Jammu and Kashmir as well as the areas of Kashmir across the LoC have been with the worst floods in living memory. The floods, caused by sudden and extreme rainfall, have claimed some 80,000 across the LoC and 2000 lives in J&K. The region is facing a massive humanitarian crisis, with people stranded without food, potable water and shelter, and thousands having lost their homes, property and means of livelihood.
Not long ago, Uttarakhand also suffered a terrible calamity. It seems that Governments refuse to learn the bitter lessons taught by each such calamity. In J&K, as in Uttarakhand, it is apparent that reckless urbanization fueled by a tourism economy, with scant regard for the fragile ecosystem, have contributed in great measure to the scale and magnitude of the disaster. Moreover, in spite of a string of similar disasters, Governments have refused to put in place early warning and evacuation systems that can accurately forewarn populations of an impending calamity and move people to protected areas. Now, even as the floods recede, the threat of a massive quake looms ahead, while the Indian Government even now has made no plans to protect the region’s people in case of quakes.
The Supreme Court, overruling the Centre’s plea against the Court’s intervention, ordered the Centre to accelerate rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations for the flood victims, setting up a Unified Agency if needed. This has underlined the fact that the ongoing relief and rescue operations are woefully inadequate. Though the Army and Air Force are conducting rescue and relief operations in tough conditions, the fact is that huge numbers of people continue to be stranded with no sign of help in sight. In such circumstances, the efforts of common citizens to organize evacuation, and take food and water to stranded people, are heartening.
Delays and inadequacy in relief, failure to reach the worst affected, breakdown of basic services including medical services and food and water as well as communications, have resulted in a desperate situation. Angry outbursts by affected people in such circumstances are commonly seen in all disaster-affected regions including Uttarakhand, North Bihar and Assam. But in Kashmir, it is disturbing to see callous right-wing politicians and the media portray the devastated victims of the deluge as heartless and anti-national ‘stone-pelters’ who are attacking the heroic Armed Forces rescuing them.
Democratic forces must not only strive to reach out to the people of Kashmir with much-needed relief material and help; they must also shame and condemn the politically motivated attempts by the BJP and sections of the media to use the tragic floods as an occasion to give a clean chit and a character certificate to the Army. The Army, with its training and resources, no doubt plays a commendable role in disaster management all over the country. But in Kashmir, this humanitarian role is being invoked to justify the inhumane AFSPA and other atrocities that the people of Kashmir have suffered and continue to suffer. This amounts to using the floods to rub salt into the open wounds of Kashmiris – reminding them, that even in the midst of a terrible tragedy, they will be seen, not as victims with a right to rage and sorrow, but as fodder for a jingoistic campaign of triumphalism and humiliation.
The calamity of the Kashmir floods must indeed take centre-stage now. And every effort should be made so that the floods wash out the jingoism and muscle-flexing between India and Pakistan, to make way for shared efforts at rescue, rehabilitation, as well as conservation and ecological healing to preserve the unique ecosystem that knows no national boundaries, and to plan and protect people of the region in case of earthquakes that are feared.
But the floods – the natural calamity - cannot be allowed to wash away the memory of the calamity manufactured by the Indian State, to which Kashmir has been subjected. The empathy for the victims of the floods, should create room, beyond jingoistic propaganda, for empathy for the mother of the ‘disappeared’ youth killed in police or Army custody, who lie in mass graves in the Valley, the young boys shot dead during funeral processions, the raped women who await justice in vain.
The Kashmir floods are a terrible tragedy. And the drought of truth, justice and freedom that the Kashmiri people have suffered is no less a tragedy – requiring urgent relief work. We cannot look to an efficient Army or to Governments in the hope that that relief will come from them. That task – of acknowledging the truth of the crimes of endless custodial killings and rapes; struggling for justice for all those crimes; and demanding an end to the daily humiliating siege in which Kashmiris lead their lives – is up to all the people of India with a care and concern for democracy and humanity.