It has been six years of the destructive flood in Kashmir, the memory of which still haunts me afresh. I got the opportunity to volunteer as relief volunteer with Medical Service Center (M.S.C.) and I got unforgettable experience.
The news of Kashmir floods in 2014 were very much disturbing. Me and my family are regular tourist of Kashmir. And so have an emotional attachment with Kashmir. More than that, we consider it our moral duty to do relief work in any of the natural or man-made disasters in any part of the country.
But it seemed from the atmosphere created that we will not be able to do relief work in Kashmir. Initially, it was propagated that army is doing all the relief work and no other people are allowed to do relief. Then there were also propaganda that army is doing to such an extent that no other relief will be required. No phone calls could be done to Kashmir, and so we did not have any scope for verifying the facts. Only one known friend of my father was there but his phone was also not working for days. But the ray of hope emerged from him only. When we were able to contact him, he said the real situation of Kashmir and told us that nothing is done in Kashmir and lot of relief is required.
His call for help gave us a renewed vigour and hope. Sh. Dwarikanath Rath, well known activist of Gujarat and Sh. Pran Wantoo, a Kashmiri resident of Delhi led us for the entire relief activity. We contacted Medical Service Centre, our all time associate in these relief activities and got equally enthusiastic response from them. And we started relief collection. In fact, due to our impression of doing relief in all the calamities, people had already started asking us when we will start relief collection. Because they wanted to donate for Kashmir floods. Now, in Gujarat, there is very malicious propaganda about Kashmir. It is very difficult to organize even a discussion on Kashmir issue in Gujarat. But when it came to the calamity, people of Gujarat opened their hearts fully and poured it in our collection boxes. We could collect more than 12 lakhs of rupees in Ahmedabad, Gujarat from street collections in just a week, the highest of the collections in any relief we have done till now. And we were not the one. Our organization, Medical Service Center got overwhelming response in the entire country. It was like entire India felt pain for Kashmir people and wanted to stand by them. We have experience of good response to our relief activities in almost all the calamities. But the response we got in Kashmir flood was extra ordinary. Just one instance I will give. At a cross road in Ahmedabad city, when we were doing box collection, a beggar woman who used to regularly beg there came to us and gave all money she could get on that day by begging. We were concerned that if she gives all her money, what will she eat that night? But we could not gather the courage to hurt her dignity by refusing her contribution. We could plan Kashmir relief with the help of our Uncle, i.e. my father’s friend in Kashmir and one activist working in the field of RTI.
When I, my Father and my sister stepped down in Srinagar, we were dumb shocked. We could not recognize those streets of Kashmir where we have wandered for so many times. The Jhelum water flooded Srinagar on 6th September. But we could see logged water on 22nd September also. We visited Lal Chowk, Rajbagh, Jahangirpur and other areas of Srinagar on 24th September. On 25th September, Doctors’ team arrived under the leadership of Dr. Anshuman Mitra, Secretary, Disaster Response Cell, M.S.C. I still remember those horrific days when we walked in knee deep waters at Lal Chowk. The shops were full of mud and dirt, most of their goods spoiled and destroyed. Somewhere, the drowned government documents were drying up. Our Uncle’s son Adil has a travel agency. His all the goods were spoiled due to flood. Our illusion that army is doing all rescue and relief work broke when we could not find a trace of army people there.
We had wish to do relief work but no resources. The RTI activist with whose help we could come to Srinagar, gave us the keys of his office for our stay. There was a relief camp in Sanatnagar Gurudwara. There some relief volunteers from Chandigarh who were returning back, gave us food materials. And so our first obstacle was easily surpassed with the help of tremendous love of the common people. Our next challenge was to conduct Medical Camps at such places where people are new, their language, their traditions, their cultures are new to us; we did not have proper geographical understanding of the areas. In the midst of these challenges, we conducted Medical relief in almost all the areas of Kashmir valley for two months. We worked from morning to night. We could not return to our base camp before late night. We could not even afford to think about lunch. But I don’t remember a single day when we have remained hungry. We had come to do relief work for the victims of the flood, but on the contrary, those victim people showered their fountains of love in the form of food, water, tea, lift to our camps in their vehicles and what not! How can we take the credit that we gave relief to them, rather, their unbounded love gave lot of relief to us. We were overwhelmed by the streams of love flowing in their hearts and quenching our thirst for human love.
Initially, we stayed in Budgam. There we came in contact with one boy whose house was in Purneva area away from Budgam. That young boy regularly brought food for all of us from his house. I had been treated like sister, daughter, friend… I had read in the novels of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay about aesthetic relationship. But I could experience it there in Kashmir during this relief work. There were of course times when our volunteers had to manage just with some rice. But then there were days that people invited us and feed us with very rich food. While writing this, I was trying to remember the names who helped us lot. Honestly speaking, I was noting down their names in my book but after few time I left it, because they were hundreds of people, starting from Kashmir University’s professor to local boys of Mir Behri area of Srinagar, from RTI activists to eminent tourism professionals… When we were packing up our relief work, the state of Assam was flooded. The people of Kashmir contributed us for medical relief for flood affected Assam.
This experience was quite different for me personally. As I said earlier, I and my family are regular visitors of Kashmir as a tourist. But this was the rare chance to ponder deep into the hearts of the people of Kashmir. I have sat in “Shikaara” in Dal lake for many times. But for the first time I got opportunity to see the life of “Shikaarawalas” from near. What a dichotomy! The Kashmir which is being portrayed in media as “Den of terrorists” is in reality a holy place, rich with the tradition of Sufism and Kashmiriyat. Up till now I had seen the external beauty of Kashmir; now I got the opportunity to see the internal beauty of Kashmir. It never came in mind in this entire period whether the religion followed by the people of Kashmir is different from mine; never I felt insecure as a girl. And if people say that if there is heaven anywhere on the earth, it is Kashmir, I fully agree with that because I really felt it. And so I feel more homely in Kashmir than even my own place Ahmedabad.
When I remember Kashmir at the end of these 6 years, I feel pained that present Kashmir, its society, its existence, its dignity, everything is far far more devastated today in post 370 abrogation period than those days of flood! Alas my Kashmir! How do we rescue now? What relief can we do? It’s difficult time for all of us. But truth and justice are the only destiny of man kind. So I can’t afford to lose hope. The day will come when not only Kashmir, but the millions of toiling masses will get justice and a new society based on new human values without any discrimination and injustice will exist. ‘In that heaven of freedom let my country awake…’
The author is Law Student, Gujarat University and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org