CHANDIGARH: “For us the war has already begun.” These words of Devinder Singh, a distraught farmer of Dhanoakalan village located on Indo-Pak International Border (IB) sumS up the plight of Punjab's farmers being evacuated amid war hysteria drummed up by the government and a vast section of the media.

Besides being burdened with the stress of moving out from their houses as the government has ordered evacuation in the villages located within 10 km from the International Border, the farmers are concerned about their standing paddy crops that are due to mature in the next two weeks.

Punjab's farmers are already in distress owing to debts and other factors. The state that was once known as India's grain bowl now reports farmer suicides almost daily. The farmers now say they just cannot afford to loose their standing crop.

Although Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has assured that they will be allowed to harvest their crop many ifs and buts remain. What if shelling begins? What if, as per the reports in the local media, the Army moves in to lay land mines in the villages adjoining the borders?

The farmers also want to know why they alone are being asked to leave their villages. Why have similar instructions not been issued to villagers in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat that also share a border with Pakistan.

Talking to The Citizen Devinder Singh said, “The government has asked us to evacuate but there is no assistance or conveyance so far. We are forced to leave our kids, elders and women with our relatives living away from the border and we return daily to take care of the fully ripe crop and the live stock. I hope the condition improves soon. Our relatives are also people with limited means. The food they eat and the place they live in is limited as well.”

The farmers say that a lot many of them have already let loose their live stock. For the hard working villagers, the news of evacuation has come as a bolt from the blue.

“People are scared to live in their own houses. The women, children and elders have been shifted to the schools which are closed for imparting education. They are carrying their clothes, bedding and a few basic things. The Gurudwara in the village is taking care of their food,.” Malik Bitta of Mohan Kehitar village of Fazilka said. He said that the farmers have shut down tube wells to buy some more time for harvest.

The villages that have been hit hard by the evacuation include 60 villages in Fazilka, 300 in Ferozepur, 135 in Taran Taran, 137 in Amritsar, 290 villages in Gurdaspur and 65 in Pathankot.

Professor Gyan Singh of Punjabi University at Patiala is an expert agriculture economics. He along with his team did a survey on the farm debts in Punjab during 2014-2015 and concluded that the farmer in Punjab is already under a debt of RS 69,345 crore.

He points out that the evacuation of villages at this time will add to their misery. He says that because of the panic that has spread there will be an acute shortage of labour. It will be difficult for men alone to harvest the crop which is spread in acres.

He said,” The harvesting machines may help in the situation but lack of labour will effect it as well. In case this crop is not harvested, the farmer will not be able to repay even the interest forget about the standing loan amount. The estimated loss could be Rs 40000 – Rs 45000 per acre.”

Even if it is just a call for caution, the distress and discomfort has taken a toll on the villagers. Kuldeep Singh of Mohana village located just 500 meters from the IB in Amritsar district says, “How can I leave my house? What if a robber loots my house? Who will take care of my live stock?”.He has the crop in four acres standing to be harvested. His livelihood depends on it. He is worried of what will happen, if the tension accelerates?

Though Kuldeep Singh has not got help from the government so far, he did not fail to mention that the local in-charge of five police posts went out of the way to help and counsel the villagers. He even shared his mobile number and told them that his personal vehicle will also remain in service of the villagers on a call.

The villagers are simply reluctant to leave. They are not bothered about the politics at play on Indo-Pak relations. Their world revolves around their crop and livestock which they cannot afford loose. Apart from the war hysteria, it is the festive season they are more concerned about.

But the drums of war have left them with no choice. And bleak prospects ahead.

(Cover Photograph: Anxious villagers on Friday continued to move out of their villages in Punjab which shares the International Border (IB) with Pakistan as panic gripped the area regarding a possible strike by Islamabad in the wake of the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army across the Line of Control (LoC). (ANI)