Rangwar, Loc: In this small hamlet of hundred families alongside the Line of Control in Kupwara district, the fear and uncertainty prevails. Hundreds of men and women are thronged to polling booths to cast their ballot. Rangwar, a temporary village built after massive earthquake of 2005 reduced their ancestral homes and properties to rubble were left homeless and eventually migrated to this place.
“Since last few months, we have been receiving continuously notices from forest department to vacate the land. We have nowhere to go in case we are forcibly evicted from the existing place,” said, the local Panch member Mohammad Afsar Khan.
Nearly 100 families who were residing in upper Rangwar, as per locals, left their ancestral land and houses after geological and mining department warned against new construction on the land.
The government then had identified 115 kanals of land in an adjoining area. “The land before we could take over was already occupied by the army and they installed their camp in half of it,” Khan added. “We approached the local administration and sought their help to reclaim the designated land. They, however, asked us to settle down here and we raised the temporary structures.”
Economically deprived community, the village had bigger tragedy in 1995 when a massive landslide occurred and buried dozens of homes. “We are ready to vacate this land but government shall rehabilitate us and allot the residential plots to each family”.
With four people working in government sector the economy of the village is predominantly depending on limited agriculture lands besides huge chunk of people working as army potters.
While this village is yet to receive the electricity and drinking water facility with locals provided fewer subsidized solar lamps to illuminate homes, the forest department has issued the notices to the villagers to vacate the land since it belongs to the forest department.
In absence of any elected government in Jammu and Kashmir, the locals are now pinning hopes on the ongoing DDC elections and have decided to elect the representative who can advocate for their rights.
“I have no kids, no family. I am living as a widow in this hamlet in a temporary tin shed. But I voted to support my people to choose a representative who shall fight for the land and other basic rights,” says an elderly women, Saleem Fatima.
“So far we have been exploited by the successive regimes. They come here only during election times and never to return to fulfil their promises”.
While the elders in the hamlet fear the forcible eviction by the government, the young lot is quite dismayed for not having basic facilities like education, drinking water, health facilities and roads. They hope after electing their DDC member the issues might get resolved.
The village has three room tin shed as middle school. The entire village children are supposed to be educated their only which has no furniture, blackboards, electricity and other requirements.
“Look here. This is our school where we are shivering with cold, a 6th standard student Adil Khan points towards the tin shed. Khan is unofficially also a caretaker of this tin shed and holds the keys of all classrooms.
The middle school, according to locals have just 20 children enrolled with five teachers posted by the government. The quality of education, however, seems abysmal.
“I can’t write down the names properly because we are discouraged to study by teachers. We are deprived of basic facilities, said another student Ishaq Khan. “On our behalf you just appeal the government to provide us the basic infrastructure for education,” the students emotionally insisted.
Meanwhile, Rangwar is not the only hamlet that is reeling under fear after receiving the eviction notices. The tribal’s and other communities living nearby forests in Jammu and Kashmir have received notices by the UT government and temporary shelters have been demolished by the authorities in Pahalgham and other forest areas recently. This has pushed the community enmass to participate in DDC elections and elect their representatives to fight for their rights.