As incessant rain battered Himachal Pradesh over the past few days, causing floods and landslides and leaving many people stranded, young women serving in the police force led from the front.
Battling not only nature’s fury but also communication breakdowns and the reluctance of some people to leave their houses, the women set an example of how to triumph in very trying circumstances. Their feats have ensured that they have taken social media by storm and, more importantly, earned the respect of many in the communities they serve.
Mandi Superintendent of Police Soumya Sambasivan recalls how difficult it was to make people understand that they had to leave their homes and belongings. “We had two hours to evacuate people. I told them to take their certificates and valuables and leave, but it was very difficult to make them understand. The more educated they were, the more they argued.”
Ms Sambasivan played a vital role in evacuating people in vulnerable parts of Mandi district when the Beas river began to cross the danger mark . “Some people were not ready to leave their shanties and it was very difficult to convince the elderly living there,” she said.
Saakshi Verma, the Superintendent of Police in Kullu, said the biggest challenge for her was restoring communication lines. “There was loss of communication even between police establishments so it was very difficult to assess the damage caused to life and property,” she told NDTV.
Ms Verma said establishing contact with tourists was a difficult task. “June is peak season here in Kullu and it spills over into July. Many people were here and, due to the lack of communication lines, we could not assess where relief-and-rescue work should focus initially,” she said.
“There are hundreds of homestays, hotels and now tourist hostels too, so we had to plan our operations carefully and spread out. Since there was no electricity, however, conducting rescue operations after dark was a problem,” she added.
Since mobile connectivity was also snapped in many places in the region, police had to establish contact via satellite phones. A senior officer said, “Satellite phones were sent via chopper to places like Sainj and Terathan.”
For Kangra Superintendent of Police Shalini Agnihotri, one of the problems she faced was protecting the livestock of Gujjars who settle along embankments.
“Another problem was that the Beas river was bringing a lot of logs from the upper reaches and depositing them in the catchment area. These logs are very valuable and the locals were getting into the water to drag them out. So, the police has been keeping constant vigil in this area to stop people from going into the water,” she said.
For the police force, the rescue and relief operations were also led by a woman officer – Satwant Atwal Trivedi – who is serving as the state’s Director General of Police. She set up a war room in the police headquarters and reached out to people via all available mediums, including social media.
She managed to mobilise her team 24×7 and tried to reach out to as many local residents and tourists as possible after they were left stranded due to road links being severed by landslides.
“The Himachal Police will continue to work until the last guest reaches his or her home safely and all are accounted for. We are on alert. We are khaki and are ready to help,” said Ms Trivedi.