soniasarkar26

Those who came in from Narowal – then and now.

Posted on: August 2, 2015

Gurdaspur on the Indo-Pakistan border hit the headlines after terrorists attacked a police station. Once the crucible of the Khalistani movement, militancy of a different kind seems to be rearing its head again, says Sonia Sarkar

Terror strike: Police personnel at the Dina­nagar police station during the recent militant attack

The senior Gurdaspur resident recalls the song that children sang when the train came in from Narowal. ” Gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi shuka maar di,” they chanted, “gaddi aayi, gaddi aayi, Narowal di” (the train’s come, whistling, the train from Narowal is in.

The train’s gone, as has the railway line that connected Gurdaspur with Narowal. And there is no song to be sung when Narowal, now in Pakistan, is mentioned these days.

“Before Partition, Narowal was a business centre for traders dealing in garments, cotton and iron,” says historian Raj Kumar Sharma, former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur, as he recalls the children’s ditty.

But earlier this week, Narowal sprung up again when the Punjab police said the three terrorists who attacked Gurdaspur’s Dinanagar police station and killed seven people on Monday – and were killed by security forces – came in from Narowal.
People gather in large groups in market areas in Gurdaspur, crowding around a newspaper and discussing the attack. Passers-by stand curiously outside the Dinanagar police station. After years of peace, suddenly there is talk of militancy again.

Gurdaspur has had its share of terror – it was a hub for terrorists when Sikh militants waged a war for Khalistan. There is talk once again of a possible revival of the Khalistani movement.

But the former Khalistan Commando Force chief, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, who is from Guraspur’s Dhariwal village, dismisses such speculation.

“It’s sad that an attack by terrorists from the other side of the border is linked with the Khalistani movement. We have no Pakistani connections anymore,” says Zaffarwal, who has now floated a political party, the United Akali Dal.
Gurdaspur, where Muslims were in a majority before Partition, was to have been included in Pakistan. But Cyril Radcliffe, the chairman of the border commissions, made a last minute change, giving away the Muslim-dominated Shakargarh to Pakistan and keeping Gurdaspur in India.

“If Jammu and Kashmir had to be connected with the rest of India, Pathankot (then in Gurdaspur, now a separate district) had to be in India,” Sharma says.

Gurdaspur’s strategic location, senior officers hold, is a possible reason the militants chose Dinanagar. “The geographical location of Gurdaspur makes it sensitive. It shares a border with Pakistan and is next to Jammu, which has seen a high infiltration of terrorists,” a senior police official in the Gurdaspur city police station states.
Investigating officers believe that Jammu may have been the target, but the militants chose Gurdaspur because of the high security in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the ongoing Amarnath Yatra.

The terrorists, they believe, swam across the river Ravi from Pakistan to India. They arrived at Tash Pattan, 17 kilometres from the Dinanagar police station. Tash Pattan in Gurdaspur is on the eastern bank of river Ujh, while Jalala in Narowal is on its western bank, separated by some 300 metres. Here no fencing demarcates the two nations.

The rivers, security officers say, are often the route that militants take. For while the railway line may have gone, the rivers continue to link India with Pakistan. The Ravi flows through Chamba in Himachal Pradesh to Madhopur and Kathlore in Gurdaspur, then to Katarpur in Narowal, and back again into India through Lashian in Pathankot.

The Ujh, which flows in from Jasrota in Jammu, forms the boundary between Pathankot in Punjab and Shakargarh in Narowal.

“The course of these two rivers enables the entry of infiltrators. When there is high current in the river, someone from Pakistan can easily swim into Gurdaspur,” a police official says.

The river is not the only route. I went to several border posts such as Simbal Sakoh and Dhinda but was not stopped anywhere by security officials. The posts are crowded, and the Dera Baba Nanak checkpost is particularly so, as locals with binoculars gather there to have a look at Gurdwara Katarpur Sahib in Narowal, about three kilometres from the border.
But the terror attack has resurrected old worries about links with Pakistan. Take Daniel Masih, a 50-year-old Gurdaspuri.

He says he was sent to Pakistan by the Research and Analysis Wing in 1992. He was caught, spent four years in Pakistan’s jails, and after being released in 1997, took the Samjhauta Express to India.

But, he adds, when he landed at Attari, he was arrested by the police on charges of planting a bomb. He spent two months in a jail before he was allowed to return home to Dadwan village.

“The police falsely implicated me. I live with the fear that they may do this to me again,” says Masih, now a rickshawpuller. “Any news of terror with Pakistani links worries me.”

Gurdaspur has gone through many upheavals. Even after the Khalistani movement was crushed in the 1990s, the region, where people are mostly farmers, saw little development.

“Now very few have land holdings. People mostly work as daily wagers on agricultural land,” Sharma says. “The only iron smelting industry in Batala too is dying. There is no major investment in the district.”

Unemployment is of grave concern. The government states that over 30,555 people are unemployed, but most contend that the figure is substantially higher than that. Joblessness among the educated is high, with the literacy rate at 69 per cent.

“We have degrees but no jobs. We sit idle all day,” complains Dhariwal villager Bikram Singh, 22.
The government, however, stresses that it has several employment programmes. “We have started many self-employment schemes such as pig rearing, bee keeping and animal husbandry. People have to take the initiative to be a part of these schemes,” district collector Abhinav Trikha holds.

Drug abuse – a problem across Punjab – is another worrying issue. The police say that drugs are smuggled to other parts of Punjab from Gurdaspur. In March this year, security forces seized 18kg of heroin worth Rs 90 crore from two Pakistani smugglers near the Dera Baba Nanak post.

“Like infiltrators, drugs too come through the Ravi. Packets of heroin stuffed in five feet long hollow plastic pipes sail into the river from Narowal. Smugglers on this side receive them,” a senior police official says.
Gurdaspur, clearly, carries a burden. And few can forget that Indira Gandhi’s assassin Satwant Singh belonged to Gurdaspur.

The Dinanagar attack has opened up old wounds, his family members say, alleging that they were subjected to police torture after Gandhi was killed. Satwant’s elder brother, Gurnam Singh, 60, says the family was glued to the television all day as the battle between the security forces and the terrorists at the police station raged.

“We didn’t go to farm. We didn’t milk our cows. Our women didn’t even cook that day till the operation was over,” he says.
“Gurdaspur has seen the worst. But we don’t want any disturbance now,” he adds. “We want peace.”

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