The Great Flood of September 2014 will be remembered for the unprecedented, widespread destruction of lives, property and infrastructure, and the disruption of commerce, and normal life. No one was spared, not the higher-ups in government, not the visiting foreign tourists, not the rich and well-connected, and neither the Indian Armed Forces, who found themselves marooned in their camps. Elsewhere in the world, natural disasters bring out the worst in people. A similar deluge in New Orleans, USA, in 2005 caused by Hurricane Katrina saw violence break out as people started looting shops and businesses. Law-enforcement agencies were more involved in maintaining a semblance of law and order, and the absent Louisiana National Guard, most of which was deputed in Iraq, found the going tough when relief and rescue began. Natural disasters in under-developed and developing countries are often followed by food riots, scuffles, and fights over relief material and distribution. Not so in Kashmir.
The flood was to bring out the best in Kashmiris.
The Indian government and its proxies have spared no effort to prevent a sense of ‘nationhood’ from taking root among Kashmiris. Divisions on the lines of domicile (Shaharuk vs Gaamuk), religion (Sunni vs Shia, Barelvi vs Deobandi, Salafi vs Hanafi), political affiliation, (Sher vs Bakra, NC vs PDP, Hurriyat vs Hurriyat), have been developed and have been exploited over the years. Manipulative agencies have played one card or the other at every decisive moment in recent Kashmiri history, such that a unifying Kashmiri voice was never heard. Until the floods.
When they hit, Kashmir became one.
According to a good friend, Kashmiris ran a state when there was none. And they did a much better job of it than most.
No one was left behind to die of hunger or thirst or absence of medical care. Boats were brought in from other parts of Kashmir, from outside Kashmir, and some were improvised. Kashmiri Youth, otherwise known in India for their ‘violent stone-pelting’ suddenly were risking their lives for other people. They rescued all, labourer and businessman, rich and poor, young and old. The boys left no one behind. Boys in neighbourhoods, after rescuing their own families, went back again and again, to rescue others. Entire neighbourhoods of thousands of people were emptied of their residents in a few hours. Whether in Pampore or Srinagar, the story was the same. Boys, some of whom were victims of torture and abuse by the Armed Forces and the Police, went out and saved as many as they could. The same boys who were booked under the lawless law, the PSA, were now recognised for what they really were, Public Safety Agents. An ordinary nation does not do that. Only an extra-ordinary one does.
Kashmiris who could not help on the ground started helping from wherever they were. Special prayers were held in Mumbai mosques for Kashmir, a Delhi-based lawyer walked up to a relief collection point in Delhi and gave his life’s savings to the effort, a Bangalore-based Social Media Professional would establish contact with various agencies and begin relief effort a few hours after the floods hit Srinagar, a Mumbai-based actor would travel to Srinagar to participate in rescue operations, a New York-based writer would travel to save his parents, then stay back and help with the effort. An ordinary nation does not do that.
Displaced Kashmiris too would not sit back and relax. Doctors quickly networked and set up relief camps for the displaced wherever they were. A private nursing home on the Srinagar by-pass would open its doors for all patients, performing surgeries free of cost, despite the fact that its owner had lost his own home. Neighbours, who otherwise slugged it out on trifles, set up kitchens on the first floors of their flooded homes for all who could access them. Sikhs were living in mosques, Hindus in dargahs and Muslims in Gurdwaras. Overnight, Kashmir had become one. No ordinary nation does that. This was not cricket.
And in the backdrop was a gigantic finger pointing in the direction of New Delhi. When Kashmir called, Kashmiris responded. Besides running a state when there was none, Kashmiris amply proved that without the negative, divisive influence of New Delhi and its proxies in Kashmir, they can do a great job of looking after themselves.