Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 4 Tuesday 23/08/11

Photos on flickr photostream (ID: sahaafi)

Video at:

I re-started my journey in the morning after 'royal' treatment from my hosts (we share a common friend who originates from this region currently residing in Mirpur). They escort me back to Sariyaala Chapar where I had halted my walk yesterday. Today, my target destination is Patni. Learning from my experience of the previous day (of unwittingly coming across army camps) I decided to stick to the main road on whatever route I adopted from this point on, though remaining as close to the LOC and west of Pakistani army posts as physically possible.

Today's walk is distinctly longer than yesterday's and I make far more contact with the public. The locals say economic life was very hard until a few years ago when many youngsters found a formula of getting to Greece and beyond. Repatriation of wealth is visible amongst the many examples of concrete hamlets littered throughout the horizon. There is irony in terms of the bout of inflation imported from Pakistan over the past few years as well as the current economic plight of Greece. Every story isn't rosy though, the road to Europe and economic upliftment has cost many a life. Ruination also ensues if one is deported or even jailed before they can start repaying the agent's fee.

My first encounter with the Pakistani army today is at a check-post about 5 kilometres before Thub. They question me extensively and check my baggage thoroughly before escorting me (on public transport) to their camp at Thub. I remained in their custody before an army major decides to ring a number on one of my phones to confirm my identity. He is pleasant in manner and politely informs me that he did so without my permission. They allowed me to proceed to Patni. Though I was questioned extensively and repeatedly, matters remained cordial.

It is little wonder that the tehsil of Barnala is famous for stone as the Punjabi lexical variations 'watay da', 'Watala' and 'Batala' indicate. I'm glad that I've passed that area as the toll on my sandals was beginning to tell. An occasional glance at my phone's GPS screen shows both India and Pakistan coming up wherever there is network coverage, serving as yet another reminder that I'm close to the LOC. Though, what I found highly irritating as I approached Patni was almost every member of the public asking me for my ID card. They had obviously been taught to be vigilant and mentored to question any stranger they came across.

It was almost nightfall when I arrived in Patni. With not a commercial building in sight, my immediate attention was focused on getting some water before I could start imagining where I may have to spend the night. A local house that I approached for water decided that I needed to have dinner and rest to follow. I was the first 'stranger' to have come to Patni since 1947 according to my host, all bar the Tablighi Jamaat that is.

The locals were outnumbered by mohajirs throughout Tehsil Barnala which verifies the region to have been predominantly Hindu before 1947. Originally, the mohajirs wanted to return to their homes on that side of the LOC, imagining that the conflict would be imminently resolved. Alas, it took some years before it dawned on them that their decision to 'cross the line' was decades long and indefinite.

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