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.
Eyewitness account from Bagh, Khalid Bhatti, Trade Union Rights Campaign, LahoreThe first shock we received was when we reached Rawalakot (another affected city in Kashmir). We expected a totally destroyed city, but instead we saw big houses of local ruling elite standing on their feet without any damage. This was contrary to the reports on the TV channels 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 building of Combine Military Hospital (CMH) was completely destroyed killing hundreds of people. The buildings of Government schools and college were also turned into rubble. But the shops and shopping centers also survived this devastating earthquake. This fact clearly shows that the question of decent housing is not irrelevant as many official commentators have said. The journey to Rawalakot was different because we went through areas which are not badly affected by this disaster. But the journey from Rawalakot was altogether different. The road 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 were no power in the city and whole place was in darkness. We reached our camp which has been set up 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). This room was the only remaining part of the school building. We saw around 500 people demonstrating against the authorities and government for not providing them with 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 there was another aftershock which forced us to abandon this room and sit and sleep in the open. Soon we were soaked to the skin from the heavy rain. Trade union activists and 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 NWFP.
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 5 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 the horrifying suffering of the students who perished. The scene at the Degree College is also not different, where hundreds of students are still buried under the rubble of college building. Every family had casualties. Everyone is grieving for ones. We met many people who lost their whole family and they were the only survivor. 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 quite 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 on the mountains. When we reached there, it was the first aid that reached there since the quake hit this area. 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 bring their injured relatives carrying on their backs from 20 to 30 miles to the field hospital in Bagh city. Many people walk 30to 40 miles to see their relatives without any food and water. All the houses on the mountains have been completely destroyed. These villages have been turned into graveyards.
Role of the TURCP, Socialist Liberation and Socialist Movement Pakistan
Socialist Liberation and Socialist Movement members from Kashmir and Pakistan immediately went to the affected areas to help the comrades and trade union activists and their families. Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan members and sympathizers went to the different areas and started relief work. Our members spent many nights without food or warm clothes.
Azad Qadri, National Organising Secretary of the TURCP has been working in the affected areas of Bagh. We saw the respect our members have in the local communities, when a mob of 300 desperate people tried to loot a camp set up by a Kashmiri group to distribute aid and medicine. Even the military personnel were not been able to control the situation. When Azad Qadri along with other activists intervened and attempted to calm the situation down. When we asked the angry people why they were trying to loot the camp, they said that they wanted equal and fair distribution of aid. Azad made a brief speech, which cooled peoples tempers and they unanimously agreed to accept his proposal as to how the food and aid should be distributed. Now our members have been running this camp in the mountains without any trouble for the last few days.
TURC Kashmir and Pakistan are not only involved in the relief work in some areas but they are also making every effort to unite political activists and trade unionists in Bagh and Rawalakot. We are trying to develop a campaign to build a strong trade union movement but also to organise the affected working class people to get decent housing , health, education, employment and compensation.