Villagers’ Lives and Livelihoods in Tatters


The only homes left in this village are makeshift shelters with walls of the lovely indigo and burgundy cloth that has been this village’s lifeblood for generations.

There were about 250 houses in Dhamadka in western India’s Gujarat state before most of their cinder-block walls cracked and shattered like glass in a matter of seconds during Friday’s magnitude 7.9 earthquake. The few buildings still standing are too badly damaged to live in.

The 2,500 villagers were relatively well off compared with millions of others in rural India because most of Dhamadka’s families made a living from an ancient craft that has won new admirers among the rich and fashionable in the West.


They carved beautiful patterns into small pieces of teak and used the blocks to print cotton cloth with dyes mixed from fruits, roots and mineral powders, following formulas handed down from fathers to sons through the centuries.

Most of the craftsmen’s wares, which drew buyers from Europe and North America, were ruined in the quake along with their workshops and houses. Some villagers have hung the soiled cloth from sticks to make new homes, creating a striking beauty among the ruins.

Elsewhere, stacks of the bright material have spilled out of their confines and now drape the debris, lifting in the breeze.

From experience, the residents expect emergency relief workers to stop visiting with donations of clothes and food after another week or two, and any government promises of reconstruction aid to get bogged down in the morass of Indian bureaucracy and corruption.

It will be two years before Dhamadka’s homes and workshops are rebuilt and functioning again, villager Ismail Mohammed Khatri predicted. In the meantime, most of its people will be dependent on charity and government aid, he said.

Last week’s quake killed 115 people in Dhamadka, including Khatri’s mother, Fatima, 70, and his 15-year-old daughter, Hafsha, who were crushed by a collapsing wall.


“It had to happen. That’s why it happened. But we want to start work as soon as we can,” said Khatri, 40, a Muslim who believes that it was God’s will that his village be destroyed, and that his mother and daughter die.

“When God has given me so many difficulties,” he said, “he has made my heart strong too.”

Khatri is a master of a craft that goes back nine generations in his family, but he learned more than the secrets of mixing dyes and printing azarakh cloth from his late father, Mohammadbhai Siddikbhai Khatri.

Mohammadbhai, who died in 1999, built a foreign market for his village’s cloth.

He traveled as far as the United States to show textile experts his skills. On one of those trips, Mayor F. Paul Goodland of Ames, Iowa, granted Mohammadbhai honorary citizenship. The framed proclamation hung on Khatri’s wall until Friday’s quake smashed it to pieces.

Khatri learned from his father that such trophies last only as long as God wills them. His father had lived through ruin too, in the earthquake of 1956, the last time Dhamadka was leveled.

Back then, the Rama Krishna Mission, a large national charity, rebuilt all the houses in the mixed village of Hindus and Muslims, but the village wasn’t whole again until 1958.

Times have changed, and Dhamadka’s people will probably have to take out government loans to pay for reconstruction, Khatri said.


“My credit is very good, so I can get goods from my suppliers,” said Khatri, who exports his finest cloth to Britain, Spain and Canada. “But these others will need 100% help. It’s not a question of low interest.

“Just any interest is a problem. And corrupted officials are a problem too.”

The United Nations estimates that 200,000 people were left homeless after Friday morning’s quake in Gujarat, U.N. Undersecretary-General Kenzo Oshima said in New York.

By Wednesday, 12,000 bodies had been pulled from the debris. The final death toll could reach 25,000, said Haren Pandya, Gujarat’s home minister.

Rescuers found at least three more people alive in the rubble Wednesday, including a 12-year-old girl discovered by an Indian army rescue team in the town of Bhuj, near the epicenter.

But five days after the devastating quake, rescuers were giving way to demolition crews, who set plastic explosives to bring down precariously balanced buildings before the continuing aftershocks could topple them and kill more people.

The federal and state governments haven’t announced details of any reconstruction plans. But the recovery efforts after other recent disasters, such as the 1999 cyclone in eastern Orissa state, which left several hundred thousand homeless, were based on government grants to the poor and low-interest loans to others.


About 250,000 victims of the Orissa cyclone received such loans from the government, with a grace period before the start of repayments, said Bhaskar Barua, India’s agriculture secretary.

India is likely to turn to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to help pay for the reconstruction, Barua said in a telephone interview from New Delhi, the capital. Estimates of the damage from the quake run as high as $5.5 billion.

It costs about $2,150 to build a house in Dhamadka, almost three years’ wages for the families that live there. And most villagers will earn nothing for at least the next year, Khatri said.

By comparison, he and his brother Abdul Razzaque--a national award winner for his work--are rich men. They take in slightly more than $43,000 a year, but after paying 16 workers and covering other costs, Khatri said, he and his two brothers are left with a profit of only $2,150 to feed a family of 27.

His main workshop is a ruin, and it will take at least half a year to get a new one operating, he said.

Around the corner, Omar Khadder, 90, lay on an old steel-framed bed in front of his family’s destroyed house, mumbling incoherently.


Khadder, who was a cloth printer for 20 years, retired five years ago. He, his son and daughter-in-law lost what little they had in the quake, said neighbor Abdul Rahim.

“He’s got a lot of difficulties,” Rahim said, “but he shouts God’s name--’Allah! Allah!’--especially at night.”

Khadder’s dirty white shirt was spattered with red. In a better time, it might have been one of the village’s richest natural dyes. Instead, it was his own dried blood, from a bad cut on his ear and forehead.


How to Help

These agencies are among the many accepting contributions for assistance to victims of the earthquake in South Asia.

American Jewish World Service

989 Ave. of the Americas

New York, NY 10018

(800) 889-7146

Concern Worldwide

104 E. 40th St., Room 903

New York, NY 10016

(212) 557-8000

Church World Service

P.O. Box 968

Elkhart, IN 46515

(800) 297-1516

Relief International

11965 Venice Blvd., Suite 405

Los Angeles, CA 90066

(310) 572-7770

Salvation Army World Service Office

Mark donations

“India Earthquake”

P.O. Box 269

Alexandria, VA 22313

(703) 684-5528

U.S. Fund for UNICEF

333 E. 38th St.

New York, NY 10016

(800) FOR-KIDS