Homecoming Aid

September 7 etched into memories as the day of great horror and shock. Apart from valley, the day sent shockwaves to India’s capital where Kashmiri students and professionals planned a special homecoming loaded with rescue and relief. Bilal Handoo sums up the special initiative spearheaded by students

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Volunteers during the rescuing operation.

The day Srinagar was flooding, the first thing most people noticed at the crack of the dawn: their dead cellphones! The mobile networks had mysteriously disappeared. The communication fracture at the time of nature’s fury only beefed horror. Apart from unnerving thousands back home, the network snag also sent shockwaves outside valley. Kashmiri students studying outside, especially in New Delhi, felt jittery or what they call “alarmed” after losing contact with home.

Their desperation to talk to parents back home was only mounting. But the fury of Jhelum was failing all attempts. And with each passing minute, the panic only peaked. Some of them suggested that they should do something about it. A word was spread. At New Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, these students along with Kashmiri professionals working in India’s capital decided to meet for taking a collective call on the worsening situation back home.

At late evening, September 8, they met at Nehru Place. As the anxious heads started charting out a roadmap, they ended up planning a special type of homecoming. The idea was to kick start rescue and relief operations. But before coming back, they needed somebody on ground zero for identifying the spot for operations. And then, one of them contacted her cousin in valley. He was more than willing to be the part of what he calls “the noblest mission” of his life.

And finally when these students packed up their luggage to return home, some of them stayed back to arrange the relief. They utilised their “resourceful contacts” to pool all possible aid from New Delhi. And meanwhile, a group of students arrived in valley as “emissaries” for the special cause. To begin with, they visited their homes. To their woe, most of them found their homes inundated. But this hardly blurred their focus. They stayed focused to their plan.

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A glimpse inside the relief camp.

The relief camp was started from the Boys Higher Secondary, Hyderpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. The place was soon frequented by the valley-based scribes who too got involved in the rescue and relief process. But these boys and girls who had flown from New Delhi with the “mission” soon surged in strength. Many volunteers came forward till their number crossed a century mark.

Their modus operandi during the time, when going was getting tough, remained as per the plan. They floated Facebook page, and kept updating it with the situation prevalent in valley. Though the page was started at the time when mobile networks had failed Kashmiris, but they still managed to disseminate information from in and outside the valley. But more than virtual initiative, the time was calling for swift actions on ground.  This was exactly what followed next.

For the first three days since stepping into valley, they concentrated on rescue mission. They set their boats in troubled waters and went to those localities which were inaccessible and badly hit by floods. They were inside Karan Nagar where water was running much above head height. They went into the deeper parts of Rajbagh where army and other state and central rescue teams hadn’t reached. They rescued stranded women, elders and children from Bemina, Chak Kanihama, Qamar Wari, besides, from many remote areas.

Volunteers during rescue operation.
Volunteers during rescue operation.

Among the volunteers, some swam in troubled waters to rescue those held hostage by the worst floods. During those first three days, they say, they have lost the count of people they rescued.

Three days after, they started relief operations. By that time, their team in Delhi had dispatched a huge stock of medicines, eatables, fluids, sanitary items and many other essential items. On a daily basis, at least, four truckloads of relief were sent off from the camp.

As the stock piled up, the news of epidemics hit the headlines. Now the next challenge for these volunteers was to ensure safe health care. During the same time, some physicians turned up at the camp as the health volunteers. These medics made it sure to keep an inventory for registering “what goes in and out”. The medicines dispatched from the camp to the affected areas were “released by doctors and received by doctors”. The ‘disciplined’ streamlining of relief materials soon covered 30 flood-ravaged villages and dozens of district hospitals.

With flood throwing everything out of gear, the female health care got badly hit, asserts one female volunteer at the camp. “When everybody was crying hoarse about some epidemics and about this and that disease without focussing on specifics,” she said. “I found many flood-affected women struggling with their routine health issues. So I passed a word and we soon focused on the issue. And let me tell you, we have every reason to cheer about what we achieved.”

Volunteers carrying relief material.
Volunteers carrying relief material.

But apart from cheerful moments, these young Kashmiris had their moment of displeasure too. There were occasions when some low-key mainstream politician visited their camp and later updated photographs on social media claiming the camp’s ownership. On another occasion, some “goons” rumoured that they supplied 80 per cent medicine to the camp. “On both occasions,” said one volunteer, “we shrugged off the flukes! Our stay has a purpose here. And the purpose is to react to the natural calamity and not to cheesy acts of certain individuals.”

And then, something very shocking happened. As Jhelum receded, the state government (“which was into hiding”) resurrected itself by “halting” the relief for the camp at the Airport. For these young and ‘weary’ Kashmiris, the move was “weird and vicious”. But later the halted aid was released.

After the decks were cleared, these young volunteers swung back to action without giving out any signs of ‘fading’ enthusiasm. And meanwhile, homes of some of these volunteers remained inundated.

(Volunteers quoted in this story did not wish to mention their names)

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