Young girls in headscarves sat aside as their elders offered prayers in a mosque that is currently doubling up as a relief camp near Nilambur in Kerala’s Malappuram on Tuesday evening, the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Azha.

The camp was preparing for Eid. “It is going to be different here this year,” said Abdul Vahab Koduvali, 44, a schoolteacher staying at the camp. “Everyone irrespective of our religion will be in the mosque to celebrate Eid.”

The mosque is sheltering some 125 people, including a dozen Hindu families. “Everyone in the village went out of their way to save people and bring them to relief camps,” said Koduvalli. “We may have lost our homes and belongings but we are all going to celebrate Eid to mark our unity in this time of crisis.”

Men and children offer prayers in the mosque at Nilambur. Photo credit: S Senthalir

The floods and landslides have devastated several largely Adivasi colonies in Malappuram, claiming six lives at Chettiyanpara near Erumamunda. “There are at least 36 Adivasi colonies in the district and nearly 920 people are now staying in relief camps,” said the local legislator PK Basheer.

Most of them are daily wage labourers, Basheer said. “The greatest challenge now is rebuilding their homes,” he added. “I have asked the chief minister to arrange for alternative sites for them.”

At another relief camp, set up in the JSS Training Centre at Akampadam near Nilambur, the volunteers Shameer EK and R Rajeesh were helping PT Usman, president of the local gram panchayat, audit the relief material coming in. “We plan to provide biryani to all inmates for Eid,” he said.

Women and girls offer prayers in the mosque at Nilambur. Photo credit: S Senthalir

Haunting memories

Unmindful of the bustle, children at the camp played badminton. But after speaking to them, it seemed they were scarred by their nightmarish experience. “I was playing games on a mobile phone when water started gushing into my home,” said T Amal, who is studying in Class 6. “We immediately ran to safety.”

Hiba Shireen, who is in Class 9, recalled watching her terrified neighbours run up to the terrace of her home, which is a little further from the bank, when the floodwaters rushed in. “I have never seen the Chaliyar river surge in such a manner,” she said. “It was only a small stream, but now it is flowing in all four directions.”

As Amal and Shireen’s playmates gathered around to hear the horror stories and narrate their own, many said they did not want to return to their homes. “We request the government to give us land in a safe place that is free from floods and landslides,” they said.

Children play in the relief camp at the JSS Training Centre in Akampadam. Photo credit: S Senthalir