Ashtengoo, Bandipora: Brothers Showkat and Abdul lived in Loab locality in Ashtengoo village of Bandipora, before they drowned in flood waters near Shalteng in Srinagar. On September 9, 2014, the brothers had relocated scores of stranded people in Srinagar but on their last round of rescue before returning home, their boat capsized.
Along with them drowned 14-month-old twins of their cousin sister. There were a total of 11 persons on the boat. The bodies of the brothers could only be retrieved after four days, while the body of one of the twins came immediately afloat after a whirlpool sucked in the boat, then broke it into pieces.
Misra, the wife of Showkat, is 35 years old now. She appears frail and has prominent buck teeth. She sits on the mud floor of one of the rooms of her husband’s ancestral two-storey house. Her long bony face gives out an occasional grin but keeps returning to a miserable smile as she talks of the situation she has been dealing with since her husband died, leaving her with three small children.
Sabiya, her smallest daughter, is six years old and has joined a local government school this year. Amir, 12, and Inayat, 14, are in Classes 5th and 8th. When asked about how she nurtures and educates her small children, she replies, “I am on God’s mercy. Whatever little help I get in taking care of my children, from clothes to food, it is from some relatives and neighbours. I am so miserable that I have to literally beg for our survival.”
The state government gave an ex-gratia payment to the families of those who drowned in the 2014 floods. Misra says she cannot even remember how much it was. “It wasn’t sufficient. The two-room house a little distance from here which Showkat had started to construct in 2014 is still incomplete. I have managed to get it a roof recently but it’s still not fit to live in,” she said.
Showkat was strongly built and worked in a local sawmill. Along with his brother and other relatives, he had decided to take a boat to Srinagar in search of their sister and other relatives with whom they had had no contact since the floods hit Srinagar, said Sameer Ahmad, the cousin who was part of the rescue mission.
Misra recalled the day: “I tried to stop him. I said, let the waters recede, then you can go. But he didn’t listen and said it was important that they go for the rescue. He pulled out a hundred-rupee note from his pocket and handed it over to me.”
Mahmooda, 45, the widow of Abdul, lives in a separate house a few paces from Misra’s. Though financially a little more stable, her world lies equally shattered. Abdul left behind three unmarried daughters and two sons. Nighat, the eldest daughter, said, “It was after 40 days of father’s sad demise that I got married.”
“All the preparations were done by him (Abdul), from calling the chefs (wazas) to every little thing needed for the marriage,” said Mehmooda.
Abdul had a truck. It was the same truck in which they had transported the borrowed boat from Bandipora to Srinagar.
Sameer said that they reached Srinagar at 10:30am and pulled out the boat near Shalteng. With some pullers for help, he along with Abdul and Showkat and another cousin, Ghulam Jeelani, they waded through flooded waters towards Parimpora where their cousin sister was stranded. After relocating her to a safe place, they engaged themselves in rescuing old people and children in the area.
“They rescued scores of people from near Parimpora, Fruit Mandi, Bemina’s Boat Colony, and Nund Reshi Colony, where they had relocated their sister in a mosque. Many hailed them as heroes for what they did,” said Nighat.
When they were finished with the rescue work, it was time to take their family members home. “It was about 6pm. They were making the last trip with their cousin, Lali, who had along with her 14-month-old twin daughters, Razia and Zoya,” recalled Sameer. “Everyone looked tired. When the boat was approaching the truck, suddenly in the flooded waters there was a sort of whirlpool, which pulled the boat down in seconds. I saw it breaking into pieces from some distance where our truck waited. Showkat couldn’t hold for long to the baot. In no time one infant was afloat on the water. The other passengers were swept far away. But it was Abdul and Showkat who couldn’t be traced for four days. The other infant’s body was retrieved the next day.”
Nighat says their family received about Rs 5 lakh in cash, but it was never sufficient. “An orphanage helped us for two months, but then they, too, abandoned us,” she said.
Nighat’s younger brothers, Danish and Shahid, who were in Class 10th and 9th at the time, had to leave their studies to earn for the family. “My second daughter got married last week,” Mehbooba said.