Rakesh Borai, Dehradun Mahanagar Sewa Pramukh, RSS
As we received the information of calamity, we swung into action for relief and rescue of the victims. But the problem was the weather which was unfavourable. Even then we along with Vibhag Pracharak Shri Bhuvanji took a utility van and left for Joshimath on June 21.
I left Dehradun at 6 am and received Shri Bhuvanji from Rishikesh. From Rishikesh to Srinagar the situation appeared normal. But soon we found that Srinagar too was affected badly. The condition of roads was very bad. From Kirtinagar to Srinagar there was no road connection. Traffic was diverted from Kirtinagar itself via Chauras, where the road was available. Leaving Srinagar on a side we crepted ahead for our destination-Joshimath. Six hours of journey was still remaining. Now the effect of heavy rains in the form of destruction could be seen. We were moving along the banks of river Alaknanda. We ourselves saw many hotels, lodges and houses being carried away by the river.
On the way to Srinagar, we met many stranded buses full of pilgrims. We stopped them and provided them with food and water. We were having more than two thousand packets of cooked food, water bottles, biscuits, bhujiya, etc. One group of ABVP workers also joined us. They were also having some food items to distribute among the victims. On the way we halted at different places and provided food, water to the people. Tired faces of pilgrims and travellers were telling the story of their hardships. They were accepting the food packets and giving blessing to the RSS. This is how we reached Joshimath at about 8.30 pm.
We were received by Shri Shambhu Prasad Chamola (camp incharge and principal of Vidya Mandir Inter College) who is also a devoted swayamsevak. The main task in Joshimath was to provide food and water to stranded pilgrims, who were reaching there from Badrinath and Govind Ghat. A big number of pilgrims were reaching on foot. At three places—Govind Ghat, Gandhi Maidan and Helipad—several teams of swayamsevaks were helping the pilgrims.
During 5 am to 10 am, there was always heavy rush at Gandhi Maidan, the ITBP jawans were very cooperative with us and they allowed us to use their transportation system for supplying the food items from Gandhi Maidan to Govind Ghat.
In Govind Ghat, the rush hours were 1 pm to 6 pm. Each morning at least one team of the swayamsevaks reached Govind Ghat at 12:30 noon to help the needy! There we also met some ITBP Jawans who had been to Sangh shakhas and they recognised us by our uniform. They were very overjoyed to see us helping the needy.
Now at the helipad, the rush hour was very hectic, it was 9 am to 6 pm. Helicopters rushed all day to and fro from Joshimath to Badrinath at the interval of maximum 10 to 15 minutes. Our job was to provide pilgrims with food, water medicine, shelter and guidance. The pilgrims who wished to stay and rest for a while, were given accommodation in the Vidya Mandir.
Some Experiences at Joshimath
p We found many people who already knew RSS and were very happy to see us helping them. Whenever someone saw us wearing the khaki nikar, people said ‘Vande Matram’, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Some also performed dhawaj pranam for us, as we do in the Shakha to show respect to the Bhagwa Dhawaj. Some people also told us that they have been to the Shakha.
p Correspondent of a local Hindi daily confessed in front of us that his newspaper has decided not to cover any RSS activity.
p One communist-minded newsman, whom we helped search successfully one of his relatives, admitted in front of us that he was always misguided about the philosophy of RSS. Now he realised the capacity and broad-mindedness of the RSS.
p A group of Muslim labourers was hesitating to ask for food from us. But we took initiative and provided them food packets.
How we reached Badrinath
Nobody was allowed to go to Badrinath neither by foot, nor by air. Somehow we sought permission to go to the helipad campus. Now we had to use our confidence to board a helicopter. We tried whole day but did not get chance. At last when it was last flight we went very near to the helicopter, co-pilot was standing on the door, 2-3 soldiers were standing outside, one of them asked me where we were going? We replied that we were natives of a village nearby Badrinath. And we entered the helicopter. Shri Davender Rawat also joined me. More than 20 jerkins were to be loaded in the helicopter. A soldier lifted two jerkins. Shri Rawat at once held them and handed over to me. I started keeping them in a row. This work completed in no time. Co-pilot thought us Army personnel and closed the door. Aircraft lifted in the air. I thanked Lord Badrinath to help us. Meanwhile, the co-pilot gave us one paper and told us to write the names of our units. We told him that we were civilians, till now half of the journey was over. Finally, we landed at Badrinath.
Four days in Badrinath
It was very cold in the morning of June 26. We went to the temple and inquired about the conditions of the pilgrims. We even surveyed the market and found local people helping the pilgrims. Villagers of Bamni Gaon collected ration from the village and provided free food to the pilgrims for several days. In the same way, Panda Panchayat and few swayamsevaks organised langar. Temple committee was also providing food free of cost to the people. A Mahatma of Khak Chowk also organised a langar. In Badrinath market, the prices of food, sweets, tea, coffee and snacks etc were normal, as it was a general view in Badrinath that no pilgrim should remain hungry. One langar was being organised by government also.
Next day was sunny. We wore our khaki nikar and black cap. When we came out from our accommodation, maximum people who saw us understood to which organisation we belonged. Again people were expressing their happiness. We found thousands of people at helipad waiting for their turn to board the rescue helicopter. But there was no arrangement of food and water. We requested the Tehsildar to provide edible items to the people at helipad. He tried to ignore, but we put our view strongly, then he agreed and provided us with water and edibles. The Mahatma of Khak Chowk also provided us with his Innova car without any hesitation and even more food items. We distributed all the relief material to the pilgrims, police and army personnel.
In next two days the administration was also seen distributing some relief material. Then we visited Bamni and Mana Gaon where people were disturbed, but ready to help the pilgrims. We visited our Shishu Mandir. It was full of mud and shine due to heavy rainfall. In Bamni Gaon, some houses also got damaged. In Badrinath, we saw the real picture of Hindu way of life that every local person was himself in trouble, but was trying to help the pilgrims.
Return to Joshimath
We came by foot from Badrinath to Joshimath. It was a long 32 km journey. Our motive for coming by foot was to estimate the destruction in nearby areas. JP’s power station and barrage disappeared due to flood. In village Bainaculi, two temples and four houses were washed away. A huge hole was visible in place of the houses. Four houses in Dhokdanam and 50 in Kheero were cut off from the world. After Hanumanchatti, there was no road. The footpath was through jungle and riverbed. In Lambaghar, Pandukeshwar and Govind Ghat, 90 per cent roads and roadside areas vanished along with shops, hotels, houses, etc. This is how we reached Joshimath.