M A I N   N E W S

After the shells, they brave the quake
Sridhar K Chari
Tribune News Service

Mahdia, Kamal Kote (Uri sector), October 14
About five kilometres after Uri town on the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad highway (NH-1A), the route of the now suspended ‘peace bus’, is a place called Salamabad.

A couple of kilometres ahead, NH-1A is blocked, with landslide rubble and quake damages. The Line of Control is not far.

To the right is a bridge over the Jhelum river, which keeps NH-1A company from Baramulla town. A dirt road winds its way to Kalam Kote village, 17 km away. The one-hour drive is hair-raising. If a wheel slips over the rubble, it is a long way down.

Three waterfalls actually cut across the road, and have to be negotiated carefully. The water in the third one is black — that happened after the quake.

Kalam Kote is devastated. At first glance, not a single one of the scattered buildings — houses, huts, schools — has been spared. There is rubble everywhere. Wooden walls, brick walls, stone walls, are all down, as are the tin roofs.

Relief activity is on, with the Army in the thick of things. The BSF and the CRPF are visible too. The supplies mostly are from civil sources, like SKIMS hospital in Srinagar. Many lorries loaded with material are actually private initiatives of local youngsters, various organisations, and schools in Srinagar and around.

“The state government is not doing anything” is a widespread cry. An Army jawan from Punjab is seen handing out relief: “We have had to exercise some discipline, what with some instances of looting and unruly behaviour. They are in the sad position where they have to fight for relief material, even before they can bury their dead”, he says a little philosophically.

The image of unruly survivors, however, fades quickly, when you encounter the mountain people. In the hill tracks, even the children greet you with a dignified “salaam”.

In the higher reaches of Kalam Kote is the Mahadiya village area. It is a good two-hour trek, over mountain paths that in places are barely a foot wide. A single misstep in some places simply means certain death.

An army major is leading a group of jawans up the path. “In the upper reaches, beyond Mahadiya, are places like Sikki, with a behek (grazing ground) and some dhoks (small houses). They can’t come down to get relief. We want to distribute something”.

What they are carrying doesn’t seem to be much. Are they on any other mission? The LoC, after all, is just beyond Sikki, with Pakistani posts within shouting distance.

“Not really. It would be a violation of orders. There is no point in inviting trouble. In our hearts we do want to help those there as we did the other day”. He shrugs off the MOD and Pak denials. “Don’t you media guys have the evidence?”

All through the route are shattered homes. People huddle in tents, and young children feed younger children.

Not everyone has managed to get relief in Kalam Kote. “I did not get a single item. These vegetables were bought. What to do, some of our own villagers say that there is no need to take items to the top”.

It is a struggle to carry supplies to the top. Young and old totter under the weight, but are any day faster than a “non-Pahadi”.

A 10th standard boy is carrying a sack of supplies. How is everyone at home, I ask. “My mother died”, comes the quiet reply.

Seventy-year-old Mahbat Ali Shah has seen it all. The shells that came raining down from Pakistani artillery, some even reaching Uri. Kalamkote had seen many deaths from shelling.

The quake has opened up the earth, breaking off or blocking sections of the paths with landslides. There are cracks everywhere up the slope. But the most striking features are two new waterfalls which opened up on the mountain face after the quake.

“The quake is scary, but so were the shells”, says Shah. He points out to Upargad — “that is the Pakistan border.”

A jawan bringing up the tail of the group, says with a smile, “When they cry for help across the LoC, we can actually hear them. And we’ll probably do help.”


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