Vignettes of relief

Print edition : February 17, 2001

SACCHA SAUDA, reads the banner on the relief truck at Rapar. It means "true deal". Just below the banner is the name of the leader of an extraordinary cult from Sirsa, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Above it are the signs of the cross, the star and crescent, O m and Ek Onkar. Saccha Sauda prescribes only the giving up of perceived vices such as alcohol and has no denominational dogma.

Members of Saccha Sauda distributing food.-VIVEK BENDRE

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's voluntary organisation has sent hundreds of volunteers to Rapar, along with an incredible six airplanes and 60 truckloads of relief materials. The volunteers plan to stay in Rapar for six months in order to ensure that food and tents are still available to villagers when other relief organisations have left.

Large organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and big-name overseas non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have received thousands of column-centimetres of print media coverage for the work they have done in Bhuj. Inconspicuous ones like Sac cha Sauda have done just as much, if not more. Their contribution, sadly, has passed unnoticed.

Praveen Swami


THE founder-president and solitary wandering member of the Mahatma Gandhi Kusht Nirmalan Abhiyan Sanstha, V.P. Rastogi, carries a shoebox-sized case of homoeopathic medicines with a red cross emblazoned on it, a small sling bag of personal effects and a sheaf of documents to prove his credentials. One letter, by a grateful patient, commends Rastogi as a man "in service of quack prone people". For a small fee, Rastogi offers his services to the earthquake-affected people of Kutch.

Lyla Bavadam

The relief camp at Dhamadka village supplying kerosene, among other things, to the villagers.-PARVATHI MENON

WHEN news of the earthquake broke, a group of friends in the small town of Kesrisingpur in Ganganagar district of Rajasthan decided to do something for the victims. Raju Sachdeva, a reporter from Seema Sandesh, Parwinder Singh Jassal, a businessma n, Naresh Madan and others in the group quickly collected Rs.2 lakhs from their town, bought what they thought would be immediately required (10 quintals of wheat, 300 lanterns, 700 blankets, gaslights, kerosene), and set off on two trucks to reach Kutch on January 31. "If we had stayed another two days we could have collected another Rs.2 lakhs, but we had to get here soon," said Sachdeva.

Once in Kutch, they asked the Deputy Collector of Anjar to send them to interior villages, which had not received any relief. They set up camp at Dhamadka village on the main Bhuj-Anjar highway and opened a langar (free feeding centre) for all, re gardless of caste or religion, and a small medicare centre. They also began distributing relief articles in interior villages. The highway physically separates the Dalit basti from the rest of Dhamadka village, and a rigid caste structure alienate s Dalits socially. The camp is on the Dalit side of the village. Preoccupied as they are with the mission at hand, these young men are probably not aware how their good work has broken, if only for a short period, caste exclusion in the village.

Parvathi Menon


ONE of the backroom boys in the relief effort is Sadukar Sodha, who works a 10-hour day. He takes a brief lunch break; the only other time he stops work is when he spots a body in the rubble - usually a part of a limb. Then he halts the excavator bucket in mid-air and calls out to the waiting crew to remove the slabs manually. If this task proves impossible, he climbs back into his cabin and begins to shift the debris with great finesse. Throughout the day Sodha's excavator arm rises and falls with see ming monotony, and all the while he scans the debris through the clouds of dust for any sign of a body. His job calls for a degree of delicacy that appears unachievable with the powerful machine, which can smash an enormous slab of concrete with a light movement of the gears. Eleven days after he took up this grisly task, he proceeds with caution. That speaks of his professional capability and sensitivity.

Lyla Bavadam

The de-odorisation team at work.-PRAVIN KAJOLKER

WITH their yellow hard hats, face masks, gloves and spray unit backpacks, members of the Excel team have become an integral part of disaster management, be it in Kutch, Orissa or Kandla. The site of every collapsed structure in Bhuj, Anjar or Bhachau has its complement of a two-man team of Excel sprayers. When the excavator operator spots a limb, he immediately stops work and calls out: "Spray wallah ko bulao" (call the spray man). This has come to mean that a body has been found. Hoisting their packs, the Excel team member douses the body with Expel, an organic de-odorising liquid that also has the temporary effect of preventing deadly pathogens from affecting the workers. A citrus odour instantly replaces the smell of decay, allowing those en gaged in retrieving bodies to approach them.

Lyla Bavadam

The ECAT team at work in Fatehpur village.-PRAVIN KAJOLKER

THE Society for Education Conscientisation Awareness and Training (ECAT), based in Nagaur district of Rajasthan, had worked in the disaster relief operations in Orissa last year, and in Latur in 1993. A group from ECAT, including Satyen and Kamal Chaturv edi, teamed up with a group of doctors from the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and rushed to Kutch soon after the earthquake. Satyen and Kamal's group has set itself a very useful role. It first surveys an area and its villages, sees whethe r relief has reached them, and if so finds out how much and of what kind. It then directs relief organisations to villages that require their help most. "The drivers of many relief trucks want to unload their cargoes and leave soon," said Kamala. "We try to ensure that relief gets to those villages and people that are in the greatest need for it." They also try to ensure that distribution within a village is fair. Volunteers from ECAT also handle actual relief distribution. In Fatehpur village, for exa mple, ECAT supervised the distribution of relief sent by a group of chartered accountants from New Delhi.

Parvathi Menon

Women members of the Mali Shikshan Prachar Samiti make puris to feed quake victims as well as relief workers at a camp near Amiridi village.-PARVATHI MENON

A TEAM from the Mali Shikshan Prachar Samiti of Bapu Nagar, Ahmedabad, found that although hundreds of trucks brought relief to people directly affected by the earthquake, there was one category whose needs for food and water remained unattended - relief workers. "We saw that on a 60 km stretch on this highway there were no conveniences for food and tea," said Prakash Rami, son of M.L. Rami, president of the Samiti. The dhabas and small eateries along the State highway from Bhuj to Bhachau closed down after the earthquake, and there was no place where weary relief workers or truck drivers could have a cup of tea or a snack.

The Samiti set up a roadside camp near Amiridi village, off the Bhuj-Bhachau highway. It brought 20 cooks (including women of many families that are its members) and 30 servers, along with four trucks carrying wheat, rice, dhal, vegetables, mas alas, tea, coffee, sugar, milk powder and medicines. The camp feeds 3,000 people a day. Samiti members enthusiastically flag down passing vehicles and urge their occupants to step out for a cup of tea or a meal. The residents of Amiridi village eat a t the camp, as do relief workers (and journalists!).

Parvathi Menon

Inspector Rajiv Verma's children with the shell of the television set.-VIVEK BENDRE

INSPECTOR RAJIV VERMA has not had a day off from work since January 26. His work in relief operations, along with that of his colleagues in the Border Security Force (BSF) and other armed forces, has gained wide recognition. But he feels that their other role has not been noted: as victims. Verma lost his quarters in the earthquake. He and his family now live in a tent. The two expensive possessions his family acquired during the course of a decade of service - a colour television set and a refrigerator - were destroyed along with the building. Verma's wife and children will now have to leave Bhuj, one of the few places that are 'family stations' - where they may stay with their families - for BSF officers.

Civilians in Bhuj will receive compensation for the damage they have suffered. Verma, like thousands of others in the BSF, the Army and the Air Force, will not. Like people around the country, they will pay a 2 per cent income tax surcharge to help recon struct Bhuj.

Praveen Swami
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor