Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Bihar visit report by Nikunj Pandey!

21 October 2008 went to Madhepur

I went from Saharsa our base camp to Madhepura on 21st October 2008. We had plan that we are going to start to provide help to inner areas by establishing a base camp in Madhepura district as all areas are highly affected there and there is nothing but water there. Well we reached there on time and people were waiting for us. There we met some people they all were local people some of them were politicians, social workers and government employees who wanted to help people by helping us. We greeted all of them and our head Sanjay sir took the lead. He knew most of them and I think that he knew that how we are going to make this effort of our possible. He is really good speaker I must say. We talked about AID India ‘s role in Saharsa and then discussed that what we can do here and how we are going to reach needy ones. Then we concluded that the room in which we were was not enough for our office and store house. Near those rooms there was a very big house. We planned to move in to that and some how agreed house proprietor for Rs. 2300 per month. We then went to have lunch. There after we planned to go to near by area. It is known as Sukhasan, link to this area was broken because the road to that village was destroyed. And there was newly born river between us and that area and the current of flowing water was really strong and the stream was really big one. We some how managed to reach the other shore through the machine boat. That was really scary as the boat was very overcrowded and it was hallooing all up and down. I some how managed to reach other shore and I was thankfully alive. We started moving ahead and I started noticing people trying to reach boat as this is only way to go out of the town for imp things of life. I also saw lots of water around that village well exactly that village was like some island , it was all surrounded by water. And the only way out was that only boat of government which had capacity of 20 people hardly. I saw some broken huts and some left part of it. Then I saw some thing really terrific. I saw half damaged house and water was running from inside of it. It was entirely destructed from inside water was running from inside of it. Nothing was left in that house. Newly formed river was running from behind of it. It was like that house was situated on bank of water. I went inside to take picture and then noticed small bridge like structure in way. It was fully broken and water was running all over it. This time I changed my mind and took picture from where I was standing. Sanjay ji called me from behind, he was standing on other side of field on road. We started for village to see the situation in village and to talk some villagers and to meet our volunteers. I talked to some villagers about the flood and the after effects. They said that in beginning government man came and gave bleaching powder to disinfect water of drinking but it hardly lasted for 1 weak and now they are drinking same bad water. One of the farmer showed me his field and mentioned that they had very good rice crop once but now it’s all gone. I saw lots of people especially old ones and children lying outside there house I enquired and learned that they all were suffering from one or another water born disease. We all then went to our volunteer’s house through which we were going to organise medical camp in this village and provide further relief facility. We talked to them and tried motivating them to serve there village and help in this situation. Then we took round around the village. This entire village was seriously looking like island in the sea. We then went back to shore of that river and waited for our boat. That boat was so overcrowded that if all people in boat sneeze altogether than boat for sure will get drowned. Well I wasn’t feeling much scared now because it’s bad to say but this evening view was sorrowfully beautiful. But this was my feeling for the evening. I am sure people out here struggling for there daily basic needs may not be feeling this evening that pleasant. But for them this evening would have been another end of grief full day and struggles of life.

22 October 2008

I some how managed to sleep last night on the same bed with two people as there were not any other option and Sanjay sir left when I was sleeping. He didn’t wake me up. Last night we first though to go in any local hotel for sleeping but then cancelled the idea. Well I woke up at 8:30 am. I became fresh but the though of going to the market for having our lunch really made me sick. It was like 2 km away from our office. And in morning for having breakfast walking the distance of more than 2 km was really impossible. Well me and Sahabuddin went to the market and searched for some bananas. We purchased bananas and went to have juice of Sattu( mixture of gram). We walked long distance to look for better market which could serve us good quality of sattu juice. We finally got one on the last corner of bazaar. We had our juice and started moving back. Then I went to get my long and peculiar stubble trimmed. I finally felt that I could also look like normal human being. We returned back and moved to our new flat which had three medium size room one kitchen and one hall, it was ideal for our office. Then I tied a cloth around my head and I was looking like Bollywood film dacoits. We cleaned entire flat our self. Then we put some sheets in our living room, where we planned that will be used for our meeting and sleeping. After some time we started receiving our members of meeting. Now some of them were recognisable. It was me who was supposed to conduct this meeting. I was nervous that how to develop good relationship with our new volunteers from villages. But then I though that this was very important for our office to have very good relationship with our volunteers. Also providing them better view of the role we wanted to play here.

“My name is Nikunj and I request all members to provide their introduction” I said. We started our meeting. I told every one about our organisation and its work going on inside various parts of entire country. I than told them about the role we played in Bihar with our base camp in Saharsa and also what kind of help we want to provide and are planning to provide in Madhepura fully. Then I turned to all local volunteers and said we won’t be able to do anything until we get help from local people. I described that they are better aware of local situation, they can help us in reaching to mass, and they can provide us more volunteers and leaders. I told we also need them to recognise affected people in this area. We also require them to find out local doctors (RMP- registered medical practitioner). They all nodded and I told them they have opportunity to serve their own people and poor ones will give them blessings from their heart. We discussed further about other things with them. We then discussed with them more about our medical camp we are planning to start. We then told them that we don’t have doctors and that’s why they have to find one registered medical practitioner in their village. We also mentioned our programme of distributing good clothes of different age group to needy people of village. For that we gave them forms where they have to fill details of family. They also need to bring group of volunteer who will come to our store of cloth and sort out clothes according to need of the particular family. Then we told them that we all are companion of each other and no one is nobody’s boss. So after pointing out main points of our meeting we mentioned that we are expecting truck from office of Saharsa and we need to unload our truck. After few minutes our truck was standing in front of our office. There were labours also with the truck but we had to intervene in loading. After filling three rooms with cartons of medicine, clothes, utensils and some other stuff materials we finally established our Madhepura office. It took night to get this done properly and after some time all of them left one by one. We prepared our room where we are going to sleep. It was looking good as from last two days we were trying to adjust here and there and now finally we got a good room to relax and do our stuff. Sahabuddin and Sunil were planning to go to have dinner but I had to make report. So they went to market for dinner and I requested to bring mine back to have it in our office. After they left I took bath and started writing main details and important things to be done next day. Next day I planned with Dileep and Kamleshvari ji about a trip to remote areas of village and affected zone. They said that they will bring bikes but we have to pay for petrol, I agreed as this was very good opportunity and I don’t know what they had in them or it was destiny that I immediately agreed. Dileep is local of Madhepura and is a social worker kind of person. He fights for right and prostate against wrong policies of government and acts against corruption of local government. But one can tell that he is poor. He is also unable to walk properly as some time before he met with an accident and got rode in his leg. He feels pain in each step but this never stopped him to serve society. During time of flood he some how travelled to main office and asked for providing boat. No one paid attention to him then he called his people and went with almost hundred students inside the office of district minister they broke some windows and abused, threatened officers. This time they had to agree and did what they were suppose to do them selves. They gave dileep a motor boat. Dileep told me that government of state and district got lots of boat from central govt. but they were lazy to use it even refusing to provide to locals for whom these boats were provided. Well Dileep told proudly that how he saved life of more than hundred people by rescuing people who were hanging from tree from poles and were dying on their roof. He also begged from door to door chapattis and dal from each house of unaffected areas and went to highly affected zone and inner areas. He remembers that when they reached to people who were hungry on their roof than they saw that lots of them were dead on their roof because of hunger. Even those who were alive were in shock and only could act from hand that they need food to eat. Dileep himself threw more than 30 dead bodies in water from roof. But this evil even caught this saviour. He still remembers that once while coming back in night from flood effected zone after distributing all food their boat‘s motor stopped and refused to start again after hundreds of trial. Than they tied their boat with a tree and stayed there for two and half days in their boat and some how repaired the motor and then returned home. And if talking about kamleshwari ji he must be around 65 or even more. He have grand children studying in college. But he is like machine he can still walk distance more than 3 or 4 times of average young man. He was in navy once he says but he left it and started serving society. He said he took part in freedom fighting from British. He is ex-headman of village but still is known as head. He mainly works for backward classes of Bihar and introduced to me one known as Musahar cast ( ST ). He is very active and man of words. I am surprised where ever he goes every one knows him. But you look at him and he looks all simple. He does yoga and have deep knowledge of political situation of India and also knows allot about the time of independence.

Well I was quite happy and excited about the things I am going to do tomorrow. I was thinking when suddenly Sahabuddin patted me from behind and said time to eat dinner. At least after two days I can sleep properly in light and fan without mosquitoes.

23 October 2008

Or companions or volunteers came on three bikes. I was getting ready when they entered. I packed my bag with water bottles, glucose, diary pen, camera biscuits and some food materials to eat on way. Well we left at 9:30 am and on way we picked up kamleshwari ji from his office. We stopped in main market to purchase some food. Then their some more volunteers joined us. We reached in Singheshvar govt. relief mega camp after a distance and I planned to visit it to see situation of peoples. I entered and talked to some people. There were lots of complains about the government officers and their help provided by them in relief camp to refugees. I went to some women and asked if they are getting proper basic facility in camp. They all reacted as If I asked someone in desert that if they have seen sea with beach here. They furiously started telling that care takers of this camp are rude and they don’t give them basic requirement properly. No proper food no cloth nothing. And now they are saying them to leave this camp and go back to their home. Then one woman came and said that she gave birth to a girl in this camp but she haven’t got any money which government promised. Scheme was to give born girl inside relief camp Rs. 11000 and to boys Rs. 10000 but she got nothing. Her baby was sick and she sold her own jewels for medicine and doctor fee to keep her baby alive. When I asked them whether this camp had doctor or not?! She said that doctor gave her new born baby tablets to eat as medicine. Do new born baby eat tablets as medicine she asked. I asked where are all care taker of this camp? I went there and met two government people. One was doctor and other was in-charge of that camp. They told me that approx 400 family reached here and total no. of people was 1800 during flood time. This camp started on 10 September 2008. He told me that till today there were 22 deliveries in camp. Then I asked him about people complaining against him. I asked about the woman and his children then he said it was not me and I didn’t give any medicine to any new born baby. Well then they both started telling that government is trying to centralise these camps spread all over so that they can start rehabilitation process. Then I said that they need to communicate this idea in positive manner to this entire people. They told me that some anti social people come from outside and frustrate all these people. Then when I started enquiring ahead then doctor said that he can’t tell more this makes him cry and he started wiping his eyes and pretended as very affected by the pain of people here. I hate such show off, one can tell easily that he is not crying. I turned to the crowed translated doctor and care takers exact words to them and insured them that no one could move them out of here until they want to go them self. I left that place and that doctor and caretaker wished me. I left that place and moved ahead on bike. I reached Beldore canal and started taking pictures. I reached to that broken part of Beldore canal from where moving ahead was difficult as there was a very huge newly formed river formed there and water started destroying the area after broking this canal from here. People told me that the place which is full of water now once was densely populated area. Then they told that people and animals died here in plenty. Dileep told me that he himself saved life from here too by boat. I was seeing the flow of water was so strong even after two month, what would have been the scene that time. At that time even army was afraid of riding boat here and there were lots cases of drowned boat. People out there told me that no one has reached other side as it is dangerous and quite difficult because this all was entirely submerged in water that time. And the situation there is that some part of land is covered by water and some are muddy and boggy area. People are having hard time here especially after reduced water levels. Because there are no roads and direct way and now some part of land is covered in water and some are muddy and to reach most of the houses you still need boat till their door. So area ahead from the place I was standing which is stretched about 25 to 30 km need help and people are dying to have basic necessities of life. But no one is listening and seems that no one wants to take headache of this. All NGO’s start from Delhi or other metropolitan city in full energy and enthusiasm to do relief work but journey and time that takes to reach Patna and from Patna to Saharsa seems takes energy out of them and kill their enthusiasm. That’s why I think that Ngo’s are not concerned that to whom or under whose guidance they give responsibility of poor and scheduled classes. I really don’t understand that why Ngo’s brings all kit and money and relief things and give it to local politician and government men to distribute it to affected people of flood who very urgently require it to survive. It’s like that they are giving keys to thief to take care of locker so no one can steal it. Where ever I went people said same line to me that sahib if you want to distribute or want to give something to Garib than please give it yourself on ground level, please don’t leave it to local leaders. As they only give it to their own area or where they are getting vote or there are lots of cases of selling the kits or discriminating from upper cast to lower cast or lots of other cases. And the style of Ngo’s is bring it and throw it as early as possible to any people. They don’t make effort of recognising the needy one or who require it most or reaching to the remote zone where they have got nothing. I feel that some Ngo’s are only working here for game of name and fame. They are easily getting trapped to clever politician and local leaders and follow their guidelines blindly and make less effort of visiting the real people to ask them what they need and whether kits provided by them is reaching to them or not.

Well have lots of things but need to move ahead with story. So after visiting broken Beldore canal I turned back and saw a railway track which was broken by water current. The railway track on which I was walking has lost his land below and went lost in current of water after some distance and again raising from water and joining other side of track. I mean that almost for 300 to 400 meter of railway track was bent and hanging on water and was half submerged in water like some bridge. I tried walking on it and thought if it could serve as bridge to reach other side. Then one told that lots people died here like this only when they were standing near this track, water took land under their foot and people fell in rushing water current and got lost for ever. I shivered and changed my mind of showing my bravery of walking on hanging railway Holt on new dangerous life taking river. I noticed that this place had lots of big trees and lots of huts and some half broken houses near water. Then one told that once this used to be most dense and biggest village of this area. And there is no idea still that how much are dead here. Stories after story of death and bad luck that how in a moment death snatch you from life was really haunting me and I was really making me feel uneasy by seeing the area and imagining that what happened when 10 feet of water entered here with speed of 60 -70 km/hr. those little children, tied animals and families sleeping they all died at once.

Now this is not disaster it’s even more than that. But our state government and central governments attitude was seriously sick from beginning. There are hundreds of unanswered question arises on government. Why it took time to announce this flood national disaster? Why people of those area were not informed even water took 3,4,5 days to reach from the broken dam there. Why the disaster management scheme of state is failing from day one of this disaster? Why the attitude of entire nation is so casual about Bihar’s situation? Why media is not actively showing the truth of ground? And why every one is thinking that flood and its effect are over when its going to spread more?

Yes, people are thinking that flood is over but reality is this that now its going to make most of it now. How? I visited the most effected area my self these days and planning to visit left one in coming days. But I noticed some things in common at all place. That water at many places has lost his strong current and in some areas new water bodies formed. But now water is here and there in form of new formed big water bodies. Even at some places water is out stretched to even 5 to 10 km without break and it’s not flowing any where. And this water is all dirty due to lots of dead bodies of animals, human’s and other decomposing material. This is causing lots of water born disease and I have seen people dying my self of Dirreah and many other diseases. Mosquitoes are in plenty here. Water is new for people out here and now listening news of death because of drowning or over crowded boat getting suddenly sink is common. I remember that I stayed for night during one of visits at some ones home. There day was all hot and sweaty but night turned out to be as cold as nights of December. I was shivering in very thick blanket in night I remember. I remember when we all were sleeping outside and coldness woke me up in midnight in full moon. I don’t know but that really scared me as what I saw when I suddenly opened my eyes was moon above a foggy and mist pond. It was so cold and I felt if moon looking at me with angry. I just can’t imagine that what will be situation in real winters because people don’t have warm cloth blanket money to purchase and no employment. It’s haunting true that misery of flood is not over and winter this time is for sure going to take life of people here specially of poor and backward classes as they are most affected and got none relief work. Yes. This is true. The very brutal truth that misery of Bihar flood area is not over yet. And it will be because of Bihar’s government attitude and specially because of us. We call our self very proudly server to humanity and society. But in Bihar humanity is going to cry all alone in this hope that some one is going to come. Its quite difficult to sense someone else pain when we are all happy and satisfied our life. Just for a moment forget what you are forget that you live in city forget everything. Think that you are very poor and someone has snatched all your means of living. And It’s winter Night, you are in very backward area of village. You are living in half broken house is surrounded by mud and half broken bamboo house is unable to stop chilly air coming from outside. You had one and only one thin blanket which is unable to protect all. You are trying to keep yourself warm some how but failure and you will be unable to sleep in this situation. This night can not be pass. This cold is very mischievous u try hard to shoo her away. But she slowly gets hold of you.

We were driving on up down track which was so slippery and dangerous. Actually we were driving on Beldore canal, track where people were living on both side of that 15 -20 feet wide way. They made small huts of sheet and bamboo. Here there was only some facility of food only which were being provided to them by some local Ngo. Leaving that they had nothing out there in those huts. All people of these huts were from nearby effected villages. They are here because there houses and villages are still in water. They still are afraid to go back to there villages due to water. Here in these camps life is even harder, some amount of credit goes to care taker of these camps and local politician who are trying to get best out of these flood. Flood killed many people, animals and destroyed a lot but some how I don’t know why that bad politics and politician survived. Here you medical camp and there doctors are forced to only treat those patients who are supporter of a particular political party. Here names of politician’s near ones are in priority for relief money and facilities. Family packages for affected people turned to be good way of making money. I don’t know whether you guys are awarded of list system or not but let me tell you that another relief work system is running according to it only. Even policies of Ngo’s like us is running in this list system. Now in this list system any relief material distributing body whether its government or Ngo gives responsibility to local politician or leader( aspiring politician ) to make list of affected and needy people for distributing there relief material. Now these politician or leader are like again mediator or bridge through which relief material reaches to affected person. We blindly close our eyes and follow on their way or informally saying that get rid of relief material by giving it to them for distributing it in their own way. I during my visit between actual affected people ( yes there are two types of people in affected zone affected and non affected who are trying there best to be affected ) I heard complains that they didn’t got there family package or politicians are asking for money for there packages or local politician are asking for there share in relief money they got and many more. Its foolishness to give relief material to such people. Because it will never reach to the needy ones. I saw my self some of the lists and there was not single name of schedule cast people. And priority names of list started from higher cast people. That’s how the situation is everywhere………………………

On Beldore canal there was no facility of sanitation. People were drinking same bad water and getting sick. There was no idea that when water will reduce and when they will be able to go back to there villages. And even if water reduced I don’t have idea that when again they will be able to irrigate their fields again. As every where around Beldore canal I was seeing water. And at some places water left sand in fields destroying its fertility. How people will survive after losing there only sources of livelihood lands for irrigation and their animals. Here we are seeing the actual face of government relief work. When first phase of relief work didn’t reach to needy ones then I think it’s difficult that coming facilities are going to reach to them. When local people went to government about complaining of that wrong people got the money of there part and when they asked for there right. Then the reply they got was like that they will get there money when the wrong people will return money.

After travelling for more than a distance of 20 km on that canal for more then 2 -3 hours we reached in a village which was not in water anymore. We stopped there to analyse the situation. I crossed newly made bamboo bridge after a bike as I wasn’t sure that whether I should take risk of crossing shivering bridge over river and off course this risk doubles when you don’t know to swim. Well I reached and walked in fields filled with sand as it is in banks of river. I reached village where sand didn’t left me alone and was here and there. We reached there and met headman. We met headman’s son in law who was here from another flood affected zone because his village is still in water. That’s how people survived in flood affected zone, they either migrated to camps running near and inside affected area or they moved to their relative’s house. I when started moving around town and took some pictures of destructed houses and all but now people started thinking that I am some one from government and later thought that I am reporter. They started dragging me to their houses for taking pictures. I really felt very bad at this, they told that I am first one visited this village after flood and to ask us about their situation. There was sickness in this village too. Well after taking lots of family photos and some real flood photos we moved back to our bikes. We started our bikes to reach a place known as Zamuha. This is famous as it is situated on bank of a river known as Sursar. Sursar is main stream of kosi. This was river was main career and main destructor when kosi got over flooded. Before I was thinking that there is only one destructed dam of kosi. But I learned when water level and raised then dam after dam, barrage after barrage gave up in front of water current. Water reached her because a dam on this stream of river started falling. Here I saw the current of water which was really very threatening and make you loose your confidence. River is still around 3 -4 times wider then it used to be before flood. Entire area stretched many kilometres around this river was totally washed off. Especially villages and town near were unrecognisable and you can’t tell this place ever was populated. Here sand has covered lands till 2-3 feet. No animal is left and lots of people died here and of course government is still working in paper but no sign of work on ground. In middle of this new river there was a village which was In front of flood water each and every animal died and half people were dead. Houses were totally destructed. People around are taking shelter in relief camp and for food medicine and cloths are depended on government man and politician’s mercy. After reaching this place by travelling on fields and very slippery narrow lanes, we some how reached there with bikes. I don’t know how people of this area manage with no transportation and all in this situation. We didn’t have food from morning and after doing visit and taking pictures one of our companion was of this town insisted to have meal at his home and I couldn’t resist that. After getting some energy again we started our journey again but now it was more dangerous as it was dark night and road was also affected. Well I was really enjoying this journey between fields in no man made light only pure blue light of moon and stars.

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