FIR,” says Yaqoob. “He found out that the Army had already filed an FIR in our name, in which they had stated that I was in the forest collecting timber when I had stepped on a landmine. It was shocking for all of us.”

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