Kadfeen Chaudhray might not look a man involved in rescuing scores of trapped flood victims. His rotund figure with bulging belly, in no way confirms his athletic audacity. But the kind of job Chaudhray has been doing since last week, when downpour in Jhelum inundated whole Srinagar city, many have tied their hope of finding their missing ones with him.
In his early 30s, Chaudhray, a resident of Magarmal Bagh is an educational consultant by profession but he never knew his lifetime passion of swimming will someday come handy in saving hundreds of lives. “Since last week, I have saved more than 150 people in Sarai Payeen, Magarmal Bagh, Haft Chinar and Wazir Bagh, alone,” he says. On the first day of flood, he saved 40 people.
Chaudhray is still on job. When I met him, he was at a relief camp in uptown Srinagar neighbourhood for charging his mobile phone. “I haven’t been home since days and I am suffering from fever this time,” Chaudhray says. Donning a sleeveless polo-shirt and black trousers rolled up to knees, Chaudhray, voluntarily, coordinates a group of 20 local youths who are involved in rescue operations since Monday.
Over the last few days he has escaped from the clutches of death many times, he says. In one daredevil act, he swam through 17-18 feet deep water from Jehangir Chowk to reach Solina. At one instance, he dived into 10-feet deep water at Magarmal Bagh and opened up a grocery shop to get food items for the rescued. During the floods, when a lady was suffering from labour pain, Chaudhray, pushed through waters to reach noted gynaecologist Dr. Bilkees’s clinic at Magarmal Bagh for medicines.
An occasional writer and a counselor, Chaudhray has written significantly about environmental and ecological issues of the state. According to him, he had cautioned state government about the hazards of unplanned and rampant construction spree on Jhelum embankments. “I even presented my concerns to the chief minister Omar Abdullah personally,” he informs.
Working tirelessly in rescuing trapped civilians on roof tops and verandahs, Chaudhray is aghast over the state government’s lackadaisical attitude to floods, which has wreaked havoc to the extent, unmatched in the history of Kashmir.
“We don’t need any army or disaster force to rescue people, we just need equipment and boats,” he says. “I begged to Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) commissioner, G N Qasba, for boats, but his reply was: ‘boats are not with me.’”
Chaudhary even called Deputy Commissioner Srinagar for rescue boats, but after answering his call once, the official didn’t pick his call again, he says.
“Boats are not in water. They are on roads,” Chaudhray says while commenting about the unprofessional handling of the crisis by Indian army personnel. While interacting with me in chaste English, Chaudhray, repeatedly, stressed on the need to address man-made problems and government’s negligence, which have resulted in the voluminous overflow in river Jhelum.
“This is not a natural disaster, but man-made,” he says. “What happened today shouldn’t happen again and that is where we should focus our attention to,” says Chaudhray, before leaving to join his team who are waiting for him at Barzulla.