The Good And The Ugly Of Kerala Floods

22 Aug, 2018 11:43 IST|Sakshi
Kerala Finance minister Thomas Isaac

By T S Sudhir

The picture of Kerala Finance minister Thomas Isaac atop a relief boat, holding a rescued infant in his arms, was one of the most moving images of the Kerala floods. Isaac was amidst the waters in his constituency in Alappuzha, helping to coordinate rescue efforts.

Pinarayi Vijayan's press conferences have also helped soothe frayed nerves as well. They are calm affairs, devoid of theatrics of any kind and are both live telecast and live streamed, considering many areas did not have power supply. The Kerala chief minister's social media presence is also an important storehouse of information, designed to blunt the menace of fake news and rumours as well.

Kerala's bureaucracy has led by example, be it from inside the control rooms set up in Thiruvananthapuram Secretariat or in the districts. Photographs showing the collector and sub-collector of Wayanad district unloading rice sacks from a relief truck by carrying them on their back, are proof of a zero white collar ego.

Also Read: How WhatsApp Played The Good Samaritan In Kerala Flood Relief Work

If one isn't hearing complaints of official apathy and lack of government help in this hour of extreme crisis in Kerala, the worst floods since 1924, resulting in the death of over 300 people so far, it is because of people like Isaac, Vijayan and the officials. What has been one of the most remarkable aspects of this flood rescue and relief effort is that civil society has partnered with the administration instead of pointing fingers.

Even the opposition that usually points an accusing finger at the government in such situations, has been pitching in with help, using its cadre network. Vijayan made it a point to take along with him Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of the Opposition in Kerala, on an aerial tour of flood-affected districts, to send across the message that there will be no politics over rescue and relief.

A Whatsapp forward doing the rounds is how when America has Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Kerala has Fisherman. Indeed, much before the armed forces rushed in, it were the fisherfolk, often derided as a smelly lot, who ensured many lives were saved. The men who wore no capes, moved in their sturdy boats on to the roads of Kerala, managing to reach those who needed help urgently.

The disaster management response covered itself with glory as well. Especially those from the armed forces. There were many a dramatic rescue from rooftops, including one of pregnant woman Sajida Jabil. She was airlifted from Kochi after her water bag was broken and rushed to a hospital. Sajida delivered a baby boy within a couple of hours of being rescued. Three days later, her family painted `THANKS' in bold letters on the same rooftop from where she was lifted. These are moments that have made the entire Kerala rescue effort worth it.

Usually the media gets the flak for indulging in theatrics and chest-thumping during reportage. The Malayalam media, it must be said, covered itself with glory for showing restraint and going the extra mile, combining reportage with lending a helping hand. It was like going back to an era when reporters and anchors were not the story, they covered the story.

Also Read: Kerala Flood Relief: Who Donated How Much

To underline its commitment to the cause, Asianet News even stopped cutting into ad breaks for two days lest it be construed that channels were making money riding on high TRPs. The content spoke for itself. News18 began an initiative, `Open your heart Open your Home', asking people to accommodate a family at their home till their homes were ready. During the live show on Monday, the channel received 90 calls.

Mercifully, there was no brag journalism at disaster time. There was no ``We are the first TV channel or the only TV channel to get you these visuals'' kind of narrative by the reporters on the ground. The reporters were non-screechy, not in your face.

What is important to note is that for many journalists, it was also about putting duty before self. Their own homes were under water or their relatives were stuck in flood waters but there was no time to rush to help oneself.

But there was the ugly side to the Kerala floods as well. It started with appeals over social media, asking people not to contribute to the Chief Minister's Disaster Relief Fund. The insinuation was that the money will not be spent well and therefore other private funds should be considered. There was also a parallel attempt to suggest that only Hindus should be helped since many Islamic and Christian agencies will reach out to their respective communities.

The hate factory also try to peddle the theory that the Malayalees invited it upon themselves for being unapologetic beef-eaters. The right-wing has been peddling spurious stuff about how targeting Hindus and the cow has got Kerala into this situation.

The Supreme court is hearing the case relating to the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50. A theory floated over social media is that Lord Ayyappa who is the presiding deity at Sabarimala in Kerala, is angry over the developments. The insinuation is that Lord Ayyappa, a bachelor God, is unleashing his wrath on Kerala because of menstruating women seeking entry into the temple.

None less than the newly-appointed director of the Reserve Bank of India, S Gurumurthy waded into the Sabarimala issue through the flood waters. He tweeted suggesting that Supreme court judges may like to see if there is any connection between the case and the rains, that have cut off Sabarimala among other places.

''Even if there is one in a million chance of a link, people would not like the case decided against Ayyappan,'' Gurumurthy tweeted, arguing it is about people's beliefs.

I wonder how the judges will establish as per Indian law if there is a connection or not. And if it indeed was Lord Ayyappa's way of showing his displeasure, I would assume he would have ensured only women between 10 and 50 suffered, not the men who want to maintain status quo. Are we to believe that the Lord is keenly watching the Supreme court proceedings and he is so vindictive that he would punish lakhs of Keralites for daring to make such a suggestion. What the right-wing lot has done is to cast one of the most loved Hindu Gods in its own mould - petty and revengeful. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Also was pushed a narrative that only the rich suffered and the poor did not and therefore no relief material need be sent in any more. This was a vile and michievious plot by a person with proven allegiance to the BJP. The plan was to derail the funds that were being collected by Kerala, which would help them over the next one year.

In sharp contrast to this ugly out-of-sync surround sound was the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who tweeted in Malayalam, English and Arabic that the people of Kerala have always been and are still part of his country's success story, promising Rs 700 crore of aid to Kerala.

Kerala calls itself God's own country. This land will take a while to rebuild. Many people have lost all that they had. What the state needs now is a helping hand instead of creating a false narrative that the Malayalees deserved it.

When the 1200-odd people who had temporarily sought shelter at the government Higher Secondary school in Koonammavu in Ernakulam district of Kerala moved back home, they cleaned up the entire fourth floor of the school that they had occupied. When appreciated for the gesture, one of them said : ``This place was home to me for the last four days. How can I leave it dirty? We keep our home clean, right?''

With an attitude like this, why wouldn't India want to help out Kerala.

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