Shaping new lives in Kashmir
In the absence of a cohesive response from society to the Kashmir earthquake, the challenge of rehabilitating the survivors remains an uphill task.
Shattered lives: Not much response to the tragedy. Photo: Nissar Ahmad
THE earthquake that devastated Kashmir on October 8 has once again raised questions about Jammu and Kashmir's relationship with the rest of the country. Kashmiri minds were haunted by the question of India's response in a situation that left humanity shattered: was it akin to the one that met tragedies like the Bhuj earthquake or the tsunami in the South?
Notwithstanding the efforts of the government and the significant presence of a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a few individuals, the absence of a cohesive response from Indian civil society as a whole cannot be disputed.
"Civil society did not show much interest in helping people,"says Tahir Mohiuddin, editor of the mass-circulation Urdu weekly, Chattan. "I think this is politically motivated because Kashmir has been portrayed, outside, as the nerve centre of anti-Indian activities." He believes that the much-talked-about theory of Kashmir being an "integral part of India" has been shown up.
As the New Year dawns with new hopes, a discussion on the subject becomes inevitable. For the last 58 years the bonds between New Delhi and Srinagar have politically remained fragile, but in the face of such a tragedy, human suffering should have provided civil society an opportunity to pick up the lost thread in Kashmir.
"I think for NGOs it does not matter which area is affected. They have a charter to work. But how many corporate or industrial houses came to help?" asks Altaf Hussain, a student at Kashmir University whose family suffered heavily in Uri. While Bharat Vyas, the former divisional commissioner who handled the crisis for two months, points out that "we got Rs 1250 crore in the CM's relief fund", Dr. Mazhar Hussain, director of the Hyderabad-based Confederation of Voluntary Association (COVA), which has done a good job with relief in Tangdhar, differs. He maintains that a mechanism for collection was not in place: "Many people wanted to give money but did not know how to give." Dr. Hussain also says the government did not encourage corporate houses to give funds generously: "No tax exemption was announced, as was the case in Bhuj."
Azra Begum, a teacher in Tangdhar, notes that an appeal from star cricketers or Bollywood actors would have made a great difference. But people in Kashmir do acknowledge Congress President Sonia Gandhi's act of celebrating her birthday with the quake victims. "We are overwhelmed by her gesture," says Muntazir Ahmed of Uri, who also speaks approvingly of the visits of President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The BJP, however, was conspicuous by its absence.
The media are also being criticised for their insensitivity. Farooq Jan, a young entrepreneur in Srinagar, says, "The media sell Kashmir only on account of violence. They failed to help in this hour of tragedy and could not build an opinion at the national level." And Dr. Hussain asks, "How many big media outlets set up quake relief funds like they did for the tsunami victims?"
But the major challenge ahead is rehabilitating the survivors, and the shaping of new lives for them. In the absence of visible international support (as disallowed by the government), this may be an uphill task. A sympathetic view is required, with full material support to minimise the suffering of thousands of people who have also been at the receiving end of a deadly cycle of violence for the last 15 years.
Imran Ahmed, a student, sums up the situation perfectly: the response from India, he observes, "must match the slogan of winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris'."
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