On July 2, sisters-in-law Virmati (62) and Prakashi (60) boarded a bus from Delhi and headed for the Amarnath Yatra together. It was their long-standing dream, said their families. On the evening of July 8, they called up their families and told them they had reached the shrine, done the “darshan”, and begun their descent. That was the last time their families spoke to them.
The two women from Delhi were among the 17 people who died in a flash flood that hit a camp near the Amarnath cave shrine, in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir, on Friday.
“It was the first time they had gone to Amarnath. They went very happily. It was something they had wanted to do for a very long time. Ek lamba sapna tha (It was a long-standing dream). Their travel was comfortable, and they sent us photographs of their journey,” said Virmati’s husband, Balkishan (68), a retired sewer supervisor at the New Delhi Municipal Council.
Balkishan said his last conversation with his wife was at around 5:30 pm on Friday. “She told me they were well, and they were coming down from the shrine. She said it was raining a lot, and they were getting soaked, but everything was fine. When I tried to call her later, I could not get through,” he said.
When news of a cloudburst near the Amarnath shrine began to come in, the families started to panic.
“Our local SHO got some correspondence and he sent some people over on the evening of July 9 to inform us that there may be some bad news. We went to the police station and they told us that the bodies were coming in, and they may or may not be among the dead. My mother was not among the first set of bodies we were shown, but she was in the second set,” said Sanjeev (40), Prakashi’s son.
Both women lived in neighbouring houses in a narrow lane in Madangir, in South Delhi. “They were very close, ever since my mother got married… They’ve been living in the same lane all these years,” said Sanjeev.
Prakashi had gone on pilgrimages to Jwala Mata Mandir (Himachal Pradesh) and Kalighat (West Bengal), and Virmati had been to the Vaishno Devi shrine (Jammu and Kashmir), but this was their first time going on a pilgrimage together.
“Media reports said the weather was good, and there wasn’t much to fear at this time. The people who organise these pilgrimages also assured us that if there was any chance of the weather taking a bad turn, they would stop where they were. It rains from time to time, but none of us ever thought that something like this would happen so suddenly,” said Sanjeev.
On Monday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the families and announced financial aid of Rs 10 lakh for each. “They went for a pious cause, to purify their souls and seek blessing from God, but unfortunately, they were ill-fated. I met their families to share their pain. Both their families are not financially well-off so the Delhi government will provide ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh to each. We will ensure that their grandchildren get excellent education. We are also ready to provide all possible help to them. We stand with them in these troubled times,” he said.
Both the women have two school-going grandchildren each.
Kejriwal also stated that if any more casualties from Delhi are reported, his government will provide Rs 10 lakh to each family.