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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Kashmir quake - do Indians care?

By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Delhi

Two major aid agencies in India have told the BBC they have seen a significantly smaller initial response so far from the Indian public to the recent devastating earthquake in Kashmir.

Earthquake zone
The initial response to the recent earthquake has been small

They say the public response to the quake has been much smaller than to other recent disasters such as the tsunami last year and the Gujarat earthquake in 2001.

In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami and the Gujarat earthquake, there were widespread reports in India of an outpouring of public support.

It ranged from personal donations to volunteers heading for affected areas to give practical support.

'Indifference'

Since news broke of the Kashmir earthquake, the public response within India has been more subdued.

A spokesman for Oxfam in India, PJ Chacko, told the BBC that after the tsunami he received hundreds of phone calls offering help.

Since this earthquake, he's only had about 10, he said. Unsolicited donations to Oxfam after the tsunami reached about a hundred thousand dollars in the first few weeks, he added.

"Assistance was pouring in like anything," he said. "But this time, it's not attracting that much."

The head of the International Federation for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in India, Azmat Ulla, had a similar story.

"During the tsunami, I saw people coming into our headquarters handing over cheques," he said. "But [this time] I haven't really seen it."

On Tuesday, a separatist leader in Srinagar, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said he was upset by what he described as "indifference" in India to the earthquake.

Compassion fatigue

But if the public response has been muted, there may be less sinister explanations.

Tsunami site
Agencies say initial response to the Indian tsunami was bigger

The scale of the disaster is clearly smaller. Fewer than two thousand have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir. In the tsunami, many thousands from India died.

Also, much of the public's attention has been focussed on Pakistani-administered Kashmir where casualties have been far greater.

"The level of sympathy may have suffered by comparison with the Pakistani side," PJ Chacko says. The Pakistan embassy in Delhi has now opened a special bank account to process donations.

Some analysts also suggest there are fewer informal connections between Indian-controlled Kashmir and mainstream India.

Tourism has improved recently, since the launch of the peace process, but the region's image has suffered because of on-going militant-related violence and security concerns.

India is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world
Azmat Ulla, Red Cross and Red Crescent

The fact that Indian-administered Kashmir is heavy militarised - as well as the remote, inaccessible terrain - may deter people from travelling there independently, as they have to disaster-struck places in the past, such as the Gujarat earthquake in 2001.

"In Gujarat, you could take a car or jeep, load it up with relief goods and drive to it," said Azmat Ulla. "This is a more militarised area, with more army personnel."

There may also be an element of compassion fatigue, he added. The media has continued to focus attention on the plight of survivors of the tsunami.

'Clear image'

India has also seen severe flooding in states like Bihar and Assam.

Not as many people were killed but an estimated 20 million affected, he said.

"India is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world," Azmat Ulla says.

Accurate information about affected areas has also been slower this time.

"In Kashmir, even today, it's still not clear how many villages and people have been affected," said Oxfam's PJ Chacko.

"There still isn't an overview of the destruction. So we're not projecting a clear image to the public," he said.

Others have suggested the fact the last two days have been public holidays in India, with many people away, may also have dampened down the public's response.


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