In the hour of darkness, people from all walks of life came together to stand by
Leh: “I have never seen a rainfall leading to such a disaster. It seemed as if the nature was full of vengeance ‘which’ — it decided to inflict on the innocent people of Leh.” These are the words of an old man who has been visiting Leh every year for the last 18 years to earn his living. “Though I was fortunate enough not to be affected by the flashflood, but what hurts me the most is fear and agony in the eyes of the people of Leh, who have given my family a living, perhaps, this is what we call destiny.”
“It had poured a night before also, so we thought it to be a normal rain that would stop in a few minutes. We never bothered to get under the shed and carried on sleeping on the roof without even having the slightest clue that after a few seconds the heavy rainfall will wash away many of us,” said a labourer from Chhattisgarh, Ram Ratan. He was staying at the labour colony along with 150 more people out of which 64 were found missing that night, 18 dead and the rest of them were missing. Almost all the families residing in Leh, be it the natives of the region or the migrant labourers who had come to earn their livelihood, were affected.
Sarita worked in Leh as a daily wager along with her husband and she was eight months pregnant when the floods struck. “I came here with my husband to work on daily wages for a contractor, who was working in for the location of Ladakh Scout Regiment Center. Since I was on the family way and like any parent wanted to give our child a good future, I continued working during my pregnancy as well. We were staying in the labour colony. Unaware of what was going to happen, we were sleeping on the terrace though there was downpour and thundering, yet we all thought it was normal and continued sleeping. Suddenly, there were shouts of ‘bhago paani aa gaya’ and before we could react, flashfloods had washed us down. I was frightened and lost consciousness in no time. When I woke up, I was in the army hospital. Two people who were at the back of my mind were my husband and my yet to come child. I have a feeling that my child’s movement has stopped and I don’t even know whether it is dead or alive.” After Sarita managed to tell her experience, we spoke to the doctor who attended her. He told us, “What Sarita does not know is that while she was being washed away, perhaps a boulder had hit her on the stomach and apart from that she had suffered a head injury also. When she was evacuated to the army hospital, we had to operate on her head injury first as she was having excessive internal bleeding. The surgery saved her life but her unborn child could not be saved. The lady was in so much of trauma that we couldn’t tell her about the miscarriage. Though she knows that her child is no more, she still believes that she is carrying the child inside her,” said Col Chitra Banerjee. Her husband, who was also washed in the same flood, rescued and was brought to the same hospital with no major injuries.
The disaster has brought out people like Sipahi Parvez Khan (5031 ASC Battalion) to the forefront who has been awarded commendation by the army commander, Northern Command) for his courage and bravery shown while saving and rescuing a lot of lives. “I had my duty in the exchange that night. With me, there were three more Sipahis on duty, the heavy flow of the water started washing all four of us. After some time I realised that two of us had climbed the tree and the fourth one was pulled a long way with the water. All this had shaken me too, but holding myself I started to overcome the flow of the water and started walking. It was very difficult to walk barefoot as I was slipping and loosing grip but in order to survive, all I could find was a barbed wire from a fence so I took it out and folded it across my hand. I managed to get both my colleagues down the tree and being in centre held them both tight. We started walking as a tight huddled group when we heard the voice of the rescue party coming in search of us. I started shouting and told them that three of us were fine and would manage to reach the exchange, they should instead, search for our fourth partner who was not visible at all. Somehow, we managed to reach the TBT Post where I saw civilians flowing from the drain. I immediately started taking the people out of the water, covered them with the available blankets and lit fire so that the heat could lessen their shivering. Since we were fortunate enough that our stove was safe, I made tea and started serving tea. There was burning sensation in my feet but because there was no electricity supply, I could not see what has actually happened to me. To be honest, at that point of time there were only two things I could think of, saving whatever number of people I could and the other thing, I wanted to save was — my identity card. When the rescue team reached us, I realised that my legs were in a bad state with scratches and cuts all over and without any delay I was taken to the hospital.” Parvez Khan is unique example of how in testing times, the soldiers give their best for saving the lives of the civilians. “I was performing my duty by doing whatever I could do, it was never with an intention of getting a reward. Rewards come after good work, further motivating us to do better.”
It was gratifying to hear that in such a time of distress, not only the civilians and foreign nationals credited the Indian Army but people from other administrative and police services came forward with their experiences and praised the efforts of the army. Head constable Sring Amchuk told us “Where during the disaster, the only cries heard were of ‘Bachao’, there were soldiers from every corner coming forward to save lives. I am an employee of police with six family members out of which three are missing. The water had washed me away, and I kept going inside the mud but somehow managed to come out. However, I didn’t have the strength to reach the rescue team and kept crawling in the mud the whole night until one of my relatives managed to take me out and took me to the rehabilitation camp where there were no facilities. Later, when I was taken to the army hospital, I was not only treated physically but was given healthy food without fail. The army and its soldiers have rescued, treated the victims without worrying for their own lives.”
The stories are numerous and accounts heart rendering but one thing which is common to all is the victory of human spirit over all odds. What indeed helped Leh to restore its life was that people from all walks of life who came together in this hour of darkness and stood by each other.