A journey to Tangdhar
“BRIDGING the divide for peace and prosperity.” These were the words written near the bridge constructed for over to Azad Kashmir near the Line of Control in Tanghdar.
It was some days back when I visited the place for a reporting project with “Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), a Delhi-based Non-Governmental Organization. ANHAD came to Kashmir after the October 8, 2005 destructive earthquake to rehabilitate the people of affected areas mostly like Uri and Tanghdar. Tanghdar is a six hour drive away from Srinagar via Sopore and Kupwara. It is located in the Karnah tehsil of the Kupwara district. It is a mountainous area spanning the Line of Control that divides the Indian and Pakistani parts of Jammu and Kashmir. There are 42 villages in the Karnah tehsil and most of them have been totally destroyed in the earthquake. More than 300 people here lost their lives, and thousands were badly injured. More than 50, 000 people were rendered homeless by the earthquake. After the earthquake, the condition of the people here has worsened. Government has failed to rehabilitate the affected families and there are only some non-governmental organizations who have worked in the area. People are complaining that they don’t have access to the higher officials; they are not available here to address their problems.
I along with my colleagues comprising the visiting team of ANHAD, on way to Tanghdar observed that it’s unavoidable for every visitor to go through several security checking posts before reaching Tanghdar. So, we also reached our first check post at Chowkibal, Kupwara. We were questioned, our identities thoroughly verified and all the details were documented by the security personnel. As we were all set to leave the post, an army personnel came and handed over us a polythene (note that polythene is banned in the state) parcel to drop it at other check post near Sadhna Pass. This Pass is 25 kms prior to Tanghdar. There is no alternate route left through which one can go to Tanghdar after the Karnah Tehsil got divided into two parts: one in Indian side and other in Pakistan side.
The road near Sadhna pass is very dangerous and it often gets blocked due to snowfalls which lead to the cut off of Tanghdar from the state capital, Srinagar. Now as we have received the parcel from the army personnel, we were checking its contents and the army personnel said, “It is our normal daily usage commodity, there is nothing to be suspicious about it.”
One among us replied, “We were just checking, it may be explosive material also, we can’t trust you people. There is only difference of uniform between you and us.”
Army personnel replied angrily, “No we can’t trust you people, if you are from across Delhi we can trust you but if you are from this state you will always remain suspicious in our eyes.”
Moving forward to cover our rest of the journey, we reached Sadhna pass and handed over the packet to the army personnel deputed at that check post. Finally after the six hour drive and passage through several check posts we reached Tanghdar and received a warm welcome from the local people and particularly by our friends there.
Teetwal, a village near LoC enthralled me not only because of its natural scenic beauty but also because I was able to see other part of divided Kashmir from here. It’s important to record here that Teetwal is only area where I saw lemon trees in Kashmir valley and I took three lemons from there. Before allowing us to move in this area we were asked to get entry passes and were frisked near several check posts. We were allowed to visit the area only for half an hour. Kishen Ganga River which flows between the two mountains, one in Indian Occupied Kashmir and other in Azad Jammu and Kashmir plays the role of dividing line i.e. Line of Control. On the IOK mountain it was written in bold letters that, “Teetwal Hamari Shaan Hai (Teetwal is our pride)” and on the Azad Jammu and Kashmir side the tin roofs of houses were painted as such forming the flag of Pakistan. Also, Azad Jammu and Kashmir flag and Pakistani flag waved to me, but I was not allowed to wave back even because we were told by our friends ‘not to wave towards that side’. Army don’t like people to wave towards other side. The fear of living under the occupation of uninvited guests, Indian forces, can be observed in the eyes of the locals in that area. Everyone here is suspicious before the army; they are brutally ruling our motherland and treating us as aliens. It is unfortunate for us to be questioned and demanded permission for visiting other areas of our own mother land.
Tanghdar has many small villages in its mountainous terrain like Kwarpora, Nachiyan, Gabra, Kandi, Taadd, Triboni, Jadda, Hajitra, Teetwaal and many other far flung villages also. It was badly affected by the October 8, 2005 earthquake besides the deadly countenance of shelling when the war was on between the India and Pakistan. Nearly every house in this border area has a unique closet room underground which is used for protection during shelling. These rooms are called as Morcha; it’s made up of stones and logs in the courtyard of house. When there is no war, the villagers are using these rooms for storage of goods which they have to do because in winters the area gets cut off from the whole state as due to blockage of Sadhna pass with frequent snowfalls. Residents of Tanghdar who are all Pahari’s, they spoke Pahari language also, for last many decades are demanding the construction of a road tunnel to cross Sadhna pass, but government has taken no initiative yet. Mobile connectivity has not reached here yet. Local landline telephone booths hardly function properly. There is no internet connectivity. Even the newspapers here reach 24 hours after they are distributed in other parts of the state. Electricity plays hide and seek. Neither the local administration nor the state government has attempted to pay any attention towards the grievances of the people of Tanghdar.
Overall, it was a great experience visiting the place and also to see the other part of divided Kashmir. Unfortunately to visit my own motherland, I have to take permission from the non-state forces whom Kashmiris never welcomed to be here in Kashmir. Everyone demand the withdrawal of troops from Kashmir but Indian government is doing nothing except the futile promises and dialogue processes to befool the world and taking its time for strengthening its illegal occupation of Kashmir. Recently, the home minister of India was promising to revoke the black laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act but nothing has been delivered yet. In a recent statement by the army, they said, “There are only 600-700 militants active in the valley and troops will not be withdrawn till the militant threat will not end.” It proves that for every 100 militants there are 100,000 troopers fighting with them. It’s unfortunate that India still claims itself to be world’s largest democracy.
I think Kashmir dispute cannot be solved by the bilateral dialogue process only, there should be carved out a special policy for its solution. All the stakeholders of the Kashmir dispute, most importantly the people of Kashmir should be involved in that policy.