August 01, 2005

Many more below

There are many men at the Saki Naka landslide site: municipal workers, cops, men from the Rapid Action Force in sky-blue camouflage, doctors, and badge-wearing volunteers from an organization called the Movement for Peace and Justice.

The MPJ people say they are working in various flood-hit areas around the city, getting food to victims, providing medical help, setting up a water tank, taking people to hospital and so on. In Saki Naka, they have made sure the wounded are attended to and the dead are identified and taken away to be cremated or buried. They have lists of the dead, to me a sad reminder that many of the dead were women and children.

(Sumeet Kumar Vishwakarma, says the list for the previous day, was only two months old when he was killed).

Saud Ahmed, one of the MPJ volunteers, is a pharmacist in real life, taking a break from that to do this work. We talk about the people who live in the huts on this hillside, in this slum. Many of them, he says, were resettled in multi-storeyed blocks of flat in Jari Mari and Dindoshi. But of those, many could not afford the monthly outgoings, Rs 600. Not paying that meant that water and electricity supplies were cut off. So several of those families simply moved back here: where you make a one-time Rs 5000 or Rs 10,000 payment to the local mafia-man, sure, but then you have a room to yourself. No outgoings, at least a shared tap for water, often a stolen electricity connection. All guaranteed by the mafia-man.

Why not take that? And the risk of the hill crumbling under you in a record-setting downpour? A risk worth taking, clearly.

A MPJ vice-president, the dapper Dr Azeemuddin, tells me that now their primary focus in Saki Naka is to ensure that every body is found and given some decent farewell. "After all, doesn't everyone deserve to have their last rites done?" he asks. So MPJ will have people here until they are satisfied that the last body has been pulled from the hillside. If they are right, it will be a long haul. Saud thinks the 70-plus bodies so far are from the less-crowded and less-badly-hit sections of the hillside. "There are many more bodies below this road", he says, "and I don't know when the Municipality will get to that."


Anonymous said...

So kind for publishing the news of MPJ.


uma said...

"risk of a hill crumbling under you..."

how frightening, and sad, to have to take such a risk. dilip, i'm reading this again months after it happened. i wonder what the situation over there is like now. how many survived? how did they pick up the pieces of their lives...