Millennium Post

Monsoon wading in valley of woes

Monsoon wading in valley of woes
The floods that pounded Kashmir will live forever in our collective memory as it caused some of the worst damages in Kashmir’s history in over a century. No single event, not even the violent armed militancy of 90’s has left such ruinous impact on people’s memory as had this natural disaster.

Disasters do strike yet Kashmir’s case is quite typical. After a disaster has struck, people rely upon assistance of the government, here the case was vice-versa.

Amidst stories of loss and heroic individual efforts, the floods exposed the hollow crisis management skills of Jammu and Kashmir government. In fact, there was no response from the government towards the floods, which drowned a city. Though it was hard for the government to deal with the massive crisis yet people ensured to manage the aftermath of the floods effectively.

Their efforts minimised the death toll, which otherwise would have swelled, given the magnitude of the catastrophe. The daring volunteerism to rescue and provide food to people through above 20-feet waters is laudable. In absence of any proper boats, volunteers used cables, wires and makeshift boats to reach out to affected populace. In fact, bravery and courage should be  a by-word for Kashmiris. Much worse, the floods hit the urban areas. The city was under water to the depth of 20-feet and below. It spared nothing and virtually leveled everything that came its way. The summer capital Srinagar’s pedestal of governance, the secretariat got submerged and so did the other institutions of establishment. In fact, the chief minister Omar Abdullah had to establish the writ of the government from a makeshift place. Miraculously it didn’t touch the historic downtown city.

Rumour Mill

On the 4th day of the floods, I left my submerged neighbourhood in a makeshift boat for the first time. At first, I could spot chaos. Children, men and women: young and old, meandered through waters on foot, towards safer destinations. Tractors and trucks carried people through the floodwaters. Along the way, dead livestock floated in waters and its stench whiffed the air. On way, people circled around a pair of cattle who were evacuated from the floodwaters. The downtown was abuzz with flood survivors and rumors. Except for community kitchens and people, the downtown looked desolated. The markets were shut as a symbolic solidarity with flood victims.

Amidst no communication, rumours were doing rounds. A well-known Kashmiri pediatrician and his family, a noted businessman of Srinagar city’s nerve centre Lal Chowk apart from 350 other bodies have been retrieved from Pakistan. So much so, there funeral prayers in absentia have been offered there as well and the Pakistan government sought its Indian counterpart to take back these bodies. Apart from this, thieves used coffin to dump stolen household items, a boatman demanded gold from an expecting woman in exchange for evacuation. I am yet to get confirmation about any such incidents yet I also came to know about the heroic tales of local volunteers. One such tale is of Lal Chowk’s Hanuman temple’s priest, who was provided with food items and other such material by separatist JKLF chairman Yasin Malik. The acknowledgement came from the priest himself in a local daily Kashmir Reader, which proves Kashmir’s hospitability in the face of the catastrophe.

Tilted Media Reportage
After the 2005-earthquake, the floods were the worst to befall on  swaths of Srinagar, and parts of North and South Kashmir. As per official record, 280 human lives were lost. Apart from it,  the business, real estate and tourism industry suffered colossal damage; the extent of which runs in trillions. This national suffering however didn’t remain aloof from mainstream media’s politicisation.

The media lost the sight of terrible issues faced by people in the face of the floods. Instead of asking questions and to hold the government accountable for its massive failure, the media’s projection of evacuation had racial undertones. It gave disproportionate coverage to Army’s evacuation of civilians but ignored the plight of trapped people. There was utter aversion for media’s tilted reportage on floods. It led to confrontations and not only Delhi-based newscasters had to face the brunt of public irebut also face much anguish against the entire media.

An eyewitness
On the evening of 7 September, floodwaters entered our colony, which is a whisker away from a major Army installation at Bemina. The entire residential colony got turned into a large island. The water submerged the ground-storey of our house. It covered the main as well as the arterial roads.

The boundary walls vanished under water. For three consecutive days, nobody dared to visit our neighbourhood except for alien colourful birds. The cycle of life came to a halt. Each moment of those 72-long hours was horrible and indeed depressing. Life was just to look out of window on the helicopters hovering over the nearby Army camp.

As the dawn cracked on Monday, buzz of helicopters whirred in air. After every 15-minute, a helicopter descended down behind a line of poplar trees to either evacuate or dispense food among trapped military men there. Such was the rush sometimes that a chopper had to wait for a turn to get down. It was an  everyday routine. I could see people raising a red cloth on rooftops to seek helicopter’s attention, yet it never happened. Apparently, civilians were not on the priority list.

Equally, the inadequacy of state government to save the city is no secret. From breakdown of communication to rescue of victims, it did no good to people. The city always dodged the flood. Here, the ineffectiveness of the Omar Abdullah-led government by any measure didn’t try to dodge the bullet. First, the successive and current regime allowed residential colonies on river banks and flood channels.

The result was that wetlands got squeezed. Later, no element of the government stop vandalisation of natural resources and in fact most of the establishments were allowed to be constructed on such zones. As I was almost completely disconnected from the reality of life, I listened to the government’s wireless transcript on a radio set. To give you a fair idea about the governance during the crisis, one transcript would be sufficient. A message was communicated that a mob of 2, 000 was demanding drinking water at Kashmir Golf Club. The person on the other end redressed the grievance by replying that two-three water storage tanks be filled from some nullah to silence the mob.

Times are bad for Omar Abdullah as his term is about to end and the floods have demonstrated his failed leadership to deal with crises. He acted as if everyone had the means to come out to safer zones. By any measure the meagre response of the government and its politicisation will live forever in people’s memory.

The author is a journalist currently based in Kashmir
Moazum Mohammad

Moazum Mohammad

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