Pateswari Kardong, 62, of Borbeel Mishing village near the Kaziranga National Park, says the Brahmaputra has a long running feud with her family. “The river has been chasing us, not letting us live in peace,” she says, as she cuts bamboo shoot for a curry, at a make-shift kitchen in the No 1 Hatikhuli Tea Estate Primary School compound.
For the past week, the school has been functioning as a relief camp for the region’s flood-affected.“Decades ago, our village of Bilotiya-gaon used to be on the banks of the Brahmaputra near Dhansirimukh. I grew up there, listening to stories about how the village in which my parents lived, further north of Dhansirimukh, was swallowed by the river after the great earthquake of 1950. In 1970, our village disappeared due to massive erosion caused by the Brahmaputra, prompting us to shift to Borbeel in 1971,” says Pateswari Kardong as her daughter-in-law Rina and grandson Gautam watch her cook.
Pateshwari’s family is among 248 people — 109 of them women — taking refuge at the tea estate school since July 6, after their village was inundated by the floodwaters. The houses of around 270 families of four adjoining villages — Borbeel Mishing-gaon, Seujipar, Bhuyangaon and Dolong-gara — have remained submerged since July 4. The inhabitants of Mishing-gaon were the last to evacuate, as their traditional houses are made of bamboo platforms raised about 10 feet from the ground.
On Thursday morning, Pateshwari’s husband, America Kardong, took a boat to survey the damage at their home, only to find that it was almost submerged to its roof, with a huge chunk of water-hyacinth threatening to push it away with the water flow.
“I wonder what has happened to our belongings. We could not bring anything much with us as we jumped into a boat last Thursday, when the water-level was rising dangerously. I had left behind two steel trunks full of clothes, my loom, and most of our utensils,” Pateswari says. Also read: Annual scourge, with no sign of solution in over seven decades. Click here.
While the current wave of floods have so far affected over 17 lakh people in 24 districts, there are over 41,000 families across the state who have been rendered landless because of the erosion caused by the Brahmaputra since 1950. According to official statistics, the river has taken away about 4.27 lakh hectares of land — which housed over 500 villages apart from cultivable land — since the great earthquake of 1950 raised its bed and changed its course.
The receding of floodwaters, however, will not bring an end to the troubles of the 270 families in these four Kaziranga villages. “Our villages have been included in the second addition of the Kaziranga National Park, and we have been served with an eviction notice so as to make more room for rhinos and tigers. While the eviction notice was served in 2006, we are still not sure where to shift,” says Indreswar Kutum, another resident of Borbeel Mishing-gaon at the camp.
248 persons, one toilet
Life in the relief camps across Assam has been a struggle. At the Hatikhuli primary school, for instance, there is only one toilet for 248 people, compelling most of them to defecate in the open. “The school has two toilet units, of which one has been locked because it belongs to the school students. The one that the teachers use has been opened for us. It is just not adequate. We have made two temporary toilet units with a kutcha pit behind it, so that at least the women and girls can go there,” says Suresh Kardong, who is lodged at the relief camp.