In the historic center of Bhuj, 12 miles from the epicenter of
Friday's earthquake, a dozen Muslim volunteers in rubber sandals
are hard at work pulling out the body of a boy named Mustafa.
Across town, Fenil Vora watches as workers prepare to cremate the
body of a family friend named Dhirajlal at a Jain temple. The
temple has incinerated 49 bodies, all members of the Jain faith.
With little unifying state or central government help, India's
rescue and relief efforts are remarkably grass-roots in character,
and notably stratified along traditional religion, caste, and
Much of the food and clothing for example, trickles through
neighborhood clubs and societies, or through religious-based
organizations like the controversial Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS). At the L.G. Hospital, in Ahmedabad, for instance,
members of the RSS have been distributing tea and food to the
relatives of survivors and keeping the hallways clear for arriving
But when Catholic workers from the St. Xavier's Social Services
Society arrived at the hospital to provide some help as well, they
were chased off with sticks, curses, and threats. "They were
shouting at us, telling us literally to get out, says the Rev.
Cedric Prakash, St. Xavier's director in Ahmedabad. "In a situation
like this, anybody who wants to work and serve must be given the
chance to do so. I don't think that any one group should be
Shabbir Shabuledizahbi is leading a group of Muslims called the
Shabab Volunteer Corps through the narrow, cluttered streets of
Bhuj's historic center, on the way to pull bodies out of a
collapsed home. He holds no grudges against other communities, he
says, and not even against the government. But he wishes the state
would provide as much aid to the Muslim part of town as it has been
providing to the more prosperous Hindu and Jain part of town.
"What we are saying is treat everyone the same. We are the same
color, we are from the same country," he says, climbing in rubber
sandals over a pile of concrete and crushed masonry. "Here the RSS
is coming," he says, referring to the Hindu nationalist volunteer
group, "but they are helping not us, but their own people, their
The only thing that seems to unite the residents of Bhuj and
surrounding villages is the view that their government could be
doing much more to meet the needs of the living and the dead alike.
While no country, developed or not, could ever be fully prepared
for a quake of the magnitude that struck Gujarat on Friday, the
speed and effectiveness of a government's response to disaster is
an important mark of competence for many citizens.
The response from New Delhi, the national capital, has certainly
been vigorous, with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee calling on
the country to go on a "war-footing" to provide disaster relief.
But response from the state itself, which is responsible for
managing this disaster, has been much less visible, leaving many
citizens of Gujarat to ask if this is the way to win a war.
Some observers have also criticized the central government for
waiting more than 24 hours to ask for help from foreign
governments. Because of the delay, experts say, the casualty count
was probably higher. The first 48 hours after a quake are the most
crucial for pulling live survivors out of the rubble.
As a result, few citizens are waiting for government assistance.
Rubble-clearing brigades are haphazard, formed by neighbors in
search of missing family members. In other parts of the world, such
as Turkey and Mexico, grass-roots citizen groups were born or
revitalized following major quakes.
"They're talking about a war footing," says Fr. Prakash of the
St. Xavier's Social Services Society, which is distributing food
and providing shelter to refugees in the affected areas. …