With more than 20 kanals of agriculture land per household Qazigund village in Pulwama district was proud to be self-sufficient till floods washed away everything including their houses, food-stocks, poultry farms and life’s savings. Shams Irfan reports the scenes of devastation.
This namesake village of famous highway stopover Qazigund is some 15 kilometres from district headquarters of Pulwama, but unknown and neglected.
It takes a while to locate the Qazigund village, which is just 2 kilometres off the Pampore-Pulwama main road.
A narrow dusty road enters the village through a railway underpass. The high-rise railway-track that ‘guards’ the village from its eastern side looks like a fort wall.
As one passes through the narrow underpass a completely different world unfolds. Occasional mowing of cows, barking of a stray dog here and there, chirping of birds and car horns apart, there is complete silence during day hours. One has to look around keenly to find signs of human inhabitation.
On 29th of September, 2014, some 22 days after the floods turned Kashmir’s picture post-card perfect villages into heaps of rubble, I visited Qazigund. It was hard to relate the present Qazigund village with what locals talked about fondly: a village surrounded by lush green paddy fields with an average household holding of about 20 kanals of agriculture land. “Our village was self-sufficient in every respect. We have agriculture land, we grow vegetables, apples, saffron and there are 25 poultry farms as well. We had everything that one needs to survive. But that was before the floods,” said Ghulam Mohammad Wagay, 55, who owns a small grocery shop near the village mosque. Wagay lost everything in the floods. “My entire stock worth 5 lakh rupees was damaged. I could barely save myself and my family,” says Wagay while pointing towards the place where he had dumped the damaged goods. “Nobody has come to this village with relief material so far. Even the 30 kgs of rice distributed by the government was given to us for rupees 275. How can we survive?” says Wagay.
“This place once used to feed others as we always had surplus food-grains. But now we are out with the begging bowl and nobody cares!” says Wagay painfully.
On the intervening night of 6 and 7 September 2014, at 3 AM, villagers woke up to the sound of wails from people living in the low lying areas. There was hardly any time to save one’s belongings as water had over-flown from Jhelum bunds near Marval and Kakapora villages and rushed towards Qazigund.
There was chaos in the village. In the darkness of the night, it was hard to see wherefrom the water was coming. “It seemed like we were living on an island. Water was coming from all directions, or it looked so!” recalls Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat, 27, a poultry farm owner whose entire stock of 1500 birds have washed away including the building that housed them. “I could not save even a single bird. It had planned to sell it on Eid,” says Imtiyaz who estimates his total loss at 3 lakh rupees.
In the melee, it was Bilal Ahmad Tantray’s three-storey house that came handy for the panicked villagers. “His (Bilal’s) house is located on an elevation. It became a refuge for hundreds of villagers for three nights till army boats from nearby Zadoora camp came to rescue,” says Khurshid Ahmad Wani, 35, who owns two poultry farms just outside the village. “I had 24 thousand birds in both the farms and I could find only two survivors. Everything else was washed away including 900 bags of feed and a truckload of maize,” says Khurshid. “I don’t know if the government can compensate any of this,” he says claiming a loss of 32 lakh rupees.
On the other end of the village, in Balla Mohallah, the rooftop of an under-construction single storey house became a shelter for 150 villagers for three nights. “It was the worst scene I have ever witnessed in my life,” says Mohammad Akbar Ganie, 55, who watched his two houses collapse one after another from the roof of that under-construction house. “I could do nothing but just watch. At that moment saving myself and my family was more important,” says Ganie who now lives in a makeshift wooden shanty he has erected in his courtyard. “I cannot forget how we helplessly watched house after house collapse around us in sheer panic. We thought it is all over for us. After all how long could this under-construction house stand when water was already touching its windows!” recounts Ganie, whose two houses are among the fifteen houses that collapsed that night. “All fifteen houses were right here,” Ganie points towards heaps of unending rubble that has wiped out man-made boundaries.
But amid flickering hopes, there are stories of heroism too. Adil Ahmad Mantoo, 23, a labourer and a father of two kids, kept his nerves intact and saved 50 lives despite watching his own house collapse in a matter of minutes. “I could not bear the sound of cries that were coming from everywhere. I could not sit at ease. I simply arranged some logs and wooden planks and made a boat,” says Adil in a matter of fact manner while clearing the debris of what used to be his house.
For three days, without rest or ample food, Adil ferried his make-shift boat through submerged lanes of his village saving people who could not get out on time. “I know what I did was risky. But those cries for help pierced me, giving me the strength to keep moving through the water,” says Adil who has erected a temporary shanty in the courtyard of his house to shelter his family.
Now the biggest challenge for Adil and many others like him who have lost everything in the floods is to survive the aftermath. “Whatever I have inherited from my father is lost. I don’t have enough means to rebuild my house or restart my life,” says Adil while trying to sound brave.
A few meters away from Adil’s ruined residence, Abdul Rashid Balla, 45, a labourer by profession is clearing the muck from a neighbours shop. This shop, which was completely submerged by floodwaters, will be Balla’s temporary home till he manages something else for his family of four. “We couldn’t save anything from our two storey house as it collapsed within minutes,” says Balla. “My neighbour offered me his shop otherwise I have nowhere to go.”
The biggest fear that Balla and his family have is of long impending winters. “How will we survive inside this shop during winters? Hope government comes to our rescue before the first snowfall. We survived floods but I doubt if we could survive winters too,” says Balla helplessly.
As one walks towards the western end of the village a strong stink precedes the scenes of destruction that flood has left behind. In better days the place, surrounded by poplar trees and inhabited by crickets, would have inspired one to write about its beauty. But all that was left after the floods in this corner of the village was collapsed structures that once houses nearly one lakh poultry birds.
Amid the ruins stands Bashir Ahmad Dar, 50, who looks helplessly as a pack of dogs scavenge through his collapsed poultry farm. “I had 2500 birds ready for sale on this farm. I could save nothing,” says Dar while pointing towards his farm.
After the floodwater receded most of the poultry owners had a hard time to remove the dead birds from their ruined farms. “We asked for official help to decompose these birds but nobody came here so far. So people buried them on their own,” says Dar, who fears that the stink will surely make his village prone to air-borne diseases.
For Dar and other poultry farm owners, it is like re-starting their lives from scratch. “We have invested our life’s savings to start these farms. Now all that is left is muck and collapsed structures. Even my house is damaged beyond repair,” says Dar whose house is among the many structures that are rendered unsafe for living by the village elders.
“See (showing a piece of paper) even the Sarpanch and Tehsildar have certified that I have lost birds worth Rs 2.75 lakh. Do you think the government will help?” he asks curiously.
A few meters away, at Nisar Ahmad Dar’s poultry farm which housed 2 thousand birds, an err silence and stink of rotten poultry feed fills the air. “We managed to shift poultry birds to a nearby farm but that too was devastated by floods. Nothing was saved. Not even the equipment,” says Nisar, 35, who is doubtful of any help from the government. “Besides 24 out of 25 poultry farms that are completely damaged, 45 houses collapsed in our village. Does anybody know or care about the devastation. I don’t think so!” says Nisar.