PUCL April, 2003

Militarisation of Indo Pak border and the Issue of Land Mines

-- By Kavita Srivastava, PUCL Rajasthan

Of all the conventional instruments of modern warfare, landmines, are the most commonly used yet the most destructive on a continuous basis. Long after conflicts end the presence of landmines continue to pose a terrible threat, often making it impossible for refugees and internally displaced people to return to their homes, and prolonging suffering for everybody in the affected areas. For individual and community alike many of whom are already living in poverty and insecurity, the impact of landmines is not simply physical, it is also psychological, social and economic.

After being eye ball to eye ball with the Pakistani forces for more than one year the Indian Army with its Tanks and other ammunition went back to their barracks in October -November, 2002. The people lost their standing crops completely and in some places their homes to the army occupation. However, the most dangerous aspect of this occupation and the threat to lives was caused by more than 8 lac land mines that were laid down along the over 1040 km stretch of India-Pakistan border falls in Rajasthan, the longest land boundary between the two countries, running through the four districts of Sri Ganganagar, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer. Except for Sri Ganganagar, these are desert districts and have witnessed heavy fighting in the past two wars. The strip of land along the border was mined on earlier occasions in 1965 and 1971 and, this time also, the army, during the troop build up at the border, has heavily mined these areas.

According to Hindustan Times ( HT ) reports the entire border from Kashmir to Kutch was converted into a minefield with over 15 lac land mines. Even without a war, in Rajasthan, it led to loss of lives and limbs, dispossessed people of their means of livelihood and impeded children's education. According to a Hindustan Times study of land mines more than a thousand people (civilians and army personnel ) and several thousand of livestock were killed and several more injured. It may be relevant to point out here that India has not signed the treaty on landmines.

According to the HT study it took only three dollars to plant a land mine but thirty dollars to de-mine. Even in the best scenario like in Serbia ( erstwhile Yugoslavia ) where the best technology was used to de-mine the claim is that only ninety percent of the landmines could be cleared. The ten percent left behind would always be a potential threat to the people.

Residents all along the border agitated against army occupation and landmines particularly in Ganganagar where a month long dharna was organised by farmers and left parties on the issue of compensation of twenty five thousand hectares of land occupied by the army.

When the "operation parakram" was called of and the army left in October - November the de-mining operations were also initiated. According to one news report in TOI seventy percent of the land mines have been removed. There is no guarantee that the remaining thirty percent will ever be removed and whether the fate will be the same as in 1971 war. About this former MP Than Singh Jatav who was an SDM in the late 70s says, "................... the land mines of the 1965 and the 1971 war were not cleared completely and these would frequently explode causing injuries to the cattle and people. At my behest the Government of Rajasthan wrote several times to the Defence Ministry, Government of India to intervene in this matter but there was no response from them."

Partition broke up families on opposite sides of the artificial international border. Militarisation followed, making the desert the favourite area for army exercises. It also became the choice site for nuclear tests. The unquestioned assumption was that the area was a desert and a wasteland, of no use to anybody, hence it was the ideal zone for any destructive or disruptive experiment. Several scholars and studies have shown that this area supported a style of life and an economy of its own.
This is not only what the state presumes about the region, but is also at times the misconception of the civil society at large outside of the region. Therefore, dangers posed by landmines or nuclear blasts to the life patterns and unique ecology of the desert do not leave the same mark as they should on the consciousness of an otherwise sensitive civil society.
For the people of "Marudhar", i.e the great Thar Desert, landmines are one of the most destructive in a series of state interventions in the region that have led to dispossession, displacement and decontrol of indigenous population over their land and resources after Independence. While awareness of the damaging impact of landmines is increasing across the world, it is yet to register effectively in the South Asian region, which has been a site of recurrent armed conflicts for more than fifty years. Which is why a movement against landmines has to build as soon as possible in the country.



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