The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt
What is the reality in Kutch today?
Fear. Trauma. Helplessness. For the last four days, residents of this region have not had a bath. Bhanu Khatri, a housewife in Bhuj, says, "Bathing is not important, safety is more important." That is the reality. People in Bhuj and villages nearby caution each other, "Never stand still in one place. Always be mobile." People only feel safe in open spaces. They have developed a phobia for cement constructions in general and four walls in particular.
This earthquake has changed the psyche of the people forever; those who survived are traumatised. "It was not an earthquake," says Dinesh Shah. "The earth was blasted. It was a kind of a nuclear explosion beneath our feet." The people, who experienced what happened on January 26, ask each other three questions: Keda aai mujho Kutch (Where is my Kutch)? How many of your family survived? Where are you taking shelter now?
Gujarat's Industry Minister Suresh Mehta slept in his car for two nights. The next night, he slept in a tent. Who will dare to sleep within four walls?
What is the status of the rescue operation?
With 900 villages and 10 talukas, Kutch is the second largest district in India (Ladakh is the largest). It is bigger than Kerala. The devastation caused by the earthquake is so extensive that, on the first day, hardly anything moved. In Bhuj, the hospital, the collector's office, the post office, a bank and most schools are a mass of rubble. In fact, Bhuj town, as its citizens once knew it, no longer exists. There is not a single soul who was not directly affected by the quake.
Till the evening of January 27, even the police and government officials were demoralised. Collector Kamal Dayani, DIG A K Singh and DSP Vivek Srivastava have either lost their homes or their homes are unfit to live in.
Ninety per cent of the homes occupied by Airforce and Army personnel are unfit for habitation. Most of them now live in tents. The relatives of around 65 Airforce personnel died in the quake.
Until January 30, no electricity was available. The rescue operation would begin at sunrise and be abandoned at sunset. The rescue operation started, in fact, only on January 29, after the arrival of foreign experts and Army personnel. At the moment, around 14,000 Army personnel have been deployed in Kutch.
The rescue operation is going on at many levels. Take, the most immediate need -- emergency medical help. Local doctors like Gyaneshwar Rao and the Army's military hospital began providing immediate medical succor; they are still doing a wonderful job. Two days later, the Bidada Sarvoday Hospital joined in the ardorous task.
Expert medical help has started pouring into Kutch. But all that talent is not of much use. What Kutch needs is medicines and medical equipment. It needs a super-speciality orthopaedic hospital, since most of the injured have limb injuries. They were hit by cement slabs, beams and pillars.
The government spent the second day sending food and medicines. It helped, but the people also need bulldozers, earthmovers, tents and quilts -- in that order. Till the morning of January 29, only five bulldozers were available in Bhuj. Unless more bulldozers, earthmovers and cranes are put to work, how can those trapped under the debris be saved?
The failure of electricity only added to the people's woes. Not enough generators were available to keep the rescue operation going. Even more traumatic than the earthquake was the sight of mounds of fallen debris in Bhuj, Anjaar and Bhachau. Until the evening of January 28, no one attended to them.
The survivors, obviously, were affected. Anuben, whose husband and son were trapped under the debris in Khatrivad, lost her senses and started behaving strangely. She was traumatised that no one could help rescue them.
How can the situation improve?
It has improved a wee bit because Reliance and foreign help has now reached Kutch. Their presence made the most difference in Anjaar and Bhachau. But, on a scale of one to 10, the rescue operation gets only two points.
The government and NGOs should have quickly grasped the need of the hour. Those who survived need support at this time. The survivors live in open areas -- in gardens and on footpaths. Kutch needs tents. Mobile homes. Quilts. Durable items. Ninety per cent of Kutch is homeless. Tents will help them survive for the next six months at least.
Housing will be the area's biggest problem. Kutchis, who live outside the area, will certainly help in a big way; after all, they are among the richest Gujaratis in Bombay.
Kutch had a money order economy. Millions of rupees were deposited in the district's banks. In one area, comprising 27 villages, the only inhabitants are the old, the infirm, women and the children. The men, who work abroad, have transformed the area with NRI money.
Unfortunately, Kutch is also a politically weak district. A Kutch lobby does not exist in the state capital, Gandhinagar.
How many people died in Kutch?
The authentic figures will never be known, but it seems certain that at least 25,000 people died. The figure is high because, at six or seven places (like in the main bazaar at Anjaar and the general hospital and the Gor and Khatri community areas in Bhuj), hundreds of people were buried in minutes. This calamity has directly affected over 500,000 people; indirectly, about 1,200,000 people are affected. More than 100,000 homes need to be built.
Design: Dominic Xavier
Back to top
Do tell us what you think of this special report