MY MSSION: To investigate allegations of discrimination in distributing relief aid to victims of the Gujarat earthquake.
2. DAYS SPENT: 20th to 25th of February 2001 at an open park with a friend from Dubai, and another unknown friend aged about 80 years from Bhuj, and a stray dog friend at night to take care of my belongings.
3. PLACES VISITED: Earthquake affected areas: Bhuj; Anjar; Bachao; Ahmedabad.
GOVT.OFFICES: Collectorate; Mamledar Offices; Chief Minister’s office.
PRESS OFFICES: Kutch Mitra Daily, Kutch Uday Daily, Chanchal Daily.
GODOWNS: Government distribution, NGO distribution.
OPEN KITCHENS: Sikhs, Jains, RSS, Thakkars, Muslims.
RELIEF ORGANISATIONS: Red Cross camp; MSF camp; ABHIAN camp; RSS camp; Jamat-e-Islami camp; other NGO Relief aid camps; Cash distribution centres.
4. PERSONS INTERVIEWED:
Government Officials: L. Mansingh, Chief Co-ordinator, Relief Operations, Kutch- Bhuj & Addl. Chief Secretary to Govt. of Gujarat, Girish Chandra Murmu, Addl. Relief Commissioner, Chief Minister’s office, Gujarat State; P.N. Roy Chaudhry, Relief opertions in-charge, Anjar; M.H. Gadvi, Addl.Collector, Bhuj; Kishore Rathore, Panchyat Minister, Bhuj.
Socil Workers: Mridula Ben Pande; Fatima Ben Yousuf Sumra; Gunwant Vyas, Bureau Chief Kutch Udaya Daily; Adam Bhai Chaki, Gen.Secretary, District Congress; Dr.Hitesh Jani, BJP State Secretary for rehabilitation; Umar Sama, Muslim Govt. Servant; Thakkar Bhai, Chief of Thakkar’s open kitchen; Marybeth McKenzie of MSF; Vimla Ramchandran & Niklesh N. of ABHIAN; Dinesh Singh Jadeja; R.M.Ganch,Dty.Manager; G.I.Sheikh,Jail Guard.
Others: Arvind Patel, victim; Laxman Bhai K.Parmar, victim; Punjabhai Rambahi,victim; Subkar Jorubhai,victim; Mahadev Parmar,victim; Kantilal S.Parmar,victim; Banubai Ahmed Ben,victim; Baldev C.Kalikar,victim; Aswin Bhai,victim; Narendra Bhai,victim; Ramlal Bhai,Advocate; Pravin Bhai,victim; Kathu Bhai, victim; Manilal, Teacher; Siddiq Bhai,victim; Ram Laoy M.Thakkar, President, Bhuj Bar Association; Ramlal M.Thakker,victim; Manish Bhai Thakker,victim; Manish Bhai,victim; Nilesh Bhai,victim; Ashok Bhai,victim; Vinod Bhai Bhaushah; Dr.Jayesh M.Popat,victim; Sethu Bhai,victim, and many others in groups of tens and fifties.
5. MY FINDING:
The killer earthquake has caused irreparable damage to the lives and property mainly in Bhuj, Bachao, Anjar, and Ahmedabad areas in Gujarat. Non-governmental organizations such as International Red Cross; MSF; ABHIAN; RSS including BJP, Siv Sena, VHP, Bajrang dal; Muslim Relief Camps; Jain Relief camps; Thakkar Relief Camps; Sikh Relief Camps, and relief organizations and aid camps from almost all states in India; relief workers from almost all parts of the world are in Gujarat actively taking part in the relief aid works. RSS open kitchen charged Rs.5/- per meal. All other open kitchens served food free to all. Jain open kitchen served food only to people from Jain community.
It is highly appreciable that almost all the international humanitarian organisations came to India to help our brothers and sisters in Kutch. They provide relief materials, such as food, water, medicines, tents, blankets and clothes to the people. They work very hard to improve the living conditions of the quake victims in Gujarat and there is no discrimination from the part of such agencies.
I appreciate their impartial and systematic work to improve the living conditions of the people. People are satisfied with the works of these organisations. Several non governmental organisations (NGOs) from almost all parts of India are also doing their jobs without much discrimination. It is the Government and its various agencies that show discrimination in relief work and distribution of relief goods.
When relief materials, such as medicines, clothes, water, food and temporary tents are pouring into Gujarat from different parts of the world, the needy people who deserve them are saying, that they did not get anything. The NGOs complained that the Government of Gujarat failed to provide guidance to them in proper distribution of relief aid to the needy. The Government agencies deny such allegations. NGOs say that there is scarcity of relief materials, but the local authorities say, that there is no scarcity and assure that there are enough goods for distribution. The government agencies demand more money and deny the NGO’s allegations.
Relief goods such as tents, blankets, medicines & food items are piling up in Bhuj. Most of the relief aids are concentrated in Bhuj probably for the reason that there is an airport in Bhuj. Lots of relief goods sent to Bhuj are still lying uncollected and undistributed. Villagers in Bhuj, Anjar and Bachao are starving. Most of them have no shelter, no water, and no food. It seems to me that they are totally ignored. Foreign relief workers are unaware of the geographical boundaries of the affected areas and as such they concentrate on places known to them. They say that there is no proper coordination by the government officials.
At a place where tent distribution was made, I interviewed few persons from the queue of over 300 people, the victims narrated the same modus operandi adopted by the officers. Almost all the people found in the queue were poor villagers. They all complain that the officers distribute tents and other relief goods to upper caste people and relatives and close aids of the officers. They even complained that some officers are using the tents to cover their cars.
At another place where Rs.2000/- cash distribution was made to the victims, I interviewed few people from nearly about 1000 people standing in the queue, the victims told me that the officials distribute cash only to their own people and the poor people are ignored. They complained that they come daily and stand in queue for over 5 hours, but at the end the officers tell them that the time is over and come the next day. Any victim who reached the distributing officer will be asked ration card to prove his/her identity. While I was interviewing the Panchayat Minister at this camp, a lady who lost everything in the quake came for receiving her share and she told me that this is her third visit to the camp and the officers denied her the payment. On my intervention, the officers paid her Rs.2,000/-.
I met the chief co-ordinator of relief operations for Kutch. I explained to him the pathetic situation of the people and told him that there are people, who still didn’t get any relief goods or money. He says he is sure, that there is no discrimination in distribution. He also insists that they have enough relief goods to distribute. He simply denied the NGO’s allegations that there is scarcity of relief goods as baseless and requested to stop sending relief goods to Gujarat.
I pointed out the complaints of a ward (ward no. 9) counselor from Anjar, Mrs. Sumra Fatima Yusuf, who said that, not even a single aid worker had visited her ward, because it’s a Muslim, dominated one. But the chief co-ordinator hasn’t a proper answer to it. There are counselors like Sumra and wards like hers with similar complaints in Bhuj, Bachau, Adipur, and Gandhidham, the other major quake hit areas.
The officer in-charge of relief works in Anjar Thalukka, admitted that there is shortage of shelters. But he challenged me to prove a case of discrimination. It was not at all difficult, because hundreds of people were standing outside his office with complaints about discrimination. So, I produced before him a young widow who lost everything in the quake except her two children. Very easily, he changed to a diplomatic style of talk and said it was an exceptional case.
Several NGOs also complained about the laid back attitude of the officials. A delegation of 52 youngsters from Kerala, who belong to the relief wing(IRW) of Jamat-E-islami complained that a personal secretary to the district collector asked them to take charge of a Muslim dominated village. When they showed their reluctance to do relief work on communal basis, he said VHP will take care of their own people and insisted that they look after the Muslim people only.
It is very sad to say that the Government employees, who should be examples of the communal harmony, are openly advocting communal disharmony. I observed that there is no division of cast or religion among people who live together in villages and they share food in the camps.
The Editor of a daily that publishes in Hindi as well as in Gujarati says that there are lots of organizations to help the upper class communities. So, naturally, they get more than poor people. I met him in front of the collector’s office in Bhuj. He came there to meet the collector to get special sanction for his normal quota of kerosene for his generator in the press, for which, he says, he was trying for the last 3 days. If a journalist’s situation is such, then what to say about the helpless poor people?
Political parties and the religious groups are playing their own game to flame up the communal differences between people. Muslim brothers from different parts of Kutch district complained, that they were denied relief goods by the BJP activists. Mr. Fouad Akbar and Dr. Marvaan members of the International Islamic Relief Organisation, Saudi Arabia, also showed their concern about discrimination.
But Dr. Hithesh Jani, state secretary of BJP for relief operations, denies these accusations as baseless. When I told him about one Mr. Manish, a Dalit Hindu, who said that he didn’t get any relief goods because he stays in a Muslim populated area, Dr. Hithesh denied this allegation too. I asked Dr.Hithesh why the RSS charged Rs.5/- per meal from people at such a quake hit situation, he answered that it was to restrict the crowd.
An Advocate from Bhuj also complained to me that BJP activists and their elected representatives are neglecting other communities. He said that the authorities are puppets in the hands of political leaders of the ruling party.
I also met several common people who expressed similar complaints about discrimination. Taxi driver Usman Gani, Suraj Kumar Raval (who was saved from the rubbles of his house by his Muslim neighbours), Kathu ben, and Nithin N. Abuda, are few among them. I have recorded their protests and angry remarks on tape.
There is a clear cut discrimination in distributing relief aid to Muslims and low caste Hindus. High caste Hindus do not mingle with the low caste Hindus. Muslim-Dalits and Hindu-Dalits are totally ignored. Some of them say that animals are treated better than them in Gujarat. They say dogs can enter the houses of upper castes, but not a man of lower caste. According to the victims of earthquake, discrimination in distributing relief aid is with the knowledge of the Gujarat Government and the local administrators.
6. MY RECOMMENDATIONS:
Government of India and the entire world should condemn the discrimination shown in Gujarat. Its high time Indians opened their eyes and see value in human beings. India is a secular state which allows practice of any religion, and Indian constitution explicitly prohibits untouchability in any form. Looking at Gujarat, that too even after the earthquake, it seems the constitution and democracy is only a mockery in India. Human rights have been thrown out the window in the quake-hit areas in Gujarat. I urge the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations to investigate and book the guilty. I am also taking up the matter with the Government of Gujarat, Government of India, and the United Nations, seeking immediate action to rectify the situation and to recommend to chart out a better relief plan for the future. .
K. K. Sarachandra Bose.
Commercial & Contracts Lawyer
Tel: 3937700/ Eax # 3937755