|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Asian earthquake disaster
Eyewitness account from Bagh, by Khalid Bhatti
OUR JOURNEY to the devastated city of Bagh in Kashmir in a truck loaded with aid donated by Lahore’s working-class communities was one the most emotional and painful that we have ever experienced.
The first shock we received was when we reached Rawalakot (another affected city in Kashmir). We expected a totally destroyed city. Instead, we saw the big houses of the local ruling elite standing on their feet without any damage. This was contrary to the TV reports, which never mention this fact. The posh area of Rawalakot seemed unaffected by the quake. Anyone could get a wrong impression if they only went through the posh area, but after entering into the poor areas of Rawalakot, the real devastation can be seen.
The Combine Military Hospital was completely destroyed, killing hundreds of people. Government buildings, schools and colleges were also turned into rubble. But the shops and shopping centres survived this devastating earthquake. This clearly shows that the question of decent housing is not ‘irrelevant’, as many official commentators have claimed. The road from Rawalakot to Bagh was in very bad shape and almost non-existent in many places. We hardly saw any houses that were not destroyed. We saw hundreds of people sleeping along the road without any shelter during an extremely cold night. There were many people even without blankets.
When we entered Bagh city, there was no power, the whole place was in darkness. We reached our camp in the destroyed Government Boys High School building. This camp had a tent to store the food and blankets. All TURCP members slept under an open sky. We were given a sleeping place in one room (which was semi-destroyed), the only remaining part of the school building. We saw around 500 people demonstrating against the authorities and government for not providing tents. They remained there for two hours. The bitterness can be seen on every face in this completely destroyed city. The pain, frustration and fear can be seen in the eyes of the people who survived the quake.
We experienced the fear in the morning when a strong aftershock forced us to run out of the room we were sleeping in. A few minutes later another aftershock forced us to abandon the room and sit and sleep in the open. Soon we were soaked to the skin from heavy rain. Trade union activists, members of Socialist Liberation (CWI Kashmir) and Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI Pakistan) told us that they have suffered these aftershocks and rainy weather for the last week. This is the life of all the survivors in Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province.
We visited the city in daylight and it looked like no houses and buildings ever existed there before. We found it difficult to stand in the main street for even a minute because of the smell of decaying bodies that was coming out of the rubble. The most painful experience was the visit to Spring Field School where more than 700 students (from ages five to 14 perished). A few women were still calling for their children and crying. Hundreds of bags of sweets and shoes are still there, telling of the horrifying suffering of the students who perished. Hundreds of students are still buried under the rubble of the Degree College. Every family had casualties. Everyone is grieving. We met many people who lost their whole family. People are still in shock and emotionally shattered.
But the mood of working-class people is very angry. They feel betrayed by the Kashmiri ruling class and Pakistani government, which responded late and slowly. We spoke to many people and they all showed their complete mistrust of the ruling elite. This hatred and anger will increase in the coming days.
The conditions are worst in the villages in the mountains. When we reached there, it was the first help they had received. The women, children and elders were not only without food but also without blankets and clothes. There is no road in the mountains. Many people carry their injured relatives on their backs 20 to 30 miles to the field hospital in Bagh. Many people walk 30 to 40 miles without food and water to see relatives. All the houses on the mountains have been completely destroyed. These villages have been turned into graveyards.