media, information, the contemporary

#KashmirFloods: Communication in the Times of Deluge

Flood in Srinagar, 2014

This is the fourth and final research note from Gowhar Farooq, one of the short-term social media research fellows at The Sarai Programme.

Flood in Srinagar, 2014
A view of floods in Srinagar on September 10, 2014.
Credit: Kashmir will Rise Again.

In second week of September, when floods created havoc in Kashmir, thousands outside the Valley wanted to know whereabouts of their dear ones – family, friends and acquaintances. However, there was no way to communicate.

With no communication network and no access, there was no news about the majority of the Valley. Concerned, a group of Kashmiris in Delhi and many well-wishers decided to meet at Nehru Place in South Delhi.

Meanwhile, back in the Valley, a few of those whose cellphones were still functional, were working 24×7, receiving calls from all over the world from concerned people.

Umair Farooq, a resident of Chanapora, a partially flood-affected locality of Srinagar, did not sleep for days. “I don’t know how, but my phone was working and someone had flashed my number on social media. With very few phones working, the number had gone viral. I got calls from all over the world – Canada, the US, Gulf countries, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. People were really concerned. ” says the 23-year-old IT professional.

For several days, Umair’s phone did not stop ringing. Later, when rumours started spreading, he decided to upload pictures of various localities on social.

“A woman calling from Saudi Arabia was very concerned about her parents. She had heard that their locality in Srinagar was badly hit by the flood, which actually was not the case. I tried to convince her but she was still worried.”

A Good Samaritan, Umair later took some pictures of the locality the woman’s parents lived in, and uploaded them.

There were a few others like Umair, who were continuously updating the level of water in various localities, uploading pictures and replying to messages, besides receiving the calls on the cellphone.

Flood in Srinagar, 2014
Flood situation in Jawar Nagar area, one of the worst hit parts of Srinagar.
Credit: Kashmiri Volunteers in Delhi: Flood Relief.

Almost 1,000 km away from Valley, the well-wishers in Delhi decided holding a meeting to discuss how the much-needed relief material could be collected and sent to Kashmir.

In the meeting, held at the residence of Aman Kaleem in Kalkaji area of south Delhi, a group under the banner of Volunteers for Kashmir was formed.

Aman a film-maker from Aligarh, who is closely associated with Kashmir, made her first film on Kashmir. She has been closely associated with the Kashmir thereafter.

“We decided to make six collection points across the Delhi to collect the relief material. There were thousands who wanted to help but they need a point location and we provided that,” says Aman.

These collection centres worked like war rooms. Each person was designated a specific work. There were notices on the walls with contact numbers of key persons, lists of material needed and material arrived and so on.

The volunteers made a page on Facebook mentioning the location centres and persons to contact. Thousands spread the information about the collections centres on social media.

KVDFR - Facebook Page
A screen shot of the Facebook page of Kashmiri volunteers in Delhi.

Volunteers for Kashmir - Facebook Page
A screen shot of the Facebook page of Volunteers for Kashmir.

“The response was overwhelming. The Facebook page made it possible for people to find their nearest possible collection centre and contact the right person. It also became a source of communication between donors and the volunteers. Some donors messaged asking what we needed so that they could arrange them,” says a volunteer closely associated with the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) collection centre, one of the biggest collection centres. The volunteer wished not to be named for he believed that charity work should not be used to seek credit or gain publicity.

The next three weeks were tiring. Tons and tons of relief material arrived. The material was to be segregated, packed, labeled and sent to Kashmir.

“At a particular time, my house would have 20-25 volunteers working to the dispatch material. I still don’t know names of many of them,” says Aman.

Since the word of the collection centres had made several rounds, people from all over Delhi came to donate. Later, donors from other states also sent the relief material to collection centres.

“Our phones would not stop ringing. And, since donors kept coming at our doorsteps, it was our moral responsibility to ensure transparency in the distribution of the relief material. We also had to send the relief material to flood-hit on time,” says Irfan Dar, whose family was trapped in Srinagar when he was working full-time in the relief collection.

Flood relief collection centre at Kalkaji.
Volunteers packing relief material at a collection centre Kalkaji in south Delhi.
Credit: Volunteers for Kashmir

The volunteers tied up with some airline companies, who were generous enough to carry the relief material to Valley without any charge. “Had they not helped, it would have been difficult to dispatch so much material on time,” says Irfan.

There were volunteers in Kashmir who would gather distribute the relief material in a transparent manner.

“The disaster brought the Kashmiri’s living outside the Valley closer. We feel contented that we could help our fellow countrymen with whatever we could.” Majid Qayoom, a banker from Srinagar, Kashmir, says.

The disaster had also made people invent the alternative medium of communication. “Had it not been social media the coordination and the communication would have nearly become impossible. Hashtags, referrals, Facebook and Twitter pages, all of it helped,” reveals Aman.