A Third Front?

Kusum Choppra

Kashmir and Doklam were enough to keep the Forces on their toes. Perhaps the Defence Minister too?  Then, add one more front, and …?

A border state with abandoned border villages, sans roads, power, water, schools, health centres, any amenities, an absent Border Areas Development Program.  What else can be expected but migration, first of the young people and then, finally, when old age or disease strikes, of the older ones who clung to ancient memories.

Perhaps the most spectacular example of the Scorched Earth Policy, of devastating everything in the path of an invader, since the Russians retreated before Napoleon, in a bitter winter, forcing him to ultimately go back, leaving Russia free.

What is going on up north where, once upon a time, it was a family honour to have at least one person serving in the Forces; where inadequate pensions in the lower ranks meant resettlement in ancestral homes to till the soil for an additional living, keeping a wary eye all round their segment of the border with China, thanks to ingrained training.  Recent data reveals against 37 attempted intrusions between 2006 and 2011, and in July 2017 alone, twice!

By 2017, 734 villages abandoned, the population in another 565 down to half, and 28.72% of the population has migrated from a state which hosts Badrinath and Haridwar, the top religious tourism hotspots.

In Himachal, next door, horticulture and floriculture keep the fields busy – an alternate income for when tourists go; whereas here ‘kos kos pe diya jalta hai’ in scattered households, perhaps one or two or none per village with only old people hanging on to their homes – For how long?  Soon old age and its problems will also drive them to the cities, away from the melancholy sight of their fallow fields.

In modern times, it is dangerous for border villages to lose residents who are the eyes and ears watching the border.  That is why the Border Area Development Program, especially to ensure that these areas are well managed and inhabited.

Its failure here has left us with a third possible front — open border, no living villagers to report any activity from across the border as even retiring jawans who earlier populated and served as eyes and ears, no longer live in the Scorched Earth Areas.

Kusum Choppra is a freelance journalist and novelist.  E-mail: kusumchoppra@yahoo.com  Website: www.kusumchoppra.com

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