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Wed, 17 Oct 2018

Northeast Today

Worst Flood Victims Demand Attention

Worst Flood Victims Demand Attention
October 15
13:07 2017

September Edition, Opinion, Jahidul Islam Khan

It is a known issue that even after being Assam’s lifeline, both the Brahmaputra and the Barak rivers are also responsible for bringing down immense miseries to the people of the state; especially to those who reside in the char areas. Apart from loss of numerous lives, the economy is also affected by manifolds.

Gist About Chars

Flood is Assam’s worst nemesis and in the near future we do not see it allowing the state live in peace. Every year floods bring upon large scale miseries, affecting the state profoundly. The people living in the chars of both Brahmaputra and the Barak bear the brunt every monsoon. Also called as the valley areas, the chars in Assam occupy around 4.6 per cent of the total land area and about 9.37 per cent of Assam’s total population resides in these areas, occupying 4 to 5 per cent of Assam’s agricultural land. The population density of the char areas is around 700 persons per square kilometer.

Tales of Destruction

Every year, as the heavens pour down heavily and swamps the rivers of Assam, catastrophe falls upon the people living in the char areas. Not just are their farmlands destroyed, but lives- both humans and poultry- are lost in plenty. Their farmlands are eroded away, houses are swallowed in and life is put in peril.

Flood destroys the farmlands and kills their poultry on which their economy is strongly based on. But with this yearly destruction, the char people are unable to raise their economic conditions. According to the data shared by the Department of Water Resources, Assam, on average the damage incurred to char areas per year is around Rs 124 crore. The average erosion rate is about 8000 hectares per year. Such damages are affecting over 90,000 families spread across over 2500 villages.

With such large scale destruction, the education scenario in the char areas has suffered profoundly with only a handful of people getting the luxury of higher education as the dream of better education for most of the people ends at the elementary level itself. The authorities concerned, so far, have not initiated any proper measure to develop the education scenario of the char areas. And due to this lack of education, the youths of these areas are mostly unemployed and they are forced to take up petty jobs for earning their livelihood.

Identity Crisis

The populace of the char areas mostly belongs to the Bengali-speaking Muslim community and, in fact, in most cases they are identified as ‘illegal migrants from Bangladesh’- which, however, is not the absolute truth.

According to the Assam Accord, NRC must be issued to include all the inhabitants of Assam who came here on or before March 25, 1971. The process to update the NRC is still on. So, the people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, whether Bengali-speaking Hindus or Assamese-speaking Hindus, whether they are char-dwellers or the general public, anyone who or whose forefathers came to Assam on or before March 25,1971, are the citizens of India as per the  clauses of the Assam Accord. Partly due to their ignorance and mostly due to their lack of education, these people are not able to produce proper documents that can staple their identity as ‘legal’. And the documents, which are available with them, has different spellings for their names and this has led them to be labeled as ‘D citizens’ or ‘D voters’; creating complete chaos.

Tales of Apathy

As the over flowing Brahmaputra encroach their homes, the people from the char areas are forced to leave their birth place(s) for greener pastures. While some are forced to live alongside the public roads, some on the other hand migrate to different cities of the Northeast. To earn a ‘decent’ living, these people are forced to take up petty jobs and due to the linguistic difference that they have with others, these char people on many occasions are harassed by different quarters. Even though the Brahmaputra or the Barak or any other river of the state are considered as the lifeline of the society, but for the char people these rivers are more of a bane than being a boon.

In Search of Hope

Destruction caused to the char areas by the overflowing rivers of the state is not new. So far, no concrete step has been initiated by the past governments to mitigate this. Prior to the Assembly polls in 2016, the then Chief Minister designate Sarbananda Sonowal had promised to initiate steps for mitigating flood and erosion problem with which the char people have been fighting since ages. Even though a year has passed, Chief Minister Sonowal, however, is yet to put his words into action. Apart from news about dredging of the Brahmaputra, nothing concrete seems to be lying on the cards. How far dredging will be possible and how it will mitigate the erosion of char areas is another question whose answer is not yet clear.

 (The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of English at Uttar Barpeta College)

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