Few Vignettes: Kashmiri Women Act during the 2014 Floods

Lubna Reshi

From dawn to dusk – determined to be of some help to the stranded people – Maham would every day set out to float on gushing flood water on an inflated boat. As water ravaged the city of Srinagar on September 7, Maham, 21, decided not to put up at her home and watch everything silently – although her mother was also one amongst those people who were trapped in floods.

Jumping to the nearest relief camp in Hyderpora locality of Srinagar she began to work with relief and rescue teams. With a boat full of food, medicines and other essential commodities, she along with a team of two girls and four boys, would reach out to the people stranded in floods.

Her experience of working in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district made her realize how important it was to have female volunteers. The moment she landed at this village of Pulwama district, she recounts, how she was surrounded by women of all age groups – who till now had seen no female volunteer.

“It was only then that I felt how right my decision to carry this operation was. There were very less or no female rescuers at all working in the field with the reason women were yearning to get some help.”

There were hundreds of women who needed help and for some of them, Maham acted as a savior.

“Women at Pulwama told me how difficult was it for them to get the stuff they required. They welcomed me. Till now they hadn’t spoken to anyone.  But when I went there they shared their stories with me.”

Maham, a Harvard graduate, and an entrepreneur was actively involved in relief and rescue operations, during Kashmir floods, at a relief camp in Hyderpora – which was set by people working and studying in Kashmir and other parts of the world.

Calmly and carefully she got the family of five — one by one — out of their house – and rowed them to a safe place. 

Maham on a rescue operation distributing relief

Given the strength required in rescuing, the operations were mostly carried by males and when Maham lunged into it, she felt that the male counterparts were being protective of her.

Her efforts and contribution were the same as of others – which made them realize — that gender makes no issues when it comes to saving others.

“Yes, initially the other volunteers felt that I shan’t go into areas which were completely under water. But since it was a no issue for me so, they became okay with it.”

We have read about the heroics of female rescuers in the newspapers.  When it comes to saving a life no human would step back so was done by Shaheena.

When Natipora area of Srinagar was engulfed by the raging waters Shaheena, 30, couldn’t resist seeing her neighbors crying for help — through the second story of their house.

She tied up few planks of wood together and made a way out of her home — straightway to her neighbor’s house.

Calmly and carefully she got the family of five — one by one — out of their house – and rowed them to a safe place.

Shaheena — her neighbors say – is their savior.

Not only did she carry the rescue operation but from her own pocket, she bought the essential commodities for the trapped people of her locality.

Since childhood she says, she has been taught to take a lead whatever the condition may be and it was this attitude of her that saved lives of many.

Females in Kashmir played a very important role during floods in whatever capacity they could – whether as rescuers or just being as a support system for their family.

Women on the domestic spheres are the frontline managers in building back their lives again. They fought toughly with the circumstances to support their families.

“My husband lost his shop, our house was washed down by the water, our families got separated but at the end of the day I never ceased to deliver my duties to look, cook and care for my family,” says Haseena, who lost her home in Bemina.

Taking care of children or families at times of disaster is what women have seen consistently doing.

In her blog Scooterspeaks, an anonymous female writer records the ordeal of saving her kids through the turbulent waters. She says, “I wasn’t sure if my newborn, Abdul Rahman, will survive. I was shivering with cold myself. Abdullah was too scared and was crying. I asked him to hug me while we moved on and we kept reciting the Kalima together. The two out of my three-storied house was under water. I moved through a boat which got punctured midway, was moved into a shikara, stayed all night with my kids on a bridge, took refuge in an auto to shelter my kids from cold, stayed in a relief camp and yearned to feed my kids – but in all this I kept rolling only for my children.”


Floods submerged entire neighborhoods

That night she writes has been the longest night of her life.

“Sitting on top of river Jhelum, I waited for morning. Abdullah – my elder son was cold, hungry and sleepy. I wasn’t sure if my newborn, Abdul Rahman, will survive. I was shivering with cold myself. Abdullah was too scared and was crying. I asked him to hug me while we moved on and we kept reciting the Kalima together.”

As they reached somewhere near Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar – the rush of water was too high and difficult for the boat to go back. So the volunteers tied a rope and people waded through water to the other side.

“Women were carried by men to the other side. I told the men that I could wade through the water on my own but needed help with my children. One man took Abdul Rahman and another carried Abdullah on his shoulders. It was very difficult to wade through the water due to the speed at which it flowed. A man came to help me out, carried my bag and walked with me till I reached the other end. Once I reached the other side, I freaked out for I couldn’t see my kids. But it was just a moment after that I caught glimpse of Abdullah and Abdul Rahman.”

The pain she felt watching her child go hungry that day she says is something she will never forget.

This article is based on content-sharing from Her Voice a magazine that is dedicated to women and gender issues in Kashmir. You can find its print version under the banner of She Speaks. Lubna Reshi is the editor and founder of the magazine.

Picture Credits: Hafsa Kanjwal and ScooterSpeaks

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