There are growing fears in Indian-administered Kashmir that the Indian government may have deliberately blocked all channels of communication—mobile phones, fixed lines, internet, etc—to escape global outrage and embarrassment because of its rather sluggish and inadequate response to huge humanitarian crisis in Kashmir in the wake of worst ever floods in recent memory and to avoid global intervention thereof in relief and rescue operations.
Sixty-five year old Gulshan was in her house at Gangbugh, Tengpura in Srinagar when the gushing sound created by flood waters disturbed her sound sleep in the intervening night of Septemer 6-7.
As soon as she opened her eyes, Gulshan recalls, she woke up to a new disturbing reality — the first floor of her house completely inundated.
“I didn’t know what to do. All I remember is that I cried out loud and woke my husband, son and daughters up,” she says.
Gulshan’s family comprised of her husband, two sons and five daughters.
Ghulam Nabi Dar, her husband, is suffering from multiple heart ailments and therefore is unable to work to generate income. Her elder daughter is a divorcee. Now her second son, Umar Nabi Dar, takes care of the family.
She says her first son, Manzoor Nabi Dar, was enforced to custodial disappearance by the Indian army in March 1997.
On Sunday morning (September 7) some volunteers and boatmen got access to their house and rescued the entire family. But Gulshan’s son Umar stayed at the second storey of the house to take care of the valuables.
“Umar didn’t agree to come with us. He insisted he would stay inside. We failed to convince him,” she says.
Now we don’t know whether he is alright because mobile phones aren’t working in the submerged area. Even if they worked, there is no electricity to charge the mobile battery either,” she adds.
Gulshan’s family was rescued and relocated to a relief camp set up in Sanat Nagar, Srinagar. According to the organizers and volunteers in the marriage hall Sanat Nagar, over 2,000 people have taken shelter here.
“We are taking care of about 400 families by providing them food, drinking water, blankets, medicine, etc. We are short of some blankets, buckets, mugs, and medicines for some people suffering from hyperthyroid, diabetes and stomach ailments,” says Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat, who is one among the many relief material organizers.
At stone’s throw away from Sanat Nagar relief camp some young Kashmiri doctors led by Dr. Zahida and Dr. Sajad Fazili have set up a free medical camp, where visitors– all flood victims—are being treated with warmth and care.
The medical camp is thronged by the sufferers.
Dr. Yasir Wani, a young paediatrician, is busy treating children from mornings until late evenings. He is advising every single patient to drink boiled water to avoid illness.
“Immerse one chlorine tablet or three drops of fluid chlorine in one bucket of water and use it after half-an-hour,” he tells Sajad Sheikh, one of the young volunteers who was to leave for a rescue and relief mission to Bemina, one of the worst hit flood areas in summer capital Srinagar.
Only half-a-kilometre away from Sanat Nagar relief camp is another relief point set up at Gurdwara, Shaheed Bungha Baghat Barzulla, which is some 4 kms from the city centre Lal Chowk.
The minority Sikh community is taking care of this relief centre.
Prof. S S Bhali is the chief organizer at Gurdwara relief camp. According to his rough estimates, about 3,000-4000 people have taken refuge inside the camp.
“We are taking care of around 3,000-4000 flood victims here. We are also working on documenting details of every single person who has taken shelter here,” he says.
Adequate relief material is reaching to this camp from different parts of the Indian-administered Kashmir Valley, Indian state of Punjab, and also India’s capital, New Delhi.
And only 300 metres away from Gurdwara relief camp is another relief point set up by the residents of Baghat Barzulla inside a marriage hall. This relief camp is also providing two time meals, tea, water, blankets and medicines to around 1200 victims.
Forty-year old wife of Mohammad Basharat, who is a resident of Baghat, says the relief point is being managed by the locals alone.
“We are receiving no outside help. Everything is being done and contributed by the local residents. Our camp is falling short of essential supplies, blankets and medicines. Someone should come forward with more help,” she adds.
In three relief camps within one kilometre area there are about 7,000 flood sufferers, which includes children, women and elderly people. Other relief camps are at Solina Payeen, Barzulla and Tengpora.
The most affected flood areas in Srinagar city include Jawahar Nagar, Gogji Bagh, Rajbagh, Kursoo, Sonwar, Mehjoor Nagar, Exchange Road, Press Enclave, Batamaloo, Bemina, Karan Nagar, etc. Government’s top edifice civil secretariat, J&K High Court, Press Enclave, renowned Broadway hotel and Coffee Arabica, Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, etc have all been waterlogged.
The flood situation across Kashmir valley continues to remain grim. The local administration is not visible on the ground. The state government machinery seems to have collapsed. There is huge scarcity of drinking water. There are no traffic cops and no municipality workers and sweepers. Main roads are fast turning into dust bowls and open garbage dumps.
However, some Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) fixed lines, mobile phones, broadband internet modem connections, Vodafone cell phones and Airtel mobiles are now partially working in some selected zones but smooth communication lines are yet to be completely restored. The disaster management teams are conspicuous by their absence.
Members of India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI), and other government forces are aiding in rescue and relief operations. Also, four helicopters are airdropping food packets to people trapped in waterlogged areas and evacuating children, women and old people on priority basis. However, the major rescue work is solely being performed by the Kashmiri volunteers, young men and local boatmen whose never-say-die spirits are keeping Kashmir alive and kicking in times of major humanitarian crisis in nearly eight decades.
Meanwhile, there is no credible mechanism to cross-check the figures of those dead in flood fury. The death toll is put at somewhere between 250-450. The toll is feared to go up once the water levels recede in low lying residential areas and the actual situation becomes clearer.