No Kashmiri household in the country has remained untouched by the agony of the floods in the Valley. At our south Delhi residence, too, we have agonised over the whereabouts of my partner’s family and that of many close friends.
Our house has become a collection centre for relief materials. We have been sending around two tonnes of relief material every day to the Valley. It started on the evening of 8 September, when a group of youngsters met at our house to discuss the rescue and relief operations. The meeting led to the formation of a Facebook group and the word spread like wildfire. Lots of relief material reached our doorstep. Many volunteers travelled every day to Srinagar to distribute the material. Most of them were young men whose families were stuck in the flood-hit city.
We used social media platforms to guide people on what to donate and inform them about the distribution of the material they donated. One update was on how we sent 1,700 kg of food, water and medicines. It elicited an immediate comment from someone who said the army would be distributing the relief material. She did not ask about the condition of our loved ones, nor did she mention how she could help.
In another instance, when someone posted asking how she could help in the relief operations, she got a comment that said, “Why help the traitors?” In fact, social media discussions on the floods gave an opportunity to many people to vent their ire on the people of Kashmir. For them, it was a chance to make a show of their ultra-nationalism. The flood became an occasion to settle scores with the Kashmiris. Numerous hashtags, tweets, comments and Facebook status updates targeted Kashmiris in their most vulnerable condition.
In another conversation with a group of Kashmiri friends, many complained about our appreciation of the cooperation by various organisations associated with the State in the relief efforts. This was not in sync with their politics and, therefore, we were asked to remove the post. We did not.
The mother of a two-year-old came to send a set of medicines for her ailing father in Srinagar. A friend showed up at our door with tears in her eyes. She had lost contact with her husband after he left for the Valley to rescue his parents.
I have been working in an orphanage in Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar for the past two years. It accommodates about 50 children aged 4 to 16. The locality was one of the areas worst hit by the floods. I still do not know the whereabouts of the children.
The white board on a wall in our house has the contact numbers, names and details of the volunteers, airline staff, truck drivers, tent makers and boat manufactures. There is also a white sheet with the telephone numbers of my partner’s family members in Srinagar. On a regular basis, someone from the team of volunteers would spare a moment to call on all these numbers.
We finally received a call from Srinagar after five days. My partner’s brother had to swim a few kilometres to a place where he could use his cell phone. All the family members were rescued, but his old, beautiful house was two floors under water and had started to collapse.
We were overwhelmed by the support that came to our door. A middle-aged couple had travelled more that 40 km to give us packets of food. Around 30 volunteers showed up every day to pack the material and we still do not know the names of many of them. I saw an old labourer donating Rs 2,000.
After going through my Facebook page, where the comments are harsh enough to incite, I still see hope in my drawing room.