PUCL Bulletin, March 2001

Some Thoughts from Bhuj and Anjaar
-- By Anwar Jamal & Sehjo Singh, Feb 5, 2001

Also see, Nature's Fury, Human Folly
Unprecedented Tragedy

(We were in Gujarat to shoot as a voluntary effort. This is our first observation after coming back.)

The Bhuj earthquake has shaken the unshakable. It has shaken the apathy and the smugness of the Indian middle class, and maybe that is why the tremendous response both from the media and the civil society. "It could have been us", feeling has sunk in with a terrible thud in the towns and cities of India.

It is obvious that what went most against Bhuj was its prosperity; its urbanization and unbridled concrete construction, which is the most typical sign of the newly found middle class prosperity everywhere. Cyclones, floods, and droughts, mainly kill the poor, but an earthquake does not discriminate, and even if it does probably it kills more of the rich. The survivors among whom also suffer more from the aftermath, as they have little or no survival skills, which the poor have.

Now since, the most affected is the middle class, most of the discourse about disaster mitigation, relief and management is also happening around the state. The media is wasting reams of paper, and hours of footage on ) who said what, about what the govt should have done and what the govt. should not have done.
But actually it is only such an unfortunate turn of events which should show us so the limitations of the Indian state, both in preparing for a disaster, and managing after a disaster, only if we care to look.
If it hadn't been for the army, air force and the navy, the state would have been greatly discredited by now. (If ever one could find a rationale for the existence of armed forces, this would probably be the only one). The babudom has by and large shown only knee jerk reactions, first it took days to overcome the shock, and then it got busy getting people to "write applications for relief materials, get them signed and counter signed by so and so". Of course there are many exceptions, even among the much-maligne bureaucracy and police, but their spirits get bogged down, because there is no plan.

Because there is no one to captain the ship, least of all our political leadership, no one shoulders the responsibility. We feel this is the time to own up our own responsibility, by every one of us, not excluding the media professionals. If this can't jolt us out of apathy nothing can. What we need is not calling for more state action and control, but for community preparedness for disaster, for self imposed ethics, and a capacity to look beyond personal achievements and private profit.

We have to admit to ourselves, that today the state is incapable of curbing the profit motive. State controls are to harass the honest, and to be bent by the rich to suit their immediate ends. It is us who will have to decide if our little gains are more precious than the greater common good.

When Bhuj and Anjaar is rebuilt, it is the community of builders, the community of residents, who will have to exercise self-restraint, to develop a maxim that my profit shall not kill any one. It is possible, for we have seen the Kachchh community in action, people helping each other to remove rubble, risking their lives to rescue neighbours, or even strangers, running community kitchens, nursing the injured, or for that matter, the tremendous response of people all over India and abroad. Why can't we become equally responsible before a tragedy?

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