In Disaster-Hit Kashmir, A Collective Story Of Human Determination

12 September 2014

Srinagar: The line was nothing less than a kilometer long. And, as the sun dipped, it was nothing short of a deluge, a mass of humanity. The Jammu - Srinagar highway is still closed. Large landslides at Ramsu just ahead of Banihal tunnel - the divides Jammu from Kashmir valley - have blocked the crucial highway. The only way to get out of the valley is via the aerial route. But that is hardly a hurdle. Like Hannibal's army of yore - this army too, that of migrant workers in the valley, have walked over an entire mountain range to reach Jammu. They have walked through the mountains to reach Ramban in Jammu. Some have walked for as many as six days without any food and water for most of those days. 'We noticed them yesterday, nearly 8,000 people crossed over today. About 10,000 crossed over yesterday,' said Brigadier Bhubesh Commader of the 11 sector of Rome Force. The army, he said, is making every effort to open the highway but it will take time. 'We have opened a few langars (community kitchen) and medical camps at either side of the land side. Once they cross over, we put them on buses which are ferrying them to the Udhampur railway station,' he said. The exodus is a story of human grit, endurance and of human survival instinct. 'We had nothing to eat for three days because of the rains; as soon as the weather improved I started walking,' said Sunil Kumar Paswan from Bihar. He said that he tried taking shelter in a school and then in a hospital, but could not. 'The police threw us out of the hospital and asked us to get lost,' he said. On his way, he sold his mobile because he had no money. 'I was thrown out by my employers as the water level started rising. They didn't pay me,' alleged Rafiq from Bihar. We met several survivors who, like Sunil, had either been asked to leave or had not been paid. Most labourers like Sunil and Rafiq were contracted to work in the fields, brick kilns and in other such odd jobs in the valley. We found a young woman at the make-shift transit camp at the Ramban bus station. She was feeding her year two-year-old child. It was the first meal for them in three days. The langar is a combined effort between the local administration, the India Army, and the local people of Ramban. 'I will go back to my village in Malda (in West Bengal) and then let's see what's in store,' she told me as a volunteer put more hot daal and roti on her plate by a volunteer at the camp. Disasters and deaths often bring out the worst in people; sometimes, the best of all that makes us human.