Against the backdrop of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, an undulating green valley stretches as far as the eye can see. Sheep graze in the distance, under an azure sky. Tufts of cotton-cloud drift lazily overhead. A gurgling mountain stream skirts past one edge of the land. A few foreigners, all tourists, form a line in the distance as they trek through Tosamaidan, soaking in the breath-taking beauty of the picture-postcard meadow.
But less than a decade ago, Tosamaidan—in the Pir Panjal mountain range in Kashmir valley—was a living hell, a purgatory at a place once lovingly called the “heaven on earth” by Emperor Jahangir. Used as a live firing range by security forces, including the army and BSF, the 11,200-hectare Tosamaidan resembled a war zone. From April to November every year, the army fired artillery shells from different villages of Budgam above the Pir Panjal mountain range towards Tosamaidan. At times, the live ammunition would land outside the firing zone, leading to human casualties. The government says at least 65 people have died in Tosamaidan in separate incidents. However, residents say the number of dead people could be far higher as the victims’ kin often refrained from registering FIRs.