Thursday, June 28, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Special
Living in pigeonholes
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Jammu, June 27
It is no less than a pigeonhole existence for the 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits who are currently residing in the four migrant camps spread all over Jammu district. The list of odds being encountered by each family housed in displacement camps is endless, to say the least. Where on the one hand they are devoid of all basic medical facilities, on the other they have not experienced any element of decent living over the past 11 years of forced displacement from the homeland. The situation has become so grave on account of lack of privacy and breathing space in the camps that the visiting doctors are reporting an all-time increase in the number of medico-legal cases. The levels of mutual tolerance are declining, so are the levels of patience.

As of today, each migrant Kashmiri Pandit family has one small, dark and dingy tenement in the name of accommodation. Each such tenement, provided on the four camps at Nagrota, Muthi, Mishriwala and Purkhoo, does not generally measure beyond 9 feet by 12 feet. The so-called room has no ventilation provisions, whatsoever, except for the entrance door. Not just that, the same 9 feet by 12 feet room has to be used as a kitchen because there is no separate enclosure for the same. As The Tribune team went around the various displacement camps, it found how a community, once blessed with a decent and good living, had been reduced to a pigeonhole existence. The tenements in all the four Jammu camps follow almost the same measurement pattern. The same room lies converted into a kitchen by means of a small slab. Ironically, the size of the room is constant all over, notwithstanding the size of the family. So a 10-member family also gets the same room which a two or three-member family will get.

If that was not all, the woes of Pandits have further been increased on account of the lacking toilet provisions. In the absence of an alternative, they are forced to use whatever arrangement has been made: every camp has community toilets and bathrooms — roughly 1 for 100 families, which happens to be an alarming figure! The toilets have a pathetic drainage system and almost negligible water supply. Cleanliness has also never been on the agenda and there are no dustbins provided in the vicinity, with the result the back side of houses lies converted into a big dumping ground which is a haven for pests and other infectious insects.

The residents have nothing to share except grief. Pushpa Sharma, a Nagrota camp resident, said that she puked everytime she ventured towards a toilet. She said, “There is no solace for us. We are living in virtual hell.” Amrita, another resident, talks about the negligible distance between two tenements. “The walls of two tenements are adjoining as if they were two rooms of the same house. Privacy is a thing of the past. There is no kitchen, no ventilation. If ever there is a fire, the entire area will be razed to ground.”

Another big problem is being posed by the paucity of space in camp areas. The tenements are placed so close to one another that there has been an alarming increase in the number of medico-legal cases. A doctor on duty at Mishriwala camp informed that the people are getting into squabbles with one another, even on small issues. “This is very natural. There is no privacy, no breathing space. Even the ladies have to take bath in the open.”

President, Muthi camp, Mr Chaman Lal, also expresses helplessness in this regard. “Our children will bear the brunt of all this. They cannot study, as there is a single room which has to be used for all purposes. Toilets are in a mess and are causing several infections,” he said. Similar is the condition at Mishriwala and Purkhoo. Power supply situation is equally deplorable.

Furthermore, the water supply scheme of the state government, which was meant to cater to migrant families, has proved to be a non-starter, despite the construction of overhead water tanks in camp areas. Informed Sujan Singh, a Nagrota resident, “The Relief Commissioner had sanctioned about Rs one crore for the project, but it is of no use to us. We continue to depend on faulty taps for water supply. The Public Health Engineering Department Wing, Jammu, does make some water provision through water tankers, but this supply, too, is erratic. 

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