Budgam, India-administered Kashmir – The Tosa Maidan meadows, long used as a firing range by the Indian army in Indian-administered Kashmir, has been declared free of landmines following the expiration of its lease.
The landmines were responsible for many casualties and permanent injuries while the area was used as a firing range.
About 69sq km of Tosa Maidan in the central district of Budgam has been used for the past 50 years by the Indian army and air force for training purposes and heavy artillery drills. But residents of nearby villages like Lassipora, Drang and Shanglipora have protested against the use of the meadows due to the number of deaths caused by unexploded bombs scattered around.
Official figures state that since the lease was granted in 1964, 63 people have died and 150 have been disabled from these littered shells. Locals say that number is much higher, so much so that Tosa Maidan is also called The Meadow of Death by villagers.
Last month Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said that this year they would not be renewing the lease for the army and would provide an alternate location for the exercises, even hinting that the area could become a tourist destination. By October 22, after an 83-day operation, the Indian army said it had finished demining the fields.
However, the memory of a shell killing seven-year-old Simran Riyaz and blowing off her brother Fayaz Riyaz’s limbs in May is still fresh.
On May 19, Simran and Fayaz were playing outside their house in Lassipora with a bag filled with soil, unaware that there was a littered shell in it.
“I checked the bag and it was filled with soil,” Riyaz Ahmad Parray, Simran’s father, told Al Jazeera.
“I insisted that they accompany me to the kitchen garden and play there but they adamantly refused. While I was on my way to garden I heard a big boom.”
Manzoor Ahmad Parray, Simran’s grandfather, who was at home at the time, said: “I was sitting inside the room and suddenly a blast shook our house. There was smoke coming inside through window. On seeing it I rushed outside. There I found body parts of my granddaughter scattered in a pool of blood. She was dead. Fayaz was screaming with pain.”
The army said in a recent report that it had provided a compensation of 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,625) to the family of another victim, Bilal Ahmad Parray, who was killed in July.
However, other families have said they have yet to receive their compensation or jobs for those who lost their breadwinners to the leftover shells.