Worst flooding of the century that has hit Kerala this year has displaced more than a million people from their homes and around 400 people have lost their lives. The death toll is likely to rise further and rescue operations are still underway for thousands of stranded people. The centre’s role has been critiqued. It has only allocated around Rs. 600 crore (the Kerala government had sought around Rs. 2,600-crore special package from the Centre). To put this in perspective, ‘Statue of Unity’ dedicated to Sardar Patel on the banks of river Narmada is a Rs. 3000 crore project. In fact UAE has announced Rs. 700 crore to Kerala, an unprecedented assistance that the centre may not even accept.
Media coverage has been sluggish. While the news made headlines throughout the world, it took a long time for the mainstream Indian media to wake up. The local Malayalam media did most of the initial and even on going ground level coverage diligently. Moreover the right wing has been continually making insensitive and bigoted statements on the floods. Recently Hindu Mahasabha’s Swami Chakrapani said that help should be given to only those in Kerala who don’t eat beef. Newly appointed RBI Board of Director Gurumurthy urged the Supreme Court to explore the link between its decision to allow women to enter the temple in Sabarimala and the floods. Right-wing ideologue Rajiv Malhotra asked people to help only Hindus.
It must be noted that this is beside the vile messages that have been spreading hate on social media. People have called to let Keralites perish in floods as punishment for beef slaughter. Bizarre rumours were spread that money collected for relief would be used by INC and left parties for elections or by ‘naxals’ and ‘JNU students’. A man was recently fired from his job in Oman for mocking the need for sanitary napkins in relief camps. People even celebrated that floods were affecting Christian and Muslim areas.
Yet there have been, as always, some exemplary instances of human kindness and bravery. Volunteer fishermen came inland from the coast in around a fleet of 600 boats and rescued thousands of stranded people. Schools, mosques, churches and temples opened up spaces for all religions. A nine-year-old girl, Anupriya, who had been saving up for a cycle, donated all her savings (Rs. 9000) for flood relief. In reciprocal warm gesture, Hero cycles chairman and MD gifted her a cycle.
The Hindu has in fact done an entire series on generosity and compassion of people. Techies have been relentlessly updating details about relief camps and developing software to track inventory of aid. A six year old donated her piggy bank savings for floods and newlyweds gifted gold. Government agencies, defence forces and civil society groups, women organizations, doctors and health workers, students and professionals, local community, celebrities and volunteers alike are helping in donating or raising funds, rescue and relief, rehabilitation efforts and information and awareness campaigns. As flood water is receding in some places volunteers are even gearing up to clean houses. In another instance of religious harmony in the state, Muslim youth are now cleaning temples of slush.
The aftermath of the floods will bring their own unique set of problems in terms of sanitation and subsequent problems of an infectious disease outbreak. Health personnel and supplies will be necessary at this stage. Rehabilitation will require significant assistance from state and society as people who have lost a lot during floods rebuild their lives. As of now, 10 lakh people are still at relief camps, at least 50,000 homes are fully or partially damaged and landslides are being witnessed across the state. These will form the state’s immediate concerns. In the longer term assessment must be done about the impact of climate change and flood preparedness.
Kerala has faced worst floods in 100 years with 13 of 14 districts submerged. This natural disaster brought forth how commonplace bigotry, ignorance, and hatred can find its way into social media and even from people holding positions of influence and responsibility. However, like a ray of light, concerted and motivated efforts by citizens and even global community have shown how efforts and intentions of people can come together in times of need, and how principles of harmony and unity continue to thrive.
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