Kashmir is witnessing the worst floods in its living memory. Even as the rains have stopped two days back people are still stranded. Entire areas in the summer capital Srinagar and district Islamabad are submerged and the surface water is not receding as it should, normally.
A flood of this magnitude was predicted in 2010. Flood Control department in Kashmir had sought immediate assistance from the government for necessary infrastructure. Rs 22,000 crore project was formulated to put the infrastructure on place but successive governments slept over the issue.
Apart from such neglect, many other factors are responsible for the present humanitarian crisis, mainly the unmindful construction of railways and highways. Such constructions have caused huge depressions, turning Srinagar city into a bowl. The new four lane highway project has chocked all traditional sewage system, blocking all outlets. The railway line which runs across the valley has been constructed by razing down most of the hillocks turning the line into a steady embankment which keeps the level of surface water static. Also, the residential colonies which have come up around major wetlands like Hokarsar have a massive contribution in creating such an alarming situation.
In Kashmir government, as always, is doing nothing. Local people are doing the rescue and Indian Army is doing its job as usual.
Armies are built to save territories, the areas they occupy. That is exactly what Indian Army is doing in Kashmir which is caught in nature’s fury: a flood which has already consumed more than one hundred fifty lives and caused unimaginable damages to property and agriculture. The recurring images flashing across news channels showing Indian army involved in “rescue” is a propaganda and a public relations exercise. In reality they are cherry picking influential people who come to Delhi and seek help for thise they left behind. That any rescue or evacuation is done by army is actually a farce and if at all it is true, then it is a tragedy.
It is a farce because no rescue is done by the army outside the areas where they are stationed, meaning that they are holding on to their position and occupying the territory. If they do so, engage in rescue, it would be a tragedy, because they are not mandated to do that in Kashmir. However, aiding to the crisis fits well their strategy.
With only six boats in entire Srinagar they are evacuating the officers and their families to safe locations and only bragging about civilian rescue. The rescue operations for the last three days are conducted by young self-help voluntary groups across Kashmir. In Islamabad in South-Kashmir, which is worst hit, a group of young men have been involved in rescue after taking their families to safer locations. Since all communications to that part of Kashmir are down, last conversations suggest that have formed teams on village level. The state administration is non-existent there and help is coming from the people themselves.
In Srinagar, which remains inundated even after three days, young people from areas unaffected by flood have managed whatever they could to recue people. The migrant laborers from different parts of India have also been rescued from their rented places and provided food and shelter at safe locations. Tourists caught in hotels have also been rescued. From areas like Bemina, Rajbagh, Indra Nagar, Humhama, Gogji Bagh, Habba Kadal and other places in the city all rescue and evacuation is done by the volunteers and the media, perhaps not on ground, are fascinated by the rescue and are all praise for the government.
The internet wherever it is working (mainly on Aircel Networks) has been used shrewdly by these volunteer groups to spread SOSs and reach to the people in need. They are constantly updating the list of people rescued through google document to keep the Kashmiri diaspora updated. Kashmiri students in Delhi, Pune, and Mumbai have responded to the crisis maturely and so far have not succumbed to any political compromise. They have been collecting funds within themselves and arranging for logistic support.
In the outskirts of the city people have arranged for the shelter and food on a large scale. Transport service in the form of trucks and tractors is also provided locally. Truck and tractor owners from some parts of Baramulla like Pattan have deployed their vehicles for evacuation.
The government administration in Kashmir has miserably failed. Highlighting this is necessary because the government is using the media, broadcast, print and social networking, to take credit for what locals are doing. This supposition is vindicated by the fact that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was presented as a kind of John Rambo by an Economic Times headline (As Jammu and Kashmir battles flood, Omar Abdullah leads from the font), has called for timely assembly elections in the State.
The one thousand crore rupee relief announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling the floods as a natural disaster, is a diplomatically loaded political gesture. At this moment of time no amount of money can help in evacuation and rehabilitation of people to safer places. If one were to take a larger leap and compare the situation with 2013 Uttrakhand floods (though that would be politically incorrect but to bust the myth of Modi Sarkar it becomes necessary) where Nerendra Modi’s two day visit was said to have rescued 15000 people, his visit to Kashmir has only wasted time and money. For the photo op, as elections were months away, Modi was shown helping people on ground. In Kashmir it took him only an aerial survey to declare himself triumphant.
While Kashmir is battling the worst of times in living memory (not worse than what occupation does), a section of people are deriving sadist pleasures. Twitter and facebook are flooded by the messages like “let the traitors die”, “Kashmir will perish and become Satisar again”. A particular facebook user, Vithal inExile wrote “Happy images coming from Kashmir-It is back to being satisar. The sinners would vanish and Dharma would be established. Praying rains don’t stop for another 30 days”. The post invited harsh criticism but considerable adulation as well. The stupidity of communal bigots does not reach a limit even in such times. They would like to carve out a space and look from their separately protected areas entire areas vanish from the face of the earth.
There has never been any need of help from the Indian army. And there is no need today. They can evacuate and people will provide them safe passage and food on their way out.
(Author – Basharat Ali – is a student of Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He blogs at www.basharatalisays.wordpress.com)