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Over a fortnight after the flash-floods,while many villages remain inaccessible by road,tragic stories are emerging from areas where dirt tracks have been opened up. About seven kilometres from Guptkashi,the six-odd hamlets that comprise the Deoli-Bramhagram panchayat have reported 57 men missing,and the area is fast getting the tag of the village of widows.
For about six months of the year,the menfolk here go to Kedarnath,where they work as mule operators,ferrying pilgrims from Gaurikund. Many of them have not returned home.
Dhamita,20,a mother of two children aged four years and one-and-a-half years,is expecting her third child. Since the flash-floods,she has been trying to contact her husband,Sunil,24,on his cellphone. But she hasnt had any luck so far.
Her neighbour,Vinita,23,who married just a year ago,
has stopped eating as she waits for news of her husband,Mahesh,28. Worried villagers say she is getting weaker by the day. She says she feels too weak to walk and procure rations. Bring me the man who should bring my ration home. This is not my job, she says,breaking into tears. Her mother-in-law,Bichna Devi,45,has no time to console her. She is busy trying to contact her husband,Devdas,50,also missing since June 16.
These women are residents of Shirwani and Pitora,part of the 30-odd houses that comprise the Harijan Basti of the Deoli-Bramhagram gram sabha,situated on a steep slope a five-km hike on a kutcha path after a seven-km drive from Guptkashi. Thirteen youths from this area are missing.
Here,young children are usually sent with their elders to Kedar valley during the Char Dham Yatra,to learn to ferry pilgrims on mules. As they grow up,they save money to buy their own mules. Four of the 13 reported missing from these villages are between 14 to 18 years old. All of them were students of the Rudraprayag district government school,helping in the family business during the summer vacations.
Amit,18,who had just passed his class 10 exam,had gone with his fathers two mules. His mother,Sanpati Devi,says he wanted to continue his studies and become a businessman. I wanted to send him to college. You should have heard his English,he was so fluent in the language that he impressed all the foreigners. He did not like going to Kedarnath,but how would we make a living if we didnt send him? she cries.
In the surrounding villages of Deoli and Bramhagram,home to pundits who perform small pujas around the Kedarnath shrine or run hotels,there are at least 20-odd people missing. Savitri Devi,29,wife of Deepak Tiwari,30,who ran a hotel in Rambara and has been missing since June 17,is angry. The administration ignored the locals. The Army took two days to start operating choppers,and even then only tourists and yatris were taken. My husbands brother,who was also in Rambara,said there were many people trapped under the mud,but there was nobody to listen to their cries. I cannot sleep,thinking he may have been trapped like that,so helpless, she says.
Savitri has two daughters,aged five years and seven years. Even now,they havent declared him dead,but I hear bodies are being cremated by the police. When will I know for sure if I should stop wearing my sindoor or bangles,or at least do a puja for him? she says.
At Pitora,also part of the same gram panchayat,where five men have been reported missing,35-year-old Hemant Tiwaris wife,also named Savitri,is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her first child is two years old. Her husband,who did small pujas for people around Kedarnath,last spoke to her on June 15.
He told me to take care of myself. Till then,there were no rains,so there was no fear, she says. The anxiety and fear have now given way to mute acceptance. He wont come back,I realise that now. I have stopped putting my sindoor. Its an insult to his memory. I have been urging everybody in the house to accept that he is no more,but his parents are adament. They still try to contact him on his phone,but I cannot bear to hear yet again that its switched off, she says.
Several gram panchayats like Kalimath,about 10 km from Guptkashi,are still not accessible by road. Locals say the death toll there could be higher. We are told that the last village there has been washed away and almost a hundred people may have died, said a police official at the Guptkashi control room.