by Tenzin Chomphel
Director of Marketing
August 24th, 2018: The monsoon season of India typically runs from June to September, bringing sporadic rainfall throughout the summer. This year, however, the southern state of Kerala received a 40 percent increase in rainfall, resulting in the worst torrential flooding the state has seen in a century. Entire towns have been engulfed by the waters and people have been evacuated by the thousands. Over 1.2 million individuals are currently homeless, taking refuge in camp shelters spread across affected areas. The death toll has risen to 373, mostly from landslides, and dozens are still missing.
In the long term, many locals will have to deal with the destruction of their homes and those with homes still intact may have to wait up to a year to return. “My house is full of mud and almost everything I own now is damaged,”one citizen said to a BBC reporter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a visit to Kerala to assess the damages and agreed to a grant of roughly 70 million USD for aid purposes. While this grant will provide some relief, it is only a fraction of the estimated three billion in damages caused by the flooding. The United Arab Emirates offered 100 million USD to aid the recovery, but surprisingly the Indian central government has refused to accept this foreign aid.
The National Disaster Management plan developed by the central government in 2016 states that India, will not “issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster.” If offered voluntarily, however, the Indian government may accept this offer, but so far all offers of foreign monetary aid have been rejected. The government has also stated that representatives of international foundations that wish to contribute can do so through existing relief funds belonging to the Indian prime minister or the Kerala government.
Many within India are furious at these actions, or lack thereof, citing the fact that the central government has accepted multiple offers in the past for external assistance. Recent examples include the Swachh Bharat, India’s nationwide street clean-up campaign, which has gathered external assistance since its conception in 2014. One reason for the government’s resistance to foreign aid may be the underlying desire to avoid being seen as weak. Government spokespersons have confirmed the agenda of “Changing India’s image for the world” to being an “aid giver, not an aid taker,” suggesting that the government believes accepting foreign aid in the context of a national disaster would tarnish its current reputation as a rising world power. This, coupled with Modi’s existing distaste for international NGOs, will continue to make it difficult for external aid to get through to the people of Kerala.
Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac points towards political discrimination as another possible explanation for the state’s insufficient aid package. “We are a leftist government in Kerala,” he says in opposition to the right-wing governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of the most vocal members of the BJP consist of Hindu nationalist groups, which have argued the floods as deserved due to Kerala’s lack of observant Hindus. The Malayali peoples of Kerala have had a long culture of eating beef, which is considered taboo within the Hindu religion. Intolerance towards those who partake in this diet has existed for centuries, but attention is focused on recent acts of cow slaughter in Kerala, commonly done in protest against the central government. Far-right cow protectionist groups have cited the floods as divine punishment for this accused crime. These groups, as well as the politicians that defend their actions, have exacerbated this divide to contentious levels.
Whether the motivations behind these actions pertain to pride, prejudice or a mix of both, the people of Kerala are hoping to see more effort by the central government as soon as possible to fill this relief gap.
Photo by Tom Oliver