Deprived

Moving from water to land could have earned them a better social status but the lethargic system in place made them face worse. 36 boatman families in Srinagar are waiting from last 2 decades to get re-settled under a centrally sponsored scheme. But 2014 floods worsened their plight washing away everything they had. Syed Asma reports

Children playing outside the newly built sheds at Parimpora. Pic: Durdana Bhat
Children playing outside the newly built sheds at Parimpora.
Pic: Durdana Bhat

Almost every child in these 36 families has a running nose and whooping cough. It is prolonged now, their parents say, “all of them have a severe chest infection and are on medication. Winters and our circumstances are responsible for their bad health.”

A pale faced middle aged woman, Kulsum is feeding her two-year-old girl in a room having plywood walls. It is perhaps the only room in this newly constructed tin shed, the other two include a bathroom and a kitchen. At a glance, there are 18 tin sheds constructed at Parimpora. These sheds are a respite that state provided to victims after Kashmir was hit by floods last year.

“We built almost 850 temporary rehabilitation centers for the flood victims across Valley. Besides, provided funds of Rs 15 crore for their rental accommodations,” says Rohit Kansal, the Divisional Commissioner. Kansal did not talk about this community [36 boatman families] in particular and dropped the call. “We did this as government was responsible to provide immediate relief to the victims.”

The three dozen boatman families had to spend five months in tents near Hajj House Bemina. The devastating floods washed away their wooden huts in which they were living for past 18 years in Bemina.

“We were homeless since long but the floods made us nomads,” says Kulsum smiling in despair.  Kulsum is the most educated woman in the families presently living in Parimpora; she attended school till Class 8th. A comparatively outspoken woman Kulsum says, “I cannot put in words what our children had to go through since September.”

“Though we have different lives and have been living in boats or wooden huts but living in tents was the worst so far.”

After September 5 when the flood waters reached Bemina, this community, especially these 36 families, were the worst hit. Their huts were submerged in water for several days and finally were washed away.

The area was inundated during midnight, says Posha, “So we had to leave then and there. We could hardly save our children. Saving our belongings or any of our assets was out of question.”

Posha, is in her late 50’s has a family of eight, her three sons and her husband. One of her sons is married and has a son. The son, in September, was only a month old. He is Posha’s first grandson and his survival was the only concern of the family, she says. Despite taking precautions the baby has an acute chest infection.

After leaving their wooden huts they had to spend nights under open sky in their juggad boats. When the rains did not stop the concerned SHO made them to shift to a nearby under construction children’s hospital in Bemina. “We were living in an erected structure of columns and cemented slaps with no walls, windows, doors or electricity. The only blessing was a single tap available in the premises,” says Shamima. “Do you want me to say more or it explains all?”

After a few weeks the water level receded and valley tried to return to normal life. They were asked to leave the edifice as the construction had to resume. State provided them with tents and they were allowed to stay in premises of the hospital for about five months until recently when they shifted to these tin sheds in Parimpora and Batamaloo.

Living in tents was the most difficult phase of their lives, they say in unison. Each family, having five members at least, had to live in a bed-size tent on the Bemina by-pass.

“How awkward it is to sleep and dine when your father-in-law is around?” asks Posha keeping her daughter-in-law in mind.

“How would a paralyzed old woman or an old man having a kidney problem manage in a tent for five months?” asks Kulsum. “It is not a matter of sharing what we have been through but a matter of realization and empathy.”

Besides, staying in tents with their young daughters was also a matter of concern for them. The heavy deployment of Indian armed men on Bemina bypass had made them apprehensive and cautious about the safety of our daughter, they say. “We were literally living on roads and how safe can a woman feel in such public presence.”

There was no electricity and no arrangement of public convenience.

Glimpses-of-life-inside-the-sheds-in-Parimpora.

The life style of a boatman, known as hanjis in local parlances is a bit different than others. They live in waters and their livelihood too is more or less relevant to the water bodies only. These 36 boatmen families who presently live in a temporary accommodation have an interesting story to share.

It was around 1989, Lateef Ahmed Mandoo remembers, that the entire boatmen community was asked to move from waters to land in order to conserve the water bodies.

Mandoo is the president of an organization ‘Baighar colony’ who is pleading the case of these 36 families.

Mandoo says it was a central government proposal to rehabilitate them under a sponsored scheme, ‘Indira Awaas Yojana’. It is a social welfare program created by the central government to provide housing for the poor rural in India.  The purpose of the scheme was to provide financial assistance to some of the weakest sections of the society and upgrade them to construct permanent houses.

The scheme was implemented in phases and in each phase a few boatmen, along with their families were left unattended. The official explanation is “we were short of land then.” The government was rehabilitating these families but since 2002 no steps have been taken. “I think they are done with that and have left us unattended,” says Javaid Ahmed. They are in total 36 families from different localities like Safa kadal, Rajbagh, Zero Bridge etc and till recent floods had occupied a patch of land in Bemina. Pertinently, the government has rehabilitated their community members, in thousands, in Bemina only.

Probably the lethargic system in place is delaying their rehabilitation. No concerned authority responded when Kashmir Life called them up but “the file is in process and the matter will be resolved soon,” is the response of their subordinates.

It has almost been 25 years since the scheme was implements and nothing has been done and these years have made them to lose a lot, say Mandoo.

The stigma of being homeless is taking toll on their daughters. They say they are been look down by their community members who live in houses constructed under this centrally sponsored scheme. Because of this their daughters have to compromise on their choice or stay single all their life.

Mandoo remembers that two women, mothers of young girls, committed suicide when no one married off their daughters.

“We have lost our close ones and still are homeless!” Kulsum concludes.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here