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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

In swirling waters, an anchor

For a whole month after the Kosi flooding, Arvind Kumar Singh, a farmer in Bihar’s Pama village, hosted over 2,000 villagers in his house

Written by Santosh Singh |
January 4, 2009 3:06:16 pm

For a whole month after the Kosi flooding, Arvind Kumar Singh, a farmer in Bihar’s Pama village, hosted over 2,000 villagers in his house
In Pama village of Bihar’s Saharsa district, two mothers named their newborn daughters Koshila in awe of Kosi, the river that fortuitously changed its course to flood their village and many others in August this year. Another baby was named Barhpeedit (flood affected). The Koshilas, Barhpeedit and over a dozen other children were born in the first week of September when the entire village hung on to prayers and little else. But through all this, the person who helped them stay afloat was Arvind Kumar Singh, a 45-year-old farmer who hosted and fed the flood-hit villagers for a month.

Four months after the flooding, Singh, who owns 15 bighas of fertile land in Pama, continues to be the patron-benefactor for over 2,000 people in the village.
It was only two months before the flood that Singh constructed his pucca house spread over 4,400 square feet. “A pleasant coincidence,” he says, because he had never imagined that he would play saviour to the villagers. In that hour of human misery, Singh’s house played host to rare mix of upper castes, OBCs, scheduled castes and Muslim families.

Over 80 per cent of the villagers’ houses were in low-lying areas and about 50 thatched houses caved in within four days of the flood. Most of them, unsure of what awaited them in government relief camps, did not want to leave their village either. They waited for the water to recede and for government help to come by. When nothing happened, Singh managed a small boat—the only boat in the village—and ferried the villagers home.

Four villagers, including an 18-year-old, lost their lives trying to escape the flood. The government did not count them as flood victims because, they said, there was no “proof” that they had drowned. The bodies were fished out later and Singh arranged for their cremation.

Days later, two more government boats came but they had no food packets. The villagers depended on Singh’s extended kitchen that would cook rice, daal and a vegetable. After a fortnight of Singh’s persistent demands, the administration sent four quintals of rice and pulses. But the stock soon ran out, leaving it to Singh to feed the villagers.

Mohammed Ishraful, a villager who spent those days in Singh’s house, says, “Singh showed humanity is the only religion. No leader and government servant has turned up so far. They only play the politics of caste and religion. Singh is our man of the moment”.

Suresh Sada belongs to the Mushahar caste, one of the most deprived and marginalised communities of Bihar. But Singh’s home had no space for caste biases.
“Singh sahib not only gave us food but equal status. We slept in similar beds and drank from the same water pump,” he says.

Grateful villagers say Singh ran out of his grain stock while feeding them but never mentioned it. Mothers of newborn babies—Bulbul, Shobha, Radha and Ranjana—are happy that Singh played guardian angel to their babies by giving them new clothes and looking after them. Nine of the children were delivered at Singh’s home. Singh ensured everything went off well—he called a doctor to attend to the babies. In September, he arranged for a team of doctors from Delhi University and some doctors from an NGO to visit their village. “All of us owe a lot to Singh sahib,” says Bulbul from behind her veil.

Singh, who looks self-effacing to a fault, says: “I could not have thought of hoarding my grain stock when villagers needed it the most. Now that’s the flood waters have receded, I am just happy that these people are getting on with their lives.”

Four months after the flooding, Singh continues to visit the Block Development Office and the District Magistrate’s Office to get villagers their relief package. He claims about 100 villagers are yet to get their package of Rs 2,250 and one quintal of grain each. “I have also applied for a grant of Rs 11,000 for newborn babies. But since these babies were not born in relief camps, they might not get it”. But Singh will keep trying.

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