For helpless new-mothers who were rescued from G B Panth hospital and abandoned at Zeethyaar Mandir, trusting anybody was a gamble till they found a home in New Theed. Syed Asma tracks the journey of these mothers and the efforts of locals in making their stay memorable
On 7th September 2014, Farooq Ahmad Shah, who works as a salesman in a bakery in Dalgate, decided to visit his workplace despite knowing the situation well through announcements on the radio. It has been a week since it was raining without a break. Shah was aware that the South Kashmir is completely submerged by floods and the water is moving fast towards Srinagar. Shah lives in New Theed area in Harwan, one of the few places unaffected by floods. As he reached Sonwar via Gupkar road, his workplace in Dalgate was already cut-off. The situation was already grave. Shah could not move beyond Sonwar and decided to return home. By afternoon he was home along with the stories of victims he had met while coming back.
“While coming back, I saw lots of people – oldies, women, children and men on roads. Rains had made them homeless and I could do nothing but watch them helplessly,” says Shah. Those faces disturbed Shah and he after offering the evening prayers (Magrib), met local Imam, Ghulam Mohammed Bhat, a respected figure who has been leading prayers in this mosque for the last 21 years.
Shah told Bhat what he has witnessed during the day at Sonwar and other places. Without losing any time Bhat suggested Shah help the flood victims by providing them with the much-needed food.
Next morning both Shah and Bhat along with Muzaffar Ahmed, another local from New Theed, started collecting donation from their locality.
“The first donation that I got was Rs 200 and a bowl of rice,” remembers Bhat. For that entire day they collected the donations and urged the other areas in the vicinity to donate as well.
They got a good response from the people. “We collected ample food stock and cash,” says Shah. The next step was to choose a person who will look after the entire relief exercise. The choice was unanimous and Bhat, the local Imam, was chosen to look after the operations.
“We decided to dump half of the material in a local school and distribute the rest among the flood victims in Sonwar,” says Bhat. “We choose Sonwar because it was the only flood-affected area that we could reach. We wanted to visit more places but we had no boats.”
In the evening, Bhat along with another local who owns a truck visited Sonwar’s two relief camps and donated a truck full of ration and vegetables. The practice continued for the second day as well.
On the second day, Shah while coming home from the relief camps in Sonwar met a stranger who told him that they – the group of volunteers’ should visit a nearby temple at Zeethyaar where Indian Army has kept a group of flood victims. They are in a bad condition, the stranger had informed Shah.
“I thought he is making stories because he wants us to drop him home,” smiles Shah, “but when I went there I thanked Allah that He brought us there.”
It was 10 PM – pitch dark, no electricity and the place was surrounded by huge trees. Shah says it was scary and he couldn’t see any faces until he switched on his mobile phone.
“What I saw, I would remember that all my life. I saw women and children, mostly infants, sitting in open air and it was raining,” says Shah. On enquiring, Shah was told that these women and children were rescued from G B Pant Children’s Hospital but their husband’s or male attends were not brought along. “They all looked frightened. They had apprehensions to trust any stranger,” Shah remembers.
Worrying about their safety, the best option Shah could think of was to bring all of these women and children to his area. When he shared the plan with them (women) they were not ready to move.
“It took me an hour to convince them that I will take them to a safe place. I promised them that I will keep them as I keep my sisters and daughters,” says Shah. “I remember while I was talking to them one of them pulled my beard to see if it was real. They wanted to confirm if I am a real Molvi sahib.” All these things compelled Shah to take them home.
“They had apprehensions and were worried because a Sikh driver [of Indian Army] had told them, ‘the young women among you will come with us to Jammu where we will help you to get [medically] treated well’,” says Tasveer Ahmed, a volunteer and a driver by profession who was with Shah that night.
By the time Shah and others convinced these women to move with them, it was already 11 PM, the night had become darker and the problem was Shah had a vehicle which could only accommodate a dozen of women.
He took a dozen of women with him and told the other two volunteers to stay there till he (Shah) returns (from New Theed) with other vehicles.
The other two volunteers tried to seek help from a nearby CRPF camp and asked for a vehicle but they denied straight away.
These were almost 60 women. Shah returned with few light vehicles. All the vehicles were arranged by Shah and Bhat from the locality only. It took Shah a couple of hours to shift all the women to New Theed.
At 2 AM, an announcement was made in New Theed mosque, that people should come forward to accommodate these women in their houses.
“We preferred to make these women live with our families rather than inside camps or any school. We wanted them to feel comfortable and safe,” says Shah.
The practice of visiting the temple at Zeethyaar continued for almost 10 days. Each day Shah and Bhat used to reach there early morning and get the rescued victims along in the evening. Almost 300 flood victims stayed in New Theed for 10 days.
Inspired by Bhat and Shah, around 40 youngsters joined them as volunteers. As the number of volunteers increased it was important to get everything organised to avoid chaos and mess. “We divided the volunteers in groups like 3 of them took care of ration, other three acted as accountants, others looked into clothing, medicines and etc,” says Bhat.
They have documented each and every detail, from the expenditure of a single penny to contact numbers and addresses of the rescued victims.
After women, Bhat and his team started looking for their attendants and husbands who were not rescued with their families. Steadily after work of many days, the team of volunteers re-united the families.
“Each day, we and our volunteers used to go to Sonwar and adjoining areas with the list of names of patients who were residing in our areas in search of their family members,” says Shah.
In these 10 days, the locals of New Theed have spent 1 lakh Rupees on the food and medication of these people.
“We had to take special care of these women and children as we had got them from the hospital. Infants were unwell and many of these women had delivered their babies recently. So medication and good food was our priority,” says Irfan Hashim, a volunteer.
Local students studying medicine made themselves available besides arranging some senior doctors, who were willing to help flood victims taking shelter in New Theed. The doctors not only provided free consultation but also managed to get medicines, most of the times, on their own. “We preferred paediatricians and were lucky to find a few volunteers,” adds Hashim.
The people in New Theed not only took care of these victims for 10 days but also helped them reach home safely. Hashim also volunteered in dropping a few families home. One of the families was from Soura. They had shared their story with him.
After the two storeys of the Children’s hospital were flooded with water and people could see death and destruction, no one came to their rescue, the family had told him. “I could see my child dying and was helpless. Meanwhile, I heard a helicopter coming near. I went up to the roof, as I assumed it had come for our rescue. I showed a red blanket and my kid to them. The helicopter came nearer, as near as I could see the pilot and the guy sitting next to him. It was Omar Abdullah. I begged I cried, I shouted but they moved away and stopped at the top of the nearby hotel.”