No Diwali festivities in flood-hit terai region of Uttar Pradesh
While the country prepares to celebrate Diwali, floods in Uttar Pradesh throw a damper on the works in the terai region with thousands of rural families finding themselves homeless and dependent on food relief from the government. Gaon Connection’s ground report from the villages in Gonda, Barabanki, and Bahraich districts.
Ashish Anand 21 Oct 2022 5:42 PM GMT
Barabanki/Bahraich/Gonda, Uttar Pradesh
Two days from now, on October 23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to kick-start Ayodhaya's Deepotsav in-person where an attempt will be made to set a world record by simultaneously lighting 1.6 million diyas (earthen lamps). This is the sixth edition of Deepotsav in Uttar Pradesh's holy city, which promises to be the grandest Diwali celebrations so far.
Not very far from Ayodhya, in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh, Diwali celebration is the last thought on the mind of 40-year-old Malti, who for the past one week or so, has been struggling to feed her three children.
Malti's thatched house in Baranpur Deepu village of Barabanki has been swept away in the flood waters and her family is living on a baandh (embankment). There's not even a single grain available with her to feed her kids, she said, as all the stored food grains were washed away in the extremely heavy rainfall of the October month.
"Bachche dinbhar kehte hain mummy khana, khana, khana… lekin hum kiske ghar jaayen mangne khana?" the helpless mother asked Gaon Connection. [The whole day children ask me for food, but from whose house should I get food]
"I try to distract my children from hunger by telling them stories but the hunger is getting intense and we are desperate. The Diwali festival this year is like rubbing salt to our injuries," Malti added. Her village is situated barely 60 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow.
When Gaon Connection visited Baranpur Deepu on October 13, apart from Malti, almost 300 people from her village were found living in makeshift tents made of tarpaulin sheets on the embankment. These people are amongst more than a million of rural residents in the state who are reeling from the displacement caused by the floods.
This year's monsoon brought misery to the people of Uttar Pradesh as throughout the four months of the monsoon season, from June to September, the state had deficient rainfall leading to drought conditions.
In sharp contrast, in the first two weeks of October, the state received extremely heavy rainfall leading to floods. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), between October 1 and October 10, Uttar Pradesh registered an excess rainfall by 683 per cent.
As per a press statement issued by the Revenue Department of the Uttar Pradesh government, a total of 11,79,000 people living in 1,528 villages across 17 districts are adversely affected by the floods in the state.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was quoted in a press release on October 12 that the floods in October were unprecedented.
"First time in the month of October we see such an unexpected flood. October is the season of harvesting and in this month crops have been destroyed. In this hard time, the government is with the sufferers and will provide all possible help. Tackling unexpected natural disasters is the government's top priority," he was quoted.
'Poor' flood relief work
Questions have been raised around poor flood-relief work in the state. In an attack on his party's government in Uttar Pradesh, BJP Member of Parliament from Kaiserganj Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said that people in areas affected by flooding following the recent rain in the state have been left "bhagwan bharose (to god's mercy)", and that he "never saw such poor preparations for flood control and relief".
The six-time MP added that he could not even express how he felt, for fear of being labelled "baaghi (rebel)".
Ram Saran, a 45-year-old resident of Niyamatpur Sikan village in Jarwal block of Bahraich said, "After being hungry for 24 hours, today I received ten puris from a relief centre for my family which has eight members. For this, I had to row a boat for six kilometres to the relief camp by boat," Saran told Gaon Connection.
"Kis tarah ki Diwali manayenge hum log, Ghar, Duwar, shaman, fasal sab dub gaya (What kind of Diwali we will celebrate – our home, utensils, crops were drowned in water)," Ramadhar, a 65-year-old resident of Tulsipur Manjha village in Nawabganj block of Gonda district, told Gaon Connection. " We have no food stocks and fodders for animals. The market is eight kilometres away, the only road which connects our village to the market is washed away and under two feet of water. By swimming, we manage to go to the market once a week to bring basic things like food grains and fodder," the villager added.
Government is claiming to provide relief kits packed with 10 kg rice, 10 kg wheat, 10 kg potato, 2 kg pulse, 2 kg roasted gram, 10 packets of biscuits, 1 kg jaggery, 5 kg fodder for animals and many other basic things to every flood-hit household.
Pawan Kumar, a resident of Manjha Rath village in Nawabganj, said he had to travel eight km one way — six km by boat and two km by foot — to access ration that was being distributed at the relief camp. Each family gets one packet containing 10 kg wheat, 10 kg rice, 10 kg potato and 2 kg pulse, he said.
"On October 17, after wasting the whole day I got one packet ration for the first time from the relief camp. I have a big family to feed, it will not last more than three days," said Pawan Kumar.
Poor sanitary conditions, crocodiles and snakes endanger lives
The October deluge has also deteriorated sanitation and hygiene which is leading to infections and disease. Asha Devi, a 35-year-old mother of three, told Gaon Connection that she herself, her husband and her kids are suffering from stomach aches and vomiting ever since flood water has entered her village Baranpur Deepu in Barabanki.
"The rotting flood water has entered underground. The hand pumps are giving out dirty water and we have no other source of drinking water available. Knowing fully well that this water will make us sick, we are forced to drink it. All my kids and my husband are down with fever, stomach pain and vomiting," she said.
Almost 100 kilometres from Barabanki, when Gaon Connection visited Bahraich district on October 17, flood-affected villagers said they were living under constant threat by crocodiles and snakes present in the flood waters in the villages.
"I am living on a tarpaulin with my family on a dam and yesterday a crocodile came very close to our tarpaulin. We are living in terror, in the night when everyone is sleeping someone in the family is guarding others. That's how we are surviving," Ram Saran from Niyamatpur Sikan village said.
Meanwhile, the state government claims flood relief works are underway. After conducting an aerial survey of the affected areas, the state chief minister said, "Government will give Rs 120,000 as compensation to those who lost their homes and Rs 18,000 per hectare to farmers whose crops got destroyed in the floods."
But, that may not be sufficient, complain flood-affected farmers. "Lots of debris comes with the flood, and once the water dries, our farm lands will take more than two months to get ready for farming, so there is no hope for rabi crops this year," said Pawan Kumar, a resident of Manjha Rath village
Market dull during the festival of lights
Festival season, especially Diwali, is the peak time for any business. But there is no hustle and bustle in the markets of flood-hit areas in Uttar Pradesh.
Nawabganj market in the Gonda district is deserted. Jewellery, footwear, and cloth shops, which used to be packed with customers during Diwali, have no buyers.
"This is an agriculture dominant area and our business is totally dependent on farmers. Their ready-to-harvest crops have been washed away in the flood and it will affect the business of the entire market including mine," Durgesh Kumar, a jeweller in the Nawabganj market, told Gaon Connection. "Diwali is the best time for business and we are hopeless because we barely have any customers in our shop. We are going through a huge loss this year," he added.
Rajkumari, another shopkeeper in Nawabganj district, said, "Roads which connect villages with the market are underwater and people are not coming out from the villages. I am not doing good business since the flood came and it's hard for me to run a family of three children," she complained.
"Like flood-hit villagers, our Diwali will also be a low-key affair. My kids are continuously asking if they will get new clothes on Diwali. And my reply to them is — it's in God's hand," the mother added.