Today marks a year since the last September floods wreaked havoc across Kashmir. As we assess what we've lost and what survived the floods, let us for once look beyond the material damages, beyond what the government did and couldn't do, and beyond the politics and promises of relief and rehabilitation packages from New Delhi. Let us look at what our own people did when they were submerged in the flood waters.
They kept it simple. They kept their heads above waters, didn't give up, refused to drown in hopelessness and, most importantly, they didn't wait for the government to come to their rescue.
When the flood waters closed in, the government machinery paralyzed and communication lines snapped, people were left on their own. In the subsequent days, as the government remained dysfunctional, people summoned enough courage and willpower to organize and fight back. And not only did they slowly emerge from the waters, from submerged homes, forgetting their own losses, they also came together to rescue hundreds of other people who were trapped in submerged buildings. Even as the military helicopters hovered in the skies, dropping little packets of food, and as news channels mischievously amplified the noise of their 'rescue and relief operations', people on the ground got together in small groups and went ahead to rescue hundreds of affected people with the help of mere wooden planks, using drums and boats, by manually putting together tyre tubes and steel sheets. Stories of heroism against all odds by local people and individuals poured in from all over the valley.
Unprecedented in its scale of devastation, the floods also unleashed a wave of extraordinary solidarity and voluntarism among people. Since the floods affected everyone, including the rich and poor in urban and rural areas, the helping hands were also extended by every section of the society. People stood together as a single unit braving the tragedy. One could see a deluge of volunteers from urban areas carrying out rescue and relief work in rural areas, and similarly hundreds of volunteers rushed in from rural areas to help the flood affected people in urban areas. People from rural areas could also be seen extending help in the worst hit areas of the city, rescuing people and distributing vegetables and goods from their vehicles to the flood affected people. People whose houses were somehow unaffected by the waters opened their doors to give unconditional shelter to people whose houses were submerged in the floods. Small private hospitals also opened their doors for the flood affected people. Doctors erected tents, distributing medicine and treating patients for free. Kashmiris outside the state, including university and college students, also got together to dispatch relief material and rescue teams to their homeland at a time when they were themselves not aware of the fate of their own families.
At the local Muhalla level, people activated their own small units of self governance from their localities that supported many flood affected people. The local Muhalla committees and mosques, going beyond their usual activities, also acted as support bases to ensure no needy family ran out of at least the basic needs of food and other essential items. I remember these local self help support groups and mosques, acting as community centers, were also proactive during the 2008 and 2010 civil uprising. When week-long harsh curfews were imposed by the government forces, people would get together in their localities, store some essential items and then distribute them among the needy families in each locality. The Muhalla committees also acted as meeting points where people from their localities would come together to pool ideas, organize and plan material help for their poor neighbours, and also meet the needs of other people living in the vicinities. This was also an act of resistance in the face of a brutal state that tried to crush the will of people.
We must remember September 2014 floods not for its devastation and what we lost in the deluge, but for what remained after the large scale destruction – the pure spirit of survival and self-reliance shown by people. And we must keep that spirit alive.
One of the worst natural disasters in Kashmir's history brought out the best among people. People managed to do what the government should have done. They ran their own government in the absence of state government. And at the individual level, in their own small voluntary manner, they rendered the 'ruling' government insignificant and meaningless.
The same undying spirit should also extend to help and support the many victims of state repression – hundreds of war widows, pellet injured youth, the families of disappeared, and, more recently, the families of those killed and fatally injured during the 2008 and 2010 uprising. They shouldn't be forgotten, left on their own, and forced to take compensation from the same state that is responsible for their plight. Despite their continued suffering and ongoing struggle for justice, these families would never come out openly to ask for help. But we must find ways and means to support them quietly, and help them live a dignified life.
On their part, the resistance leadership, instead of coming out with routine statements of condemnation, should also get their acts together to ensure sustained financial and moral support to the affected families. This can be done throughout the year, beyond just commemorating specific days when these families lost their loved ones. And this can also be done quietly, without seeking publicity, without issuing statements in the press. For this too is an act of resistance.