Dear Fellow Old Cottonians,
I am staring at the haunting screen of my computer wondering where to start. I am writing to all of you spread across the world to describe a natural calamity that has devastated Jammu & Kashmir and displaced more than a million people, rendering most homeless as cruel, cold winters stare us in the face. The floods that inundated most of Srinagar City and washed away hundreds of villages throughout the length and breadth of the State have left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. Having survived an almost certain death during a rescue operation, I still come home guilty and anguished every night thinking of those who couldn’t make it.
There are heart-rending stories – of a bride’s body in her bridal dress that was fished out days after the floods, of an entire wedding party of fifty disappearing into the waters including the just-weds, tales of mothers jumping into the furious rage of the floods after infants were pulled out of their laps by the gushing fury and swallowed by the waters forever. I have seen people die and disappear up close during the darkest hours of the floods when there were no rescue boats to pull people out. I took a rescue boat into the worst hit area in Srinagar (Jawahar Nagar) the first morning after the city got drowned up to two floors of water and saw people clinging on to straws and stuck on steep rooftops in some of the most affluent neighborhoods of the city – the fabled ‘Paradise on Earth’ – now a big vast pile of crumbled and crumbling houses. Their cries for help, their wailing and their screams will remain with me till I am alive.
Unofficial estimates of the death-toll keep getting revised every day as more and more bodies surface from the receding waters. In my estimation around 1,000 to 1,200 people must have lost their lives in the State. Around one million (10 lakh) people are displaced and homeless with their clothes, food, ration, belongings all swept away. The damage to both public and private infrastructure is incomprehensible and could be upto 100,000 crores.
Entire localities have been devastated. Our hospitals in the city were up to two floors under water – ruining expensive diagnostic equipment, destroying blood-banks and sweeping away supplies and stocks of medicines. The night the Jehlum waters breached the embankments, almost all critically ill children in our Chidren’s Hospital died for want of oxygen and incubation. Numerous pregnant women lost their lives due to complications resulting due to lack of access to doctors and emergent care as Srinagar’s Maternity Hospital got flooded up to the second floor and became inaccessible.
Now, while the rescue operations have officially concluded, we are looking at a human tragedy the scale and magnitude of which is incomprehensible. Hundreds and thousands of people are without drinking water, food, warm clothes and shelter. The threat of epidemics and water-borne diseases looms large over the capital city. The Tourism and Private Sector is almost entirely wiped out – rendering a death-blow to the State’s Economy after we had just started to recover from the devastating political turmoil the State had witnessed. New roads, bridges, public infrastructure, buildings, schools, dispensaries – everything seems to have been swept away like it never existed. Around 1,200 government schools have been swept away – floor, ceiling and roof in the fury.
I write to all of you – my brothers – not as a politician and certainly not as a resident of Jammu and Kashmir alone. I write to you as an Old Cottonian who believes that we could and should all pool in and organize an effort true to the charter, motto and spirit of Bishop Cotton School. This is unambiguously one of the worst National Disasters to have hit India in recent history – comparable perhaps only to the Gujarat Earthquake. While the Government, the Armed Forces, the Air Force has done and will continue to do all it can – this tragedy merits an enormous civic action and effort. Numerous NGOs and thousands of individuals from across the country are pitching in – some even having flown in to personally assist and help. And every hand, every penny and every single quilt that we receive is one small step towards rebuilding and rehabilitating the lives of a million people.
I make a humble appeal to all Old Cottonians’ Associations across the world to contribute and organize a systematic charitable response to this almost apocalyptic catastrophe in India. While the OCs in Punjab could help by collecting and sending off rice, flour and pulses, the OCs in Delhi for instance could focus on bedding, clothes and medicines. A lot could be done by OCs in USA, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere too. Once the wheels are in motion initially, we can then organize and delegate distinct areas among various OCA groups and chapters – attempting to put forth a holistic, comprehensive relief and rehabilitation effort. I request Presidents of respective OCA Chapters to come forth and help in coordinating an Old Cottonian’s Operation in response to this challenge thrown our way.
Let us all please help in overcoming this tragedy and rebuilding lives.
Junaid Azim Mattu
Spokesperson – J&K National Conference