Syed Nazakat in Tangdhar, India-Pakistan border
After the tremors subsided, when there was only fear and death left in the hilly villages torn asunder by the mighty earthquake of October 8, the villagers waited for food, medicines and blankets.
They were still waiting when the minister finally arrived in this border village of Karnah, Tangdhar. But the minister came empty-handed. Gulam Hassaim Mir, a Congress and R&B minister, whose constituency, Dooru Shahabad, is some 300 km away from this village has taken charge of relief work in the quake-hit 42 villages of Karnah, including Tangdhar.
“If you want to get blankets”, Hassaim Mir told the desperate villagers, “get request slips stamped and signed by me.” “Only those with political links are getting request slips, and aid,” said Mohammed Subhan of Tangdhar, “I am not getting paper slips because our village is considered the traditional vote bank of the National Conference.”
In village after village in the quake-hit region in the upper reaches of Kashmir along the LoC, the story is the same. Political favouritism has become a part of the relief process in Kashmir.
In another quake hit border town, Uri, additional deputy director, Ajaz Kakroo has been sidelined after he expressed displeasure over local Congress leader and state minister for Food and Supplies, Taj Mohideen’s interference in the relief work.
Taj Mohideen’s house at Chandanwadi has become the headquarters of the entire relief operation. Everyday a large number of people can be seen outside his house, waiting for relief. The focus of relief operations has already shifted to Taj Mohideen’s areas of influence. The villages ahead of Julu, to Kaman post, the last point before the border with PoK, are being ignored. Villagers say the minister is distributing relief only in his electoral stronghold. The quake-hit villages across Uri are angry too.
Villages least affected in the quake like Salamabad, Nowshehra, Chandanwari, Peernia have been provided relief and tents while Thajal and Pawdien, which suffered major losses, are still waiting for aid. On October 19, police in Uri recovered hundreds of blankets, meant for quake victims, from the house of a Congress worker.
The same is the case in Karnah where quake-affected villages are being ignored. More than a week after the quake devastated a cluster of 42 villages nestling in the pine capped mountains of Tangdhar, the life of its 52,000 residents mostly farmers and nomads is miserable. A total of 250 villagers perished in Tangdhar alone and the army lost 22 soldiers. Things were so bad that the army had to run 78 helicopter sorties from nine improvised helipads to evacuate 272 injured people to the nearest hospitals. An estimated 88 houses of Tangdhar have been destroyed in the quake. But people are still waiting for food and a tent to protect themselves from the shivering cold.
Yaqub Gujar, who lost his left leg in a mine blast during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. He stays in Jabda, the last village on the Indian side of the LoC. Starting with his leg being blasted away, his life like that of many people living in these villages has been one of eternal tragedy and sorry. The earthquake has been the latest in the series of tragedies that have been affecting the families of people here like that of Yaqub Gujjar.
Yakub’s brother was shot and killed by militants in the late 80s. He left behind his wife and two children. In last week’s earthquake, this family was buried under the rubble leaving Yakub alone to face his dismal future. When this correspondent met Yakub, now in his late 70s, he did not even have the strength to say anything.
When this correspondent asked him if he was happy with the relief measures he said he had some hope when he heard of the Prime Minister’s offer of help but nothing came after that.
No one from the government has so far reached the village near the LoC. Jabda has no motorable roads and people had to walk six hours from Kamalkot to reach the village.
Like Yakub who is still waiting for some relief material to reach him, so are people like Syed Razzak Hussain and his wife Akbar Fatima who still haven’t got any medicines. They lost their beloved daughter Bashir Fatima and son Ikhtair Hussain. ” My daughter was the most beautiful girl in the area. And the only girl who could pass her class 12. She always dreamt of becoming a doctor so that she could bring medicines to this remote village,” her mother cried.
The Congress seems to be running a parallel relief effort. At the Centre, the party has opened a control room to monitor the rehabilitation work in the state and has dispatched at least a dozen central leader to the villages to take stock of the situation. Union parliamentary affairs minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad is coordinating efforts. State relief minister, Hakeem Mohammed Yasin, an independent MLA, has no idea what is happening around him. In fact he is not in the picture. “You know the relief material is being distributing by the government but I have no idea where supplies are going”. Two Congress ministers have been put in charge of relief distribution according to Mohammed Yasin.
Omer Abdullah, president of the National Conference, has accused the ruling party of large-scale embezzlement in the relief work. “There is no accountability in the relief work. Nobody knows who is giving and where the relief is going. The government is saying that we have provided that much of relief. But let me tell you that people are still hungry and sleeping in open in the quake hit areas,” Omar Abdullah told Sahara Time from Srinagar over phone after he visited many quake hit villages.
“There should be some checks and balance. Why cannot the government hand over all relief work to army?”
Separatist leaders have also been doing their bit. But everywhere political competition to score brownie points is evident. Every vehicle is carrying the name of the party and party leader.
At Tangdar, there is the banner on the vehicle which gives the name of the relief provider as Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz group). Some distance away, there is a truck loaded with eatables and clothes and it has been sent by Geelani fraction of Hurriyat. A big photographs of Geelani is pasted right on the front of the truck.
On the way to Tangdhar, there is a relief team led by Yasin Malik bearing the slogan “relief for quake hit people from JKLF”.
(Sahara Time, October 29, 2005)