Dr Pravin Togadia
Older generation would say – death, illness and natural calamity do not come with prior warning. Today, with modern science, some warnings of all of these are available. Even in ancient times, per Hindu Shastras like astrology etc, such warnings were available. Human tendency is to initially take the warnings seriously, then ignore and then ridicule them. Serious warning had started coming in about the massive disaster in the making from the Himalayan Mountains where rivers were butchered, forced into tunnels built by butchering mountain ranges and burning millions of trees that held mountain clay and boulders together. All this was for so-called development meaning electricity. In my article almost a year back in Organiser dated July 29, 2012 (Will Ganga too disappear now?) I had written many minute details of such killing of the Himalayas and rivers in Uttarakhand and the imminent huge risk of the nature’s wrath soon!
Well, now the disaster has struck Uttarakhand and the need of the hour is to help the affected with rescue, relief, rehabilitation and restoration. People include the pilgrims of Charo Dham as well as the locals in various mountain villages. By the time this article hits the stands; most pilgrims would have reached their homes rescued by our brave soldiers of Army, ITBP, etc. It will take years for them to come out of the trauma of what they went through. Many pilgrims who unfortunately lost their lives will never go back to their homes. Their grieving near and dear ones will not know what really their relatives went through while the mountain ranges were crashing, floods were devastating all.
Villagers, who have to stay back in the same mountains as it is their home, will have the most difficult life ahead. Many locals too have been washed away leaving their families with no means of living. Those who depended on Charo Dham pilgrimage for their living – like Pitthus, Palkiwalas, tourist taxi drivers, owners, various shopkeepers who must have filled up the stocks ahead of Charo Dham Yatra, hoteliers, pujaris, flower sellers, photographers who click instant photos in the vicinity of the temples, tour guides…- have lost their living and many lost even their lives. Those who are alive need alternative employment until the pilgrimage resumes. Those who are no more, their families need support to carry on.
There are many aspects of help and aid in the big natural calamity that has struck Uttarakhand since June 16, 2013.
Our volunteers who come from surrounding villages and as well as some of our senior people have gone up to Gouri Kund by foot from jungle routes and got many rescued with the help of Army and ITBP. But we must understand that by now, Army and ITBP have almost cordoned off the entire region especially Kedar Ghati, Kedar Nath, Gouri Kund, Garud Chatti, etc. No civilian is allowed there now as the Army and ITBP want to focus on the people who need immediate rescue, therefore they do not want additional liability of social workers and understandably so. Names and details of the people who are yet missing have been handed over to ITBP and Army through the Government as this is the only permitted channel now. These details are also put on Hindu Help Line Face Book and handed over to the Army and ITBP. Lists of the rescued have been posted on Hindu Help Line and Hindu News Network Face Book pages.
Relief and reaching home
The second aspect is giving emergency help to those who are rescued. They have been without food and water for long. This not only makes them weak but can also create a few medical problems. Arranging vehicles free for those who are in a condition to travel to railway station , airport, bus Stand is important. In Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehradun various camps are giving them food, medicine, etc. Over 20,000 were helped in the VHP camps and the RSS has been running many more camps too. All of us together are helping the rescued in buying train tickets, to get free vehicles home wherever needed with a volunteer accompanying.
Food and essentials support to villagers
The other important aspect is the villagers in the affected areas. Many villagers have given shelter to the Charo Dham pilgrims, have given them food etc. showing the true culture of Bharat, i.e. atithidevobhava. Now the pilgrims are going back and the villagers need immediate help with food, daily supplies, etc.
Rehabilitation of villages, houses, family support, kids and businesses
Many villages have been washed out in the calamity. In some parts, the earning members are washed out. In Kedar and Gouri Kund area itself there were 5,000 Pitthus (men who ferry pilgrims on their back), 4,500 mules with at least 1 attendee each, 2,500 palki waalas, at least 1,000 traders, shop keepers in Rambada area, over 400 pujaris, 200 photographers who click pilgrims’ photos and give it immediately in the temple area, hotel owners and hotel, guest houses, dharmashala employees, tourist vehicle drivers, etc. This number surely crosses 20,000 minimum. Most of them must have been washed out and flown in the speeding river waters with very little chance to survive. We all have made a small team to assess the number of such people so that their families can be helped with livelihood, compensation (of course Governments will also give it) and at least 6 months essentials for their homes. We all should also plan to help their kids with the RSS and the VHP residential schools.
Cleaning and restoration of temples
Other aspect is cleaning the debris and then restoration of ancient temples without damaging their structures, history and specific architecture. Kedarnath Temple is not broken and therefore does not need renovation, etc but many other temples in Charo Dham area are damaged. Taking help from the experts and people from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) the temples should be restored. This work is big and it needs a lot of support.
Rebuilding economy, systems of villages, towns
Millions of houses, business establishments, agricultural lands, infrastructure have been either washed out or merged in the rivers now. Rehabilitation, rebuilding is a gigantic task to prevent migration.
Christian Missionaries have been sighted now in the villages doling out food, toys to kids, good clothes and a Cross! We must reach every affected village really fast! Last year at Yamunotri, mule handlers had complained of encroachment by Kashmiri Muslims with their mules. We need to be alert and vigilant about this invasion too in Uttarakhand.
Without politicking, all should stand up behind the Himalayas and the people of Himalayas! Uttarakhand is our Dev Bhoomi. Let us together, make a difference in this need of the hour! The Uttarakhand calamity, June 2013 is a huge one and beyond human comprehension. However the RSS, VHP, Hindu Help Line have been trying their level best to help as much as possible. All in Bharat and abroad are urged to come ahead and contribute their bit in these activities of human service.