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Facing 2014 Kashmir Floods: ’What you see all around is the beauty of humanism, and what you don’t is the government’

14 September 2014

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[reproduced from Facebook]

(Times of India, the transcript of what Basharat Peer said to Malini Nair on the phone from Srinagar: "WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT BACK".)

September 14 2014 : The Times of India (Delhi)

Guess who’s not rising to the challenge

Basharat Peer

What you see all around is the beauty of humanism, and what you don’t is the government. At around 4am on Friday, a group of young volunteers left our camp at a high school in Hyderpora and took two inflatable boats to Sheikhpora in southern Srinagar. They returned with a one-month-old baby, a two-year-old and their parents who had survived just on water for days.

Having dropped them off, the volunteers set off again in another direction because scores of families like these remain stuck, waiting for help. The most heartwarming thing is that these are not professional rescuers, but regular folks — doctors, lawyers, businessmen. There is a filmmaker from Mumbai, Aamir Bashir, and two medical students who have expertise in crossing the Dal Lake. And there are scores of other volunteers just waiting to be asked.

When they reach those in distress, no one asks them, ‘Who are you, and where do you come from’.

They just say we need insulin, or we need paracetamol. A young woman came to me yesterday and said she needs sanitary napkins. She is having her period, who could she turn to? In parts of Srinagar that are not under water, schools, gurudwaras, and mosques have all been turned into relief camps. And everyone brings what they can to help, to feed the hungry. On some roads, you can see old men and young women with utensils, cooking and feeding strangers.

Srinagar has a lot of doctors, some are manning the hospitals but there are others who are just volunteering. The failure of the local government is simply shocking. All you see making an effort are the boys from the army with their boats and machinery and common people. I heard that Omar Abdullah was on television throwing down relief packets, and posing with a chinar in the backdrop, a tokenism of an appearance. But his leadership is nowhere to be seen and I have not seen this kind of failure of the government in a long time.

I know a man in Jawahar Nagar, an affluent locality, who is usually calm and composed. He had been stuck in a three-storey flat with two kids and his wife, and no one could get to them till Thursday. I have never seen him this angry. He said the rescuers from the NDRF came to the locality with paper slips on which names of those to be picked up were scribbled. They went to those homes even when there were other families with small, sick children around. They were shouting out for help and they were ignored.

In Jawahar Nagar, there are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim families living in a block and they were helping each other sharing whatever they could. If they had a bottle of clean water, they would tie a rope across their homes and pass it to their neighbours. That is the consistent beauty you see around.

What is really insulting in all this suffering is the jingoistic stuff being passed around on Twitter, Facebook and news channels. TV anchors have turned this into some sort of a Sadbhavana operation. Aren’t you f***ing grateful for the help — that is how it sounds. Nobody raised that question during the Uttarakhand floods.

We need the government back.

There are medicines lying uncollected at the Srinagar airport for three days and we need to get the J&K government to distribute it but there is no one. The scale of suffering is enormous. There are poorer parts of Srinagar that need help. We have to start work there.

And we can do without the flag-waving and party battles. It is really shameful. That is a thirsty man there waiting for help; this is not the time to say he is from the PDP or the NC. He is just a human being in distress.

Peer is the author of Curfewed Night. As told to Malini Nair.
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