The sight of land after being stuck in water for almost three days was like a blessing.
Like majority of the areas in the valley, we got no warning about the flood and while we waited for the water level to recede, no one from the government or any rescue team was found on ground.
I had witnessed a similar situation when the dyke of the flood channel adjacent to Hamdania Colony of Bemina in Srinagar broke on September 4. Only one team of five men with a lone rubber boat had come for the rescue of almost 10,000 people. All it could do was to save some patients stuck in a community-run hospital. Though in Bemina, a small team of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and army personnel was at work.
Situation was no different even after two days, when the water entered the localities in Civil Lines of Srinagar. From the time when the water entered in several villages of south Kashmir and Bemina in Srinagar, till it flooded Civil Lines and later the whole of the capital itself, all we heard was that the state ministers were ‘concerned’ and ‘taking a stock of the situation.’ The government was passive. It waited till nature took its own course.
For the flood-hit in uptown, the respite came from volunteers -- mostly local youngsters -- who rescued people in make-shift boats made out from plywood, thermocol and from whatever they managed to lay their hands on. Some even used plastic tanks meant to store water to rescue people while others carried victims on their shoulders to safety. There were no ambulances to carry patients or to provide first aid to the injured. Those rescued where housed in mosques and gurdwaras where communal kitchens were set up.
Concerns grew with rising water level, lack of electricity and communication. We hardly slept. During the nights some family or the other would check the water level. Everyone feared for the worse. During the days, helicopters made non-stop trips to the airport. All this while, we heard stories of horror. Rumours of corpses being recovered at various places along railway tracks and dead bodies being tied to poles and trees to prevent them from being washed away spread fast. And, with no means to communicate and verify reports, concerns regarding safety of relatives and friends grew.
I still have no news about one of my aunts who lives in one of the worst-hit localities of Srinagar. One of my relatives, who lives around 800 meters away from one of the spots where the Jhelum river breached the dyke in Rajbagh area, reached us after two days. The clothes he was wearing were offered by rescuers. Two floors of his three-storey house were under water when he was rescued. Like many in the area, he did not get the time to move his belongings to the upper stories.
“I thought I would never see the land again. I knelt before Allah and kissed the land when we were rescued,” he told us later. Others have faced even worse. The family of one of my brother’s friend heard walls of their house collapsing while they were stuck in the third storey.
When water finally receded from the Civil Lines, we saw hundreds of youngsters waiting to rescue those stuck in Jawahar Nagar, Rajbagh, Mehjoor Nagar and other parts of Srinagar. However, with no boats available, they were helpless. Similarly, the relief material sent by friends and well-wishers from many parts of India got stuck at the airport for hours for the want of fuel.
The body of one of the acquaintances, who lived in a colony near ours, was recovered three days after he got washed away by floods. He had gone to rescue his sister in Safa Kadal area of Srinagar after he heard that their family was stuck in the flood water. His coffin was carried in a tipper to adjust mourners as there wasn’t enough fuel for vehicles.
Unfortunately, for Kashmir and Kashmiris nothing remains untouched by politics. When we met residents who had access to TV, they were fuming because of the way rescue operations were being projected. For them, it seemed that charity was being marketed. The consequences of this have already emerged with many locals refusing aid by the army and police and protests and stone-pelting have already begun.
It will take Kashmir years to recover from the trauma and losses due the floods. There is no doubt that it needs aid to recover. However, charity with swank is no charity. The sooner we understand this the better it is.