Spinning Action into Words

Travails of a ‘floating’ population

By Priya Khandelwal, Darbhanga

Mansara Musahar is a village, in Gaura Bairam area of Kiratpur panchayat, about 75 km from Darbhanga district headquarters.  This area is the confluence of three major rivers in this part of eastern Bihar, Kamla,Gehuan and the dreaded Kosi, historically known as being relentless, merciless as its flood fury swallows up land and living beings.

Living in extreme poverty, people earn a living by working on farms of bigger landlords or as daily wage casual laborers. Access to education or health is poor and the community, largely dalit, has a difficult existence keeping body and soul together.  To add to their misery, being a flood-affected zone, life itself is compromised with the waters disrupting the flow of activities and events that mark the life of a community, a region.  Being vulnerable to natural calamities is unsettling, unnerving to say the least, What is probably worse is dealing with the fall-out of systems and arrangements put in place by the government. This land looks forlorn, like a forgotten part of the country. 

Rajendra Prasad and his wife Rathia Devi, part of the ‘Musahar’ community, which figures in the extremely backward communities of ‘Mahadalits’ identified by Nitish Kumar’s government- speak about the futility of listing out their problems to ‘anyone with a notebook’, a euphemism for government officials.  The speed and the impact of the gushing waters is such that the villagers sometimes do not have time to react, to collect their things, to take charge of others in the family.  Laments Rajendra Prasad, “We live in constant fear, panic… at any moment, we may be separated from our loved ones, our family members may suddenly be lost, untraceable in a land in the grip of floods.  We know deep in our hearts, that at any moment we may lose our life or that of our loved ones”. 

Leaving the fields where many from Mansara Musahar work as agricultural labourers, they would migrate to Jhaggaruan, some 2 km away to find work.

For the rest there is precious little choice. Kamla Devi says that once the waters start to come in, the village community, almost in unison moves towards the embankments, to live out their lives till the waters recede.  “When it rains incessantly, we cover ourselves with plastic and remain there, hungry and thirsty…” Those who do not have even the plastic sheets, get drenched over and over again. Why is no one asking any questions and confronting those who govern the place? According to Lalpari Devi, “No one comes to give us relief at the time of floods.”

There are others, common citizens who come from more ‘privileged’ backgrounds, moved to action by the plight.  Manas Bihari Varma, a scientist at the Agricultural department cooked and served khichdi and chokha, a nourishing pancake of lentils to the flood victims for 15 days. He also distributed blankets and some clothes. While the spirit is commendable, the effort too, does it absolve the government from taking up the cause of the people of Mansara Musahar who for no fault of theirs are rendered homeless, hungry, helpless and pushed to the brink for days and days during the monsoons.  Can we expect someone there to heed this plight, to take urgent and corrective action?  

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