A CRIME COMMITTED AGAINST A DALIT EVERY 18 MINUTE | 6 DALITS KIDNAPPED OR ABDUCTED EVERY WEEK | 3 DALIT WOMEN RAPED EVERY DAY | 13 DALITS MURDERED EVERY WEEK | 27 ATROCITIES AGAINST DALITS EVERY DAY
Document Actions

Marooned Bihar village struggles for livelihood

by udaya — last modified 2007-11-07 17:12
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Marooned_Bihar_village_struggles_for_livelihood/articleshow/2523699.cms
 
7 Nov 2007, 0144 hrs IST  , Avijit Ghosh  , TNN 
 
DEVNA/DARBHANGA: Devna is the sort of village where the kitchen utensils are the most prized possession in homes. Where kids wander barefoot because footwear is a luxury. And where even 60 years after Independence, a lone street solar panel is the only source of electricity. 
On July 28, life in this castaway Dalit-dominated village located in north Bihar's Darbhanga district got worse. That day Kamala Balan, a spitfire monsoon river from Nepal, drilled a gaping football field-sized hole in a 55-year-old embankment built to shield nearby areas from flooding. Poised at hand-shaking distance on the other side of the giant mud wall, Devna was taken at the flood. Homes vanished, so did crops — all submerged under the relentless rush of water. Even tubewells were overrun. For a few days, village folks say, they drank muddy water.
Even now, exactly 100 days later, the village can only be accessed either by boat or by wading knee-deep in water. Diarrhoea stalks the hamlet. Most people in Devna and nearby villages live on a single meal of boiled coarse rice. 
But nature's unkind turn has also created a crisis of livelihood in the region. When the water receded, the silt it left behind changed the nature of the alluvial soil now unfit to grow the preferred crops: rice, wheat and pulses. 
Before the flood, most villagers worked either as bataidars (share croppers) or daily wage labourers. But after the flood, the alluvial soil is now buried under a three-feet bed of shiny, grey sand. "This is like a wasteland. What do I do now?," asks Asharfi Sadai helplessly. Fellow Dalit, Pawan Sadai, has worked several years as a labourer in Punjab's Amritsar district. He wants to go back. But the flood has hurt his finances. "Where's the money to buy a train ticket?" he asks. 
Devna is home to 150 families of Musahars, traditionally rat-catchers. Dalit villages are often worst hit by the floods because they are usually located in the forsaken, low-lying areas. And Devna's Musahari Tola is no exception. Submerged under water for several weeks, every thatched roof of Devna needs to be replaced. But in a place where even getting one meal per day is a problem, that's nobody's priority. 
It is the same story in Kathara, a village of Muslims and Dalits. The village's community centre-cum-flood shelter has a raised platform that doubles up as a helipad. But no helicopter came with flood supplies. "We waded kilometres through water to get food. For eight days, we defecated in the water," says Mohammed Abbas.
Foodgrain prices have shot up after the flood. The price of rice has gone up from Rs 11 to Rs 16 per kg. Wheat sells for Rs 15 per kg; before the flood it cost Rs 10.
Villagers say that government relief has been restricted to offering 25 kg of wheat and Rs 200 per family. During the flood, NGOs such as Bihar Sewa Samiti and Oxfam chipped in with relief offering food packets, temporary shelter and sanitation, and providing clean drinking water.
But now over three months later, the larger problem of rehabilitation looms. Both NGO workers as well as villagers say that it is imperative to shift to growing vegetables, fruits and nuts such as pointed gourd (parwal), watermelon and groundnuts which suit the new sandy soil. 
Mani Kumar, Oxfam, programme coordinator, says there are plans to affect agriculture recovery by offering appropriate seeds and begin 40 days cash-for-work programme. "We are working out the kind of activities — road building, irrigation or something else — that is best suited for the villages," he says. 
But the truth remains that the floods have been far and wide whereas the NGOs have limited reach. According to latest National Disaster Management Agency figures, at least 24.5 million have been affected in 22 districts of Bihar by the floods this year. 
Damages of crop, homes and public property are estimated at Rs 4,000 crore. It requires government intervention on a far larger scale than what is being witnessed right now. At least that's what the villagers of Devna and Kathara feel.
 
The Times Of India
UPCOMING BUDGET TRAINING
NEWSLETTER
DONATE
  
NCDHR, 8/1, South Patel Nagar, Second Floor, New Delhi - 110 008, INDIA.
Phone: +91 - 11 - 25842249, E-mail: info@ncdhr.org.in
Designed and managed under EkDuniya initiative of OneWorld
Personal tools