This one was meant for the family album. Dewali resident Sudhir Gupta’s picture taken against the backdrop of multicoloured flowers was not meant to be splashed across the city for leads to a missing person, nor was Pushpa Goel's holding a plate full of flickering Diwali lamps. But for both the Gupta and Goel families, these pictures are their only hope of reaching out to people who would have seen or perhaps, interacted with their kin.
As information about the thousands of “missing” people remains clouded in mystery and marred by uncertainty, the families are doing what they can to seek information, even as they cling to hope. “I came with a bunch of photographs of my nephew Pravin Das, hoping someone would have seen him. I have no information about where he is and how he is, but I am not going to give up on my search,” said S. Das who came from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.
Subhash Ojha from Pratap Garh in Uttar Pradesh is looking for his family comprising 13 people including two drivers. They were in Kedarnath on June 16, and that was the last he heard from them. Clutching photographs of his missing family members, Omesh Khandelwal of Rajasthan, juggling three mobile phones, shuttles between Jolly Grant airport, the hospital and the police control room, hoping to catch a glimpse or hear a word of his seven family members.
“I want to know why, when the government says it has already rescued 97,000 people so far, the lists that we get include names that have already been mentioned. The government earlier said that the whereabouts of the missing would be traced through their cellphones, but we are yet to hear anything and this has been an excruciatingly long wait," he said.
In Dehradun, there isn't a wall that is not covered with pictures — ageing matriarchs, husbands and wives holding hands, young boys and girls posing for what could have been their display picture for a social networking site, small children with kohl-lined eyes to ward off an evil eye — all scrawled with a plea for help and phone numbers and addresses for reaching out.
Social networking sites too are doing their bit for the missing people and chain e-mails from strangers are no longer being discarded without a read.
But none of this is enough for the families that have been frantically searching for their loved ones. The assurances of the police and the administration fail to cut ice and tempers flare each time rescued pilgrims make mention of those “still stranded”.
“I know for sure that the administration is not doing enough. A lady from my neighbourhood, who was rescued a few days ago, said there were still hundreds of people in Badrinath and no attempts were being made to seek them out. Only those who made it to the Army camps were being rescued. “People are dying of hunger and due to cold,” said Saket, a Gujarat resident whose mother is among those missing.
While a majority of the families are hoping against hope that their kin are not among the unidentified bodies that are now being mass cremated, there are many who are slowly, but painfully beginning to consider waiting for the DNA results.
The administration is now flashing pictures of the rescued, beamed live from the helipads to the control rooms to assuage tempers, but for the ones who are yet to hear and see their loved ones, there are still many tracks that the government has failed to cover.
Keywords: Uttarakhand floods, flash floods, landslips, Uttarakhand landslides, Himalayan ecosystem, Char Dham yatra, Uttarakhand rescue, disaster management, Indian Army rescue, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Rudraprayag, Pauri, Himalayan rivers, National Disaster Relief Force, Gaurikund, Hemkund Sahib, Uttarakhand pilgrimage