By Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar |
In a state where “disappeared” is a common expression and a serious political and social issue, thousands have joined that list of missing with the flooding of Srinagar. With almost no communication and hardly any sign of the local administration on the ground, scores of anxious people have gathered at dozens of places where the Army, NDRF and local volunteers are taking out boats to rescue people.
Everybody who stands on the border between the dry patches and the inundated neighbourhoods talk about the missing. There have been occasional attacks on NDRF personnel while they were trying to go out for rescue operations. At places, even rescue boats were smashed by relatives who thought that only the well-connected are getting help. People kept asking the rescue teams to tell them “the truth” about the casualties but got no details.
A flood victim is rescued in Rambagh in Srinagar. Source: Tashi Tobgyal A flood victim is rescued in Rambagh in Srinagar. Source: Tashi Tobgyal
Three days after the floodwaters had trapped several lakh Srinagar dwellers inside submerged houses came the first reports of casualties. It was not the state government that came out with the details — there is no government on the ground except for a few officers of the J&K police who run around in civvies fearing an angry public and a handful of civil administration officials who haphazardly try to help. The few details were based on the testimonies of survivors and relatives.
Farooq Ahmed, who works for a private security firm, talks about a tragedy that struck a doctor’s family. Dr Shabir Patigaru of Doda, an acquaintance of Ahmed, had come to look for his mother-in-law Hajra and brother-in-law Asif’s two little children trapped in Rajbagh. Patiguru had flown from Jammu after getting a distress call. The news, Ahmed said, was heartbreaking.
“A rescue boat had reached where Patiguru’s family was trapped in Rajbagh. The domestic help of the family decided to stay back and let the elderly woman and the little children go first,” Ahmed said. “Within minutes, the boat capsized. Hajra and the children drowned. The domestic help saw this happen from within the house. The body of the woman was found but there was no trace of the two children.”
Mudasir Altaf has flown from Delhi and is pleading with NDRF men near Solina to spare a boat for him. His wife Anjum Sahar had given birth to a boy four days ago, a caesarian operation. “The last time I spoke to her on phone, she told me the water had reached the top floor. My baby doesn’t have a name yet. My three-year-old son too is there. They are in a yellow house near Militia (an Army camp),’’ he said. “Please give me a boat. I want to go and see how they are. They have no water to drink. There is probably nothing to eat either.”
Riffat Mohideen stood alone next to the railing on the Barzulla bridge. Today, she hasn’t even tried to go up to the “border” where the boats go to rescue people from houses. “There is no news of my grandmother and other family members. Our house is right next to the flood channel in Jawaharnagar. The elders in our family sent us children out first. By the time they were ready to leave, the flood had submerged the house,’’ she said, then burst into tears: “There is no trace of them.”
Farooq Ahmad, a former inspector general in J&K Police, walked several miles from Friends Enclave colony near the airport. There was despair on his face. “My mother-in-law, her son and daughter are trapped in a small house in Kursu Rajbagh,’’ he said. He had tried to reach his former colleagues for help, without success. “My mother-in-law is on insulin. Their house is an old construction. The things that we hear from survivors has left me in no doubt that the house has already collapsed in the floodwaters. I have been trying to arrange a boat for two days and it is impossible.” He agreed the magnitude of this flood is enormous but said that cannot be an alibi for inaction.
“We are not in the 18th century. Why is there no information about the missing people? Nobody even knows how many people have died .”
Every time a boat emerged with people rescued, a group of waiting people would break down because their relatives were not among these few. At places, relatives were standing in line so that they could accompany the Army or NDRF personnel on the boat to guide them to their loved ones trapped in their houses.
There was a man who had listed the names of people trapped in the submerged neighbourhoods, compiled from what anxious families have told him. Each time a group of survivors emerged from the narrow lane, he would record their names and addresses. This was the only register of the missing and the found in Srinagar today, a notebook full of names whose whereabouts were not known at all.
(Courtesy: Indian Express)