Consumerism wins the day. Disasters bring in its wake largesse and wads of cash that change the course of the victims’ lives and their list of priorities.
The October 8 temblor ravaged the valley, tearing apart lives and homes. But those living in the makeshift sheds in the bruised villages of Uri have a different prayer on their lips: gratitude.The earthquake brought money and with it trappings of modernity — never seen before.
People in most villages of Uri do not have permanent homes, but their ramshackle huts flaunt the latest electronic gizmos. A peek inside the huts presents an interesting contrast. Branded colour television sets stand cheek by jowl with a motley collection of blackened pots and pans; VCD and DVD players vie for space with DTHs (direct to home satellite services) and hi-fi music systems play the latest hits. The mobile handsets are snazzy.
“These people have not yet rebuild their homes because they want to tell the world a sorry tale. The compensation money has been spent on luxury goods,” a revenue official at the sub-divisional magistrate’s office in Uri said.
Almost every household (temporary sheds) is fitted with a DTH in villages of Uri. “Rebuilding homes should be their immediate priority instead of squandering the money on consumer durables. Most of them went shopping for electronic goods soon after receiving the aid. But these will be of no use in winter,” Mushtaq Ahmed, co-ordinator of a non-profit relief organisation, said.
Officials see a strange twist in the disaster tale. “The story has another side. While the homeless raise such a hue and cry over the second installment of the compensation, which is yet to be disbursed, they have spent the first installment on items like DTH. The government will give the rest of the money only when the villagers are able to show the foundation of their pucca homes. Most people have not yet laid the plinth,” the revenue official said. Residents, however, counter the charge.
Khurseeh Ahmed, a research scholar in Kashmir University, corroborates the claim. “In course of my research on the people of Uri, I found that the villagers craved for a better life, but they did not have the means. So, it was natural that when money poured in, heart took over — and the interiors acquired a new look.” Abdul Samad, of Salamabad in Uri, is an example. “There are people here, who have spent the entire amount on luxury items. They are fools. They should rebuild their homes first,” says Samad, stealing a furtive glance at the gleaming dish of a new DTH on his roof.