“Look upon every man, woman, and every one as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege. If the Lord grants that you can help any one of his children, blessed you are; do not think too much of yourselves.” —Swamy Vivekananda
These inspiring words of Swamiji are tested during the time of crisis. We are fortunate enough that every time when there is a need for such Godly services many ‘Saving Souls’ come forward to serve the nation. The unprecedented catastrophe witnessed on the route of religious pilgrimage in Uttarakhand has once again displayed the courage and initiative of common people in dealing with national calamity. When the torrents were in full flow and catastrophe still unfolding, governments were in denial mode and the media busy discussing, there were some brave-hearts who decided to risk their lives in the relief and rescue operations. In between the tragedy and the rescue and relief operations, there are many untold stories of individuals and organisations, which not only exemplify valour and resolve towards purpose but also inspire us to work for the cause of the Nation even during normalcy. When the Independence Day is celebrated, these people, who remain the ‘Unsung Heroes’ of national life, need to be saluted for their motto of ‘Service to Man is Service to God’.
In the month of June, extreme fury of nature was experienced in the pilgrim paradise of Kedarnath, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi, etc when the Char Dham Yatra was going on. Human interference with nature was paid back with interest. More than 29 blocks and 2,000 villages are fully or partially affected by the floods. As per the government estimates, the overall evacuation amounted to 1, 08, 253 people while death toll still cannot be ascertained. According to the FIRs registered, the number of missing persons stands at 3,000-3,500. As per the UN report, along with some NGOs, the figure of missing is in excess of 11,000. The estimated monetary losses are in the range of Rs 1,500-3,000 crores. More than these material losses, the loss of faith in the State machinery to provide safety and security to pilgrims and demonising the ‘Yatras’, which are a symbol and source of our nationhood, is a bigger tragedy. Considering the magnitude of devastation and the nature of the terrain, the relief and rescue work was herculean, to say the least. In this crisis, many organisations and individuals responded positively to restore the faith in Narayan Seva through Nar Seva.
At the helm were the soldiers of the Indian Air Force (IAF), along with National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), who offered their monumental services in ‘Operation Rahat’. In the hour of need, they served their countrymen by putting their lives on the line, as seen by the supreme sacrifice made by 20 brave soldiers, who lost their lives in a helicopter crash while undertaking relief and rescue work. In support of them, many social and religious organisations, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its affiliates and Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), rose to the occasion and contributed in the relief work. Two swayamsevaks, Bijon Bisht and Yogendra Rana, with their heroic efforts were first one to land in Kedarnath Valley with the help of a rope. They prepared a helipad for army helicopters which proved to be the launching pad for rescue operations. More than 2,000 swayamsevaks, the VHP, Seva Bharati and Vidya Bharati workers helped the victims in 21 relief centres, providing 300 tonnes of food grain, eatables, mineral water, blankets, tarpaulin cloth and various items of daily need, which were promptly dispatched to the affected areas through the umbrella mechanism of Uttaranchal Daivi Aapda Peedit Sahayata Samiti. Providing medical facilities and establishing communication with the family members of those stranded, was another important task discharged by the committee. Besides, many voluntary organisations supported the efforts of the relief operations with men, material and monetary contributions, amidst Government of India’s declining the offer of help from the Russian Emergency Situation Ministry and Government of Uttarakhand’s shoddy cover up of its failure to protect precious lives. But there were many individuals who lost everything in the calamity and still served the pilgrims.
Now that ‘Operation Rahat’ is almost over and the first phase of rehabilitation plan is already unveiled, the important priority areas of rehabilitation are dealing with the dead bodies buried under the debris, providing health care, food and shelter to the people who lost everything in the Himalayan Tsunami, reconstructing roads and other facilities and above all, restoring the confidence of the common man. Considering the gargantuan contributions from locals and voluntary organisations, they should partake in the government’s reconstruction and rehabilitation plan. Religious tourism, which was the main source of income for the inhabitants, should be reinstated with proper consultation, planning and care for the environment
It is beyond doubt that we have to take cognisance of the alarming bell of nature about the overall model of development. We will also have to critically examine issues related to dams, deforestation and illegal constructions. The unpardonable failures of the government will be adjudged by the people at the time of elections. For the time being, we must consider this as a ‘national calamity’ and concentrate on coordinated efforts for reconstruction.
We hope that the stories of these ‘Unsung Heroes’ inspire us to resolve on this Independence Day of serving God through human beings and offer our bit to the process of nation building. Kudos to the laudable efforts of these ‘Unsung Heroes’. You will be meeting many such bravehearts in this Special Issue of Organiser.