The natural calamity that struck Devbhoomi Uttarakhand, brought with it large scale destruction and massive damage to human life and property. Along with the pilgrims the local people in large numbers perished in the floods that virtually swept away the region around Chardham. The intensity of this calamity was so grave that people even are deprived of daily needs and facilities even today. One can only imagine the extent of damage by visiting the area.
But even in such a grave state there are people who pioneered and ventured to serve the affected brethren and provided selfless, dedicated services to them. Their efforts are inspiring indeed.
The ‘Sewa Ashram’ of ‘Uttaranchal Daivi Apada Peedit Sahayata Samiti’ situated on Gangotri Road in Maneri has been in the public service since past 22 years. This Ashram was damaged by the gushing waters of Bhagirathi. The flooding waters engulfed a double story building of the hostel, dining hall, guest rooms and godowns in the Bhagirathi. The continuous erosion of land has further threatened the very existence of this centre. In spite of this, this place has been the major centre of shelter for the pilgrims who were stranded at Gangotri from June 17 to July 1. The entire Bhagirathi valley was submerged in darkness, there was no arrangement of drinking water supply, road communication network was destroyed making the transportation impossible. But all the pilgrims were provided all sorts of services day and night. Many pilgrims thanked the organisers when they safely reached their places. This Ashram was also a support base for the jawans engaged in rescue operations. The affinity and affection received by those jawans was reciprocated by AMC Col Dr Arun Sen posted at Harshil centre when he said “The services rendered by you are priceless”.
Kailash Ashram’s story was no different. This Ashram engaged in the service of local people and depressed sections, has been the major centre of relief to pilgrims. The first phase of floods washed away temple premises of the Ashram. The Yatri-niwas is submerged; Gaushala is endangered. The land of the Ashram is slowly being eroded. Swami Krishnanand, engaged in relief operations, was also caring for the workers. He has given standing instructions to all to look after the welfare, lodging and boarding of the workers. He looks at this calamity as an hour of test and tenacity. We must continue our work and duty, says he.
This is really surprising how the pilgrims who had no practice of scaling the mountain roads, could pass the difficult roads and bridges temporarily built by the army jawans? They crossed the slippery paths, pacing carefully between the deep gorges and slippery slopes holding the ropes with their hands and completed the difficult journey. Many of them were given shelter by the RSS volunteers, activists of Uttaranchal Daivi Apada Peedit Sahayata Samiti and local people. Boarding a bus from Haridwar to Gujarat, Uddhav Bhai of Gujarat took out his cheque book wrote the name of Uttaranchal Daivi Apada Peedit Sahayata Samiti and handed it over to senior worker Gopal Rawat saying, “I am just writing my name in this yagya of yours, please accept my services”.
The indomitable spirit of the security jawans was admirable. They scripted an unforgettable story of rescue and relief. All the three wings—Army, Air Force and Navy, besides NDRF, ITBP, BRO jawans without caring for their own safety dedicated themselves to the service of the stranded and affected pilgrims. The army lost 20 of its best soldiers in a helicopter accident near Gaurikund during the operations. The army had deputed 8000 jawans, 10 paramilitary companies, two battalions of NDRF, and BRO in this major operation. The air force made 2500 sorties in this difficult terrain.
Bhotia people of Harshil, Bagori fed the pilgrims from their own homes. The villagers of Sukkhi Jhala, Chinyalisoud Ghasali, and Jakholi villages situated in remote areas came forward to provide lodging facility to pilgrims coming from this alternate route in their families. One little girl Usha of the Bishanpur village played a heroic role in saving the pilgrims staying in a three story dharmashala. She went to each room, cautioned the pilgrims and saved the lives of all 250 of them. They came out hurriedly of the dharmashala which got swept away in their very presence within half and hour. All their belongings, even their clothes were washed away in the surging waters, People of the village provided them clothes to cover their bodies.
Ukhimath development block is one place in the Kedar Valley that suffered the nature’s vagaries like landslides, floods etc. Prahlad Pushban, Rudraprayag Jila Karyawah of RSS has lived with these natural cvalamities. Without caring for his own family’s safety and security, he has dedicated himself from the day one to the service of the affected people in remote areas. While going to Chandigarh for treatment with his family members, he expressed the desire to come back as early as possible to engage himself in the second phase of rehabilitation work. President of Uttaranchal Utthan Parishad retired teacher Bhajan Singh Khatri and Organising Secretary Rajesh Thapliyal have engaged themselves in the relief work in remote and inaccessible areas.
Dr Nityanand, patron of Uttaranchal Daivi Apada Peedit Sahayata Samiti and a swayamsevak of yesteryears, has decided to live at Maneri Sewashram after the 1991 earthquake. This centre was started with his inspiration only. At the age of 88, he has been guiding and supervising the relief and rescue operations from this centre besides providing guidance in all round development of Bhatwadi development block located at the border. He says that Himalaya is the region of such calamities. But the society here is standing erect today braving all these natural and man-made odds. This industrious and proud society is the real strength. The pilgrims are our guests. We must take all possible care to provide them best of service and facility. Much has to be done for those who have been completely uprooted. This is border region. We should not flee this place just because of such calamities because the security of border lies in our own hands.
(The writer is vice president of Uttaranchal Utthan Parishad)