In the aftermath of several drowning cases in Churachandpur ADC areas since the last week of May to the first week of June 2017, Zoram Observer reported how volunteers, irrespective of communities and state boundaries, worked hand-in-hand during inter-village search operations. It came to our notice that these civil societies, with little or no help from the state agencies, were able to retrieve bodies of the victims. However, it took them days and sometimes weeks to find the victims’ bodies during which volunteers often subjected themselves to dangerous river currents due to lack of proper training and equipment.
In the light of these circumstances, we spoke to Convenor of Joint Philanthropic Organisations (JPO) of Churachandpur District Pu Laldawnlien Varte to discuss how the Government of Manipur could do more in order to efficiently meet crisis in times of floods, drowning cases and other calamities. The JPO comprised of all the 10 major youth volunteer-based organisations in Churachandpur District.
‘NO STATE FACILITIES’
On a question as to what facilities were available with the state government and the district agencies in times of rescue and search operations with particular reference to the case of baby Kimngaihsiam (drowned in Lanva River) and Lalruotmawi (drowned in Tuivai River), Pu Varte said he was not aware of any facilities available on hand.
“I’m not aware of any government facilities or gadgets available for such operations (in Churachandpur). It could also be because officials didn’t bring it out for public use,” he added.
He also rued the fact that top government officials and their guards often disrupt search and rescue operations when they conduct their own rounds of “visit and leave operations”.
“Some government officials unnecessarily come and interfere with our operations – by blocking roads with their vehicles and their bodyguards. Generally speaking, they haven’t been helpful in most cases.”
Pu Varte said that it would be better for the government to take advantage of the huge manpower of volunteer-based youth organisations in the district by helping them with equipment and proving proper training to their volunteers to meet crisis like flood, earthquake, fire and other accidents.
“I think it will be good for the state to hold timely joint consultation with NGOs in situations like drowning, floods, earthquake, fire outbreak and other accidents. The government should also provide proper equipment (like medical kit, raft, ladder, good quality ropes, etc) and training, besides refreshment for the volunteers.”
PEOPLE LOOK UP TO VOLUNTEER-BASED NGOs
As a social activist who actively took part in various search and rescue operations besides engaging in other philanthropic activities since 1992, Pu Varte said that it’s “only the volunteer-based philanthropic organisations who are really reliable in times of disasters like floods, landslides and drowning cases”.
“The people look up to the volunteer-based philanthropic organisations for assistance and not at the government. However, despite having the manpower, there is still lack of systematic planning among these NGOs and our volunteers (from different NGOs) often are confused where work should begin. In addition, we don’t have standard rescue and relief materials which seriously delay our work. I think the state government can do a lot in this regard by providing required materials like light raft, diving gears and other search and rescue equipment to these philanthropic organisations immediately,” Pu Varte said.
NGOs DOING THEIR BEST
The 44-year-old social worker, who is currently president of the Hmar Youth Association, also said that despite these difficulties, volunteers from all tribes (both in Manipur and Mizoram) contributed a lot when it comes to community service. He said the spirit of unity displayed by various tribes in the last few weeks should serve as an example for harmonious relationship and peaceful coexistence.
“The first thing that came to my mind during search the search operations was how dear and precious life is. Thousands of volunteers from all tribes joining together to find a lifeless body makes me think over on how much we all valued life. I think we all have a responsibility to sit back a moment to introspect and sort out minor differences between our communities rather than take precious lives,” he said.
Pu Varte also said he discovered that language issue takes a backseat when it comes to selfless social service. “Despite minor differences in our dialects, i found that all of us have a common desire when it comes to selfless social service and we never hesitate to join hands as brothers and sisters. This should be reflected in other areas as well.”
‘WILL GIVES WAY’
As a leader, Pu Varte is known for his motivational skills. Some members of his organisation said “he always leads by example – by being on the spot in almost every thing we do.” As a man who believes in “when there is a will there is a way”, Pu Varte said he tried to instil hope among volunteers during search operations, like in the recent drowning cases, with a simple message: “Let’s first search and we’ll find”.
Pu Varte, also a church elder in Imphal, said that despite several hurdles one has to overcome in social service, it’s been a “rewarding experience emotionally and spiritually.”
“I was overjoyed when one of our members from Saidan village found the baby (Kimngaihsiam) after days of massive operations launched by joint philanthropic organisations in in the district. Despite the tragedy, it renewed my energy and hope. When united, all things are possible with the help of God. I cried out loud thanking him ‘Mission accomplish! Thank you Lord!.