GHANAIA Asian Earthquake Relief
Field Report 07.11.05/00
Dispatch from Bhai Sahib Esher Singh, UNITED SIKHS Ghanaia Asian Quake Relief Team Leader
Brief History of Poonch
We were back again at Srinagar, Baramula on the 2nd Oct. We met UNITED SIKHS members S. Dalvinder Singh Bitta, S Harbhajan Singh and their team members. They apprised us of the situation. It was learnt that food and blankets are in abundance. People require material for their house building more than anything else. UNITED SIKHS has distributed 8 metric tones of GI sheets, 2500 blankets apart from monetary relief for their instant usage.
We started out next day for Poonch. Poonch is a district, barely 45 kms from Uri and 70 Kms from Muzafarabad, the epicenter of the earthquake. Uri is 80 kms from Muzafarabad. Due to earth quake tremors Poonch was also hit very badly but Poonch residents have not received any relief from our community members, as it is off the beaten track compared toUri, Baramulla and Tangdhar. It is a victim of politics. Poonch is neglected. There is very little official help. Until we got there, other organizations had not reached Poonch with relief. There are other reasons for which the Poonch district is sidelined. Their language and culture is different from the Kashmir valley people.
There are many forts in this belt, which were built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. One is i Poonch town and the other is at Rajouri. It is the smallest district in J&K state and has always faced political aggression, not once but thrice.
Poonch was the first area to come under attack in 1947 and 48. They lost considerable chunk of territory to Pakistan. Due to militancy this district has heavy army presence. The people here are indoors from 5PM and are allowed on the streets after 7:30 AM. That too, after the army convoys have passed.
It is very difficult for the Poonch people to survive there and they are helpless. Their economic conditions are very poor. The people, who are economically sound, have already shifted to other places like Jammu or other parts of the country.
The Poonch district has the largest Sikh population. There are more than 20,000 Sikhs living in Poonch, with 5% of the population being Muslims. The Sikhs in Pooch are a very strong lot and almost everyone is an Amritdhari. Most of the children do paath and kirtan very beautifully. They are in Guru's bhana but it is our duty to help them out in this hour of need. Almost everyone has been provided with tents but they need permanent shelter. The government aid has been delayed again due to political reasons. The government has assured them Rs.1 lakh for every family who home is destroyed and Rs. 40,000 for those whose homes have suffered partial damage. But these cheques will be issued in 3 months and god knows how they will survive the snow.
SGPC had sent a team on 26th Oct, 05. The SGPC team surveyed the area but have not returned with any relief material to date. No other Sikh organization except UNITED SIKHS has provided relief.
We have distributed about Rs 2,30,000 to 142 families. UNITED SIKHS is planning to transport cheaper construction material from outside Kashmir. Construction material is very costly in Poonch. Steel costs about Rs 3000 / kg and a brick costs Rs 4.80; a cement bag costs Rs 250 per bag. We are planning to construct hollow bricks to substitute the normal bricks at a lower cost.
The Poonch people are economically very backward. It was learnt that the government wages are Rs 250 / Rs 500 per month ($ 6-12) for a chowkidar ( security man) and Rs 1000 ($ 25) a month for a RT (Rehaberay Talim) teacher. Most of the people here are waged and they haven't seen a pay rise for 2 years. The don't have much land and hence one can understand their economical condition.
UNITED SIKHS will provide an ambulance for the Poonch people so that they could transport patients from the near by villages as there are no other conveyances in this area. People die due to non-availability of conveyance. As their houses are built in the fields they stay scattered and away from Poonch town.
We had a meeting with Sardar Ranjit Singh in sector 45 in Chandigrah today at amrit vela today. We have plans to go on Poonch on 11th to 16th when 2 UNITED SIKHS supporters from Chandigarh, 2 from Delhi will be going with the relief material to Poonch along with me.
We have taken many photographs and recorded many video interviews of the people in Poonch, which we will FTP on the server asap.
Bhai Esher Singh