[Water has receded from high altitudes, but it has logged in low lying villages in Amour, Baisa, Baisi, Joki Hat and Raniganj blocks of Purnea and Araria districts.]
Over the past one week, the flood has wrecked havoc in the Seemanchal region of Bihar. Hundreds of lives have been lost, livestock and properties swept away, houses collapsed.
The exact figure of deaths cannot be given. Many newspapers put the death toll today at 119. Some say 200 people are feared dead, few hundred are trapped. It is estimated that over thousand people are drowned dead. With water receding, dead bodies have started surfacing in different places. According to recent estimates, about one crore people have been directly affected.
Both road and rail transportation facilities are snapped off. Trains passing through the region have been cancelled till 20th of August. It might still take even some more days to resume railway services.
There is a complete breakdown of mobile and other telecommunication networks. The traffic is interrupted. Electric polls are broken and power supply stopped. Although some of these are being put back to use, it might take a month or so to restore the facilities in far off villages. People of the region living outside the State are still unable to talk to their families, friends and relatives. With false, base-less stories, rumour-mongers are further adding to their woes.
Water has receded from high altitudes, but it has logged in low lying villages in Amour, Baisa, Baisi, Joki Hat and Raniganj blocks of Purnea and Araria districts.
The loss caused cannot be gauged at present. No data of fatalities is available. As food grains and edibles, home-grown legumes have either been washed away or rotten and wasted, there is fear of people dying due to hunger. The price of essential commodities has shot up.
With tube-wells, the biggest and in many cases the only source of drinking water, having drowned, safe drinking water is a major crisis. There is an acute unavailability of potable water. Water-borne diseases have started knocking at the doors. Children, infirm and elderly people are most susceptible to various diseases. Nothing can stop rapid spread of epidemics if life-saving medicines are not made available and other precautionary steps not taken on a large scale.
People are crying for help. There is a seething anger and disappointment among them at the same time. Their outburst with the area’s most public representatives is understandable and justified.
Nature’s fury or human negligence
Human beings have no control over natural calamities and open disasters but the big question is: Is the Seemanchal flood a curse of the nature or the result of the callous attitude of the government and public representatives?
Flood is the biggest problem of Seemanchal. But 70 years after Independence nothing concrete has been done to address it. In one of my previous articles I had raised this issue. We even called few meetings and invited Seemanchal’s Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly. Except one MP and one former MLA, none turned up. Their callousness and apathy to such a serious issue makes one wonder: Shouldn’t they be questioned, held responsible and made accountable for the sorry status of Seemanchal today?
Seemanchal is one area of India which has the lowest literacy rate. The education system, with the poorest and most unqualified teachers in government-run schools and madrasas, shows no promise of any improvement soon. It is because of this that parents willing to provide good education to their children send them outside the State. Health facility is pathetic. The financial condition of people is probably the worst in the country. There is neither any industry nor any plans to set up any which forces the youth to migrate in large numbers to other states and even outside India in search of jobs and livelihood.
On 19 April, 2017, I along with some other friends of Seemanchal, had a close interaction with two Members of Bihar Legislative Assembly in which discussion revolved around some of the most important challenges confronting the people of Seemachal. One of them was about tackling the flood.
In the meeting the issue was raised about cores of rupees given by World Bank to channel the water of Kosi ($225.1 million during 2010-2014, $162.8 million during 2007-2015 & another $250 million as part of an agreement signed on 20 January, 2016 for Bihar Kosi Development Project). These details can be found on the World Bank website and some news web portals. I had asked this, knowing that even most so-called well-informed people have no clue where this huge money, given to address the serious flood or flood related issue, is going to. I also inquired about the low prices of produce that the small farmers were getting while their harvest was ready. The answers to some of the questions were less than satisfactory.
In March 2017, Seemanchal Media Manch, a forum of journalists belonging to the Seemanchal region of Bihar and working and residing in Delhi and NCR convened an important meeting in Delhi and invited most of the MPs and MLAs but, to their utter surprise, only one of them showed up.
During the meeting author Kabiruddin Fauzan had raised another grave issue. He argued that Seemanchal was deliberately kept underdeveloped and that even the Muslim organizations which held their annual functions in the Muslim-dominated Purnea, Kishanganj and Araria districts, had neglected the area. A social activist had also rued the people’s lack of interest in taking social responsibilities stating that they approached leaders only when they needed personal help.
In some recent articles and social media posts some journalists have questioned the integrity of Muslim NGOs and civil society organizations which claim to work for Muslims. Their contention is that even after one week, hardly any of these organizations have come to people’s rescue. Their tall claims of being Muslims’ messiah stand exposed and defeated.
Most importantly, the role of both the state and central government which does not tire from shouting slogans of Sabka sath sabka vikas (With all, for the development of all) is teasing the people of Seemanchal on their faces. The slow and lukewarm response of the government to the urgent and immediate needs of people has blasted the credibility of its claim. The so-called national media’s coverage of this great national tragedy is a tragedy in itself.
Hope: The only mainstay
Seemanchal witnesses flood with regular intervals in which the houses built with the hard labour of sweat and blood are submerged and many of them need rebuilding and frequent renovation. Seeing this sorry status of the area I am reminded of this beautiful couplet of poet Parveen Shakir:
Ret abhi pichhle makanon ki na wapas aayi thi
Phir lab-e-sahil ghironda kar gaya t’amir kaun
(While the sands of the previous houses were yet to return/Who did again build another sandcastle at the seashore?)
The only power is the power of hope. It is now for the people of Seemanchal to either start their lives from scratch or hopelessly watch the drama of both the politicians and social activists as it unfolds.
[The writer is a Ph.D. student at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and hails from Purnea district of Seemanchal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]