Faceless Victims

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The tragedies posed by September 2014 floods are unprecedented. The sagas of helplessness and destitution that overwhelmed countless families, especially in rural Kashmir are painfully disturbing. Suhail A Shah relives some of the pathos

Bijbihara-flood2014-aftermathIn tune with his nomadic predilections, Ali Muhammad Bagad, all his life, wandered throughout the valley attempting to erect a permanent abode. Finally, he found a place to settle with his two wives and 3 children, just outside Islamabad town in south Kashmir.

Fate, however, had something else in store for Bagad. The devastating floods in September 2014 took whatever little the family had managed to gather in the last six years of their stay at Mir Danter village in Islamabad.

As the water levels receded, leaving behind a trail of destruction, a grieved 62-year-old Bagad died leaving behind a family of five destitues.

The floods last year wreaked havoc in parts of south Kashmir’s Islamabad and Kulgam districts razing to ground hundreds of houses and in many cases, like the Bagad family, leaving no option but to beg.

The government help has been too little and often too late to have made a difference in the victims’ lives. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and locals have been keen to help but to rebuild lives and families altogether can be a colossal task.

Bagad, some six years back, decided to settle down in Mir Danter village and purchased some cattle to support the family with selling milk.

Floods came and took away half of the family’s cattle. “We have been lucky enough to escape the raging waters,” says 40-year-old Meema, Bagad’s second wife.

“We owe our lives to the local youth,” maintain Bagad’s two wives. The relief of escaping the floods was short lived for their nightmare was just about to begin.

Life for Gulshan has been a continuous struggle. A childless woman, Gulshan, prompted her husband Bagad to marry again (to her younger sister Meema) and only when things started to look better, the tragedy struck.

“Half of our cattle were taken away by floods and we were forced to sell the rest of them to survive after my husband died,” Gulshan told the Kashmir Life.

With their sources of income gone and the little abode the family had managed to create for themselves washed away the ‘sisters’ now have no other option than to beg on the streets.

“People have been very kind and a little help from here and there has been pouring in. With some help we have also managed to put a roof on our heads,” Meema says, pointing towards the humble makeshift tent they are living in as of now.

The relief and the little help they have been getting won’t last long and they fear they will be on the roads again, with the burden of taking care of the little ones.

For now the woes of the family don’t seem to end.

After the Vaishaw Nallah in Kulgam ripped through twin villages of Kelam Gund and Aarigatnoo villages, reducing to rubble more than 150 houses, 65-year-old Wahab Naik desperately tried to locate his house in Kelam Gund.

victims-of-flood-2014-bijbeharaBut his search yielded nothing. His house, like almost the entire village, had been completely washed off. The village was changed into a Nallah.

Naik lives with his old and ailing wife and a mentally challenged son.

His only source of income, his paddy field, was also washed away in the floods leaving the family at mercy of their neighbours and the relief.

“My cattle, paddy fields and every belonging were washed away. I am worried about my son and wife for I can no longer work. I am too old to work,” said Naik.

The relief work from NGO’s and government is fast fading as life limps back to normalcy in Kashmir. It is people like Naik who, though with a makeshift accommodation, will be left to fend for their families.

Childless couple Muhammad Ismail and Saja, attributing their childlessness to fate, had learnt to live finding happiness in each other’s company until floods struck and took away everything they had.

The couple however are trying to regain strength in their unflinching faith that everything happens for a reason.

A traditional barber by profession, Ismail earned a living by serving the locals in his native Sarsuna village, of Kulgam district.

In return, Ismail rarely took money. Instead he collected food grains and vegetables from the households he used to offer his services.

“We have very little needs and the barter arrangement worked perfectly for us. Besides, the Kacha house I had managed to build had been enough for us,” said Ismail.

Now the house is gone and the floods have created a shortage of food grains as well as vegetables across the region. It meant Ismail could no longer work as he used to.

The family of two is living in extreme conditions but Saja is firm in her belief and thinks that her God will have better plans for the two of them.

“Waiting for a child all our lives has strengthened our faith. I don’t complain over whatever has happened to us. Allah has better plans,” says Saja.

Faith or no faith the family remains in dire need of help.

Another barber from Sursuna village, 46-year-old Gulzar Ahmad Sheikh, used to receive his remuneration from the households on yearly basis.

As the floods struck and the village witnessed a widespread devastation, Gulzar was yet to collect his annual wages.

In the village of around 170 households, more than 38 houses were completely damaged, and another 90 severely.

Gulzar’s house was among the completely damaged ones. With no shelter and his annual earnings still with people Gulzar is helplessly waiting for help.

“I have three kids, all below the age of 10, to look after. And I think it will be criminal to ask people for the money they owe me. I don’t know what to do,” Gulzar said.

An NGO has provided a makeshift living arrangement to Gulzar but means of livelihood still remains uncertain.

Fearing that his house will collapse in floods 40-year-old Fayaz Ahmad Shiekh, a cobbler from Shoul village of Shamsipora in Kulgam, died of a cardiac arrest.

Only four hours after Sheikh’s house collapsed, his three children including Shoki, a class 8th student, Iqra, a class 7th student and his lone son Adil, a class 5th student prepared for his funeral.

The three children have been left all alone without a roof on their heads and anywhere else to go.

Sheikh’s wife Shada had died a couple of years earlier, after prolonged illness. Following her death Shiekh dedicated his life to raise his children and he was managing just fine.

The children were however destined to be orphaned and live with only each other to love and care for.

“After our mothers death our father did everything possible to not let us feel her absence. He despite earning peanuts met all our expenses including education,” the eldest of them, Shoki Jan said.

For now the villagers and relatives have been providing the kids food and shelter; however in the longer run they will have to pick up the pieces of their lives and start afresh without any help from anybody.

Moreover Shoul villages witnessed utter devastation. More than 65 houses were reduced to rubble.

With everybody in grief the villagers have been magnanimous enough to provide the kids a wee bit of help. The question, however, remains is for how long they will keep doing so.

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