India on Saturday launched a Wagah-Attari-style BSF’s “retreat ceremony” at the Octerio Border Out Post near Suchetgarh village on the International Border on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.
The ceremony, comprising a structured parade by BSF men, was launched with Lt Governor Manoj Sinha terming the event as a “history in making” and the locals fervently hoping that the usual rattling of guns and booming of shells across the IB, prevalent till recently, will be a thing of past.
They also hoped this event would bring much-needed peace to the Suchetgarh sector in Jammu and Kashmir, helping it become a tourist spot round the year like the Attari border and heralding peace and prosperity for the border residents through tourism activities.
The chants of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Matram’ by people rent the air as BSF men carried out their parade in crisp uniforms.
“Today it is a history in making. Suchetgarh will now be known not only on the tourism map of J&K but in entire India,” Sinha said.
He also complimented the efforts of the BSF and other agencies in launching the step.
“This is a historical step showing the return of much-needed peace along the IB, which used to be rocked by the rattling of guns and booming of shells across the border,” said Shamsher Singh of Suchetgarh village.
“It will also promote tourism in the area. It is a great day for us,” he added.
Like Singh, an elderly woman Kanta Devi was so excited that she danced to the beats of drums by the villagers.
“We have been watching our houses being fired at and shelled for years now. But this scene has brought joy and peace to us. This should be a permanent feature,” she said, fervently hoping for peace to prevail in and around her village.
Deepika, a student from the R S Pura border area, said she had seen such retreat ceremonies only on TV till then. She said she was happy that it was being held before her eyes in her own area.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had on July 4, 2016, launched a border tourism initiative at the Octerio BoP. A group of nearly 100 tourists from various parts of the country visited the Octerio Border Out Post along the IB, which has three-tier border fencing.
Former J&K Minister for Culture & Tourism, Priya Sethi, who had launched the border tourism in Jammu in 2016, had then led the first group of 100 tourists, which travelled in a special bus to the Suchetgarh border belt in R S Pura tehsil of Jammu district.
“It is a historic occasion when the retreat ceremony took place here,” BSF’s (Jammu Frontier) DIG P S Sandhu said.
This was the first initiative after many years to put in place the retreat ceremony as a part of the border tourism on the Indian side on the lines Wagah border.
The government has restored the old colonial Octroi BoP building and turned it into a gallantry gallery, besides constructing a multi-purpose hall, children’s park and border meeting post here at the border under the Himalayan Circuit of Swadesh Bharat Scheme of the Central government.
Suchetgarh town, now in Pakistan, is about 27-km from Jammu and earlier served as the route to Sialkot during the pre-partition era.
The Jammu-Sialkot railway line through Suchetgarh was a 43-km narrow gauge branch of the North-Western Railway and the first railway line in Jammu and Kashmir.
Since 1947, the line has fallen into a state of disuse on both sides of the border.
The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry Jammu, meanwhile, lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi and LG Sinha for starting the retreat ceremony here.
CCIJ president Arun Gupta said it is a much-needed step for boosting the economy of the region as it is likely that people will visit the area in large numbers to witness the parade and herald a change in the socio-economic condition of the entire belt.