Quake survivors are now robbed of their livelihood

Tourist trade has been killed off by the earthquake
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The Independent Online

Gujarat's massive earthquake not only killed about 30,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, it also killed off the foreign tourist trade which, in the parched region of Kutch, made a significant addition to the livelihood of the poorest communities.

Gujarat's massive earthquake not only killed about 30,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, it also killed off the foreign tourist trade which, in the parched region of Kutch, made a significant addition to the livelihood of the poorest communities.

The earthquake struck in the middle of the tourist season. Bhuj, capital of the Kutch region, is well off India's main tourist route, but hundreds of Westerners came through here every year for the quaint mediaeval scenery of the old town and the tribal crafts.

As soon as they arrived, the women and children and some of the men, too, rushed into their huts and came out carrying bundles of intricately embroidered textiles, bed covers, shawls, shoulder bags, tribal dresses - and threw them down in the courtyard and began at high intensity to do business. The prices were astronomical by comparison with the tribal people's income from other sources, but modest by Western standards.

Now that Bhuj has been laid waste thousands of its inhabitants were last night spending an eighth night destitute and camped out in the bitter cold--it can be assumed that it will be years before this trade revives.

Robbed of their foreign customers, these skilled craftswomen will be sucked into the task of rebuilding the cities and towns of Kutch. Traditions which the tribal women of Kutch carry in their fingers will wither and die.

One person, however, has set her heart on preventing that happening, and her friends and admirers around the world will be relieved to learn that Judy Frater is alive and well.

The Pennsylvania-born expert in Oriental crafts 10 years ago stepped out of her job as curator with the Textile Museum in Washington DC and devoted herself to breathing fresh life into Kutch's craft traditions.

Since then she has lived in the village of Sumerasar, 20 kilometres outside Bhuj. Yesterday morning she sat by an open hearth outside her simple village home and recalled how she lived through the earthquake.

"I was in the bathroom of my flat in Bhuj when suddenly it started moving - it was like being on a railway car. I didn't know what to do. Then I remembered that somebody said in an earthquake stand under a door frame so I stood under the door frame stark naked. I'm glad I didn't run out - many people got killed running out of places.''

Judy, who first came to India as a freshman student in 1970, has very pale blue eyes and wears her long straw-coloured hair in a plait. She sat cross-legged on the ground swathed against the cold morning air in a black woollen shawl and talked about the fate of the tribal women she works with.

"Everybody is frightened. The atmosphere has been calming down since yesterday but the women are still afraid to go into their homes."

Her village, though close to the earthquake's epicentre, was practically undamaged, but everyone is sleeping out of doors. "Everyone's going to be gun shy for a while,'' she said. "One person said our home has become our enemy. All the villages around here have been badly damaged.''

In Sumerasar, however, even the new building with its roof covered in solar panels, providing the village with electric light, is still operational. But they have other problems. Sleeping outdoors, they are desperately in need of blankets and tents. Drinking water, a chronicle problem all over Kutch, is a major headache now.

But the work that Judy started in the village will continue. In 1993 with friends she had made here she set up a project called Dastakar Kutch. She said: "The idea of the project was to link understanding of crafts with income generation. We started with 43,000 rupees (about £600) and one room. We worked for free.''

Starting with a community called Marumeghral - refugees from Parkistan - to set about helping them to make garments, shawls and so on using their native techniques, then selling them in bazaars and fairs around as well as in their own villages. In this way the craft traditions were saved and the tribal women obtained.

The project has been so successful that Judy Frater now works with women in several different communities and many different villages. Her fear now is that the women will be lured into relief work and away from their needles.

* The leaders of military rivals Pakistan and India spoke yesterday in an unprecedented telephone exchange about last week's earthquake, agreeing to remain in touch, Pakistani sources said.

It was the first conversation between Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee since Musharraf came to power in October 1999. Mr Vajpayee expressed appreciation for three plane loads of relief goods sent by Pakistan and Mr Musharraf told him that Islamabad was "ready to provide additional relief, if required", a Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement said.

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