United in adversity

With life literally under a siege in Kashmir people have come out to help each other.  Volunteers are braving odds to serve the needy. Ikhlaq Qadri reports.

Curfews, killings and shutdowns, have consumed the best of this summer, and the odds have brought out the feelings of unity and brotherhood among the suffering populace.

People are cooking food for patients and attendants in hospitals, organizing blood donation camps, and collecting relief for the needy ones, all this despite restrictions and harassment from  troops and police.

“People leave their homes, and come forward to be part of relief measures, which otherwise was the duty of elected government,” says Syed Afaaq Ahmad, Special Secretary Gousia Relief Committee, Umar colony.

Afaaq leaves home early morning with other young volunteers to purchase essential commodities and then distribute these in the locality.

“We give it on no profit no loss basis to those who can afford and free of cost to those who can’t,” said Afaaq.

The committee has also helped some injured people by paying for their expensive medicines.

Volunteers say that they have to face the wrath of paramilitary CRPF whenever they “spot us with relief”.

“We helped Gujjars, Bakerwals and Biharis as they were in state of starvation as our age old practice is to feed guests first,” said Hatib Ashraf, a volunteer with the Wanabal Rawalpora Relief Committee.

Some of the relief measures are not limited to the current crisis.

The Baitul Maal Sheikh Yaqub Sahib, Chattabal is planning to introduce medical insurance for daily wagers and a free check up by renowned doctors round the year.

It is also working on measures to make youth self-sufficient and boost the confidence of the victims. A counseling session of widows is organized to explore the work they can do.

“We want to see them standing on their legs rather than on crutches. We don’t want to make them parasites but rather source for help to other people,” says Ghulam Muhammad Sidiqui, chairman of the Baitul Mal Chattabal.

The Baitul Maal, an Islamic concept, is present in some form is many localities in Valley, but not all are equally vibrant. Many are dormant, while active ones are making a difference.

One of the oldest Baitul Maal, which owes its formation to the cause of helping the people in nearby hospital, is the Baitul Maal, Gole Market Karan Nagar. It has completed 25 years and is relentlessly helping the suffered lot. The organisation has adopted more than 12 cancer patients. On monthly basis they have adopted more than 30 widows. The expenses of accidental cases, educational expenses and other affairs of many deprived people are run by the committee.

At present, they take care of one time meal and two times tea of around 600 people in the SMHS hospital. The daily expenditure is around Rs 35000.

“With humbleness we have motherly treatment for everyone,” says Mukhtar Sidiqui, founder member, who himself serves morning tea at 6:15 am, lunch at around 12:30 pm and later the afternoon tea.

In Ramadhan, the committee has decided to serve packed food.

Sidiqui recalls some moving instances during his work.

“While we were serving lunch to people at SMHS, a medical student with tears in her eyes gave us Rs 4000. And at other time the interviewer from local channel after completing the assignment handed over Rs 500.”

The Baitul Maal has around 1000 households, who contribute to it.

Now the mission of committee is to look for people who are otherwise affluent but running short of money due to the circumstances.

Adversities often act as the coherent force to unite people and work together in one direction.

Dialgam village of south Kashmir formed a committee after the devastating Blast in Khundroo Ammunition Depot. Since then they are continuously working, be it in Amarnath land row of 2008, Shopian rape and murder case or the current crisis.

Chairman of committee Zahoor Ahmad Beigh said, we distribute 10kg of rice among needy and also help monetarily.

The village has also come forward to minimize the educational loss of children incurred by the current unrest. Four private schools have been turned into community educational institutions to help all students from the village. Besides, a free of cost coaching centre to be run by educated volunteers in the village has been set up for higher secondary students.

“Students in our locality haven’t gone to school since late June and they are suffering huge loses. So we have decided to start class work up to 10th standard in four private schools and students from seven government and other private schools will join their classes in them,” Tariq Ahmad Reshi, member of the committee spearheading the initiative told Kashmir life.

Major organizations like Jamaat-i-Islami which have a vast network across valley have mobilized its resources to help the people in crisis.

“We are stocking materials in the night and then distribute among people with the help of load carriers and small vehicles so that the activity is not halted,” said Zahid Ali spokesman of Jamaat. He appealed people to take care of deprived ones and give safe passage to relief materials.
Ferrying relief supplies, however, has proven to be a daunting task this time around. Volunteers allege harassment from troops, and there were instances where police seized trucks of relief supplies.

The last time Kashmir had seen policemen seizing relief supplies was during governor Jag Mohan regime in 1990’s.

This time around police first seized scores of trucks that were ferrying relief supplies from Shopain to Srinagar last month. There are more reports of police seizing relief material.

“We loaded three trucks of rice, vegetables and other eatables but later we came to know that on the way police seized the vehicles,” says Zamir Mustafa of Qazigund, Kulgam.

Residents of Kanihama also alleged that police seized the relief loaded vehicles and the volunteers had a narrow escape.

In Ganderbal people staged protest and ensure the release of volunteers, arrested by the police along with the relief materials.

As hospitals were flooded with injured victims, there was shortage of blood for victims. But that shortage was brief as hundreds of youth rushed to hospitals despite curfews to donate blood.

Some organizations organized blood donation camps. Doctors say the response was overwhelming. Some 155 volunteers donated blood in Jawahar Nagar and Kursu Rajbagh in two days alone. There are more than 200 registrations in the same area.

Some doctors have also donated and offered blood to patients during the crisis.

Hospitals sources say they have enough blood supplies now. In one case a patient was transfused 21 points of blood, but he could not survive because of severe damage to his aorta.

Doctors add that donors need not rush to hospitals. Instead they should register in their localities to ensure accessibility.

While the crisis has brought out the helping spirit among people, some routine aid activities have been hampered.

Due to the two month long siege like situation in valley the management of various orphanages was forced to send children back to their homes.

“Our office is closed and children were sent back home,” says Patron of Jammu and Kashmir Yateem Trust, Zahoor Ahmad Tak.

Kak said they were not able to manage in the prevailing situation, but is hopeful for things to get improve in Ramadhan.

While the crisis has united people, many want the activism to continue and built on.

“We should build institutions. Create jobs. Have our own blood banks, which we had but unfortunately lost to allegations. To have real ambulatory service. What we call ambulance here is just a vehicle,” a group of youth suggested.

The practice of helping each other in times of trouble dates back to 1878, when Kashmir was hit by a deadly drought. Again in 1957 and people stood up for the welfare and wellbeing of the society.

The Holy Relic movement in 1963 again brought revolution to the valley of Kashmir and was instrumental in uniting the masses to one single cause. The relief measures were well organized ; the society as one group came forward to help the cause.

“That (1963) was the revolution. Unfortunately the opportunity was not capitalized and was diverted to other cause and movement died down. Had we channelized those efforts in proper way, things would have been different this time,” says noted Kashmiri poet and social activist, Zareef Ahmad Zareef.

During the 1965 war the sprit was rejuvenated again.

Relief committees and help groups also surfaced in the 1990 soon after the outbreak of militancy.

“Make this a permanent feature. Shut out the uncertainty of character which has time and again made us to suffer. Unity and sincere concern is all what we need to move forward,” opines Zareef.

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