Photographs from Dhubri & Gauripur by Khairul Islam
Floods which leave a trail of devastation have become almost an annual affair in Assam. This year it has left close to 40 people dead and more than lakhs displaced. Entire villages were submerged and people moved to temporary relief shelters. Schools often served as such shelters. The mayhem has not been limited to people alone, rather it took a toll on the wild life of the state as well. Kaziranga saw the death of animals like rhinos and deers due to lack of high land and no preventive measures taken by the forest department.
The response from Central government has been delayed as usual. While village after village were being lost to the mighty Brahmaputra, officials in Delhi were more concerned with the man made flood in Gurugram/Gurgaon – a result of just bad unplanned urbanization. Dirty effluents reaching the affluent and the expatriates are definitely Prime Time news worthy unlike the flood in Assam which is seen as a part of life of the people languishing in tents and relief camps. While the response of the state has been pathetic, it did see some initiative prior to the visit of Ministers and other high officials. This was at least the case in the relief camps in Dhubri where according to onlookers relief material in bulk was distributed only prior to the visit of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Flood affected areas also see a risk of breakout of diseases, hence making it imperative to ensure that medical teams render services to the relief camps. Dr Umar Faruque, the in-charge of Dhubri Mobile Medical Unit says that while medical teams have been deployed, the inadequate number of officials and large number of relief camps make it difficult to cover the entire area. Certain cases also need to be treated in proper hospitals but the flood situation makes it difficult to commute.
Amidst such situation, while the loss of property and cattle has left people pauperized, the state saw a quick visit of the Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The Minister did an aerial survey and visited a relief camp in Jagiroad made specially for the purpose of his visit a day before. At an embarrassing turn of events, local news channels showed how people in the relief camp were being trained to answer questions and the entire episode seemed like a sham. The comparatively better situation of the camp conveniently hid the plight of those languishing in close to nine hundred relief camps.
Amidst this crisis, the officials have further proved their apathy by creating official reports which do not reflect the genuine condition of the flood affected people. When a two year old photograph of Bangladesh flood is used and circulated by newspapers, one is left wondering about the commitment or lack of it in officials. Are flood reports prepared only in AC rooms with the help of google images? The incident saw some quick suspensions but the rot of official apathy runs much deeper.
Along with villages even towns and urban areas suffered, as unplanned drainage system ensured that the town areas remain submerged. Parts of the Dhubri town on the bank of Brahmaputra continue to be under water. Laments Momina, who works as a cook in some households, their home is submerged and they are forced to stay in Jawahar Hind School. But she had to leave the old mother in law back home to look after the empty house. As relief camps are being shut down, Momina along with other families is being forced to go back home. The areas near Dhubri railway tracks are also submerged forcing the people to live on the tracks on makeshift tents. According to Mala Dey who is staying on the tracks along with her family, the relief provided by government was not enough. And their house is still not fit for living as the low lying area is still under water.
Floods leave behind a trail of devastation. Displacement is massive. Like every year the state loses a large tract of land to erosion. But most aspects of the issue finds no place in national media. Rajnath Singh’s decision to not declare the situation a National Calamity further ensured that national media will continue to turn a blind eye to this disaster. However this conspicuous absence is nothing new. The Northeastern region hardly figures in the mainstream media and when it does, it is mostly for the wrong reasons. Senior Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has famously described the “Tyranny of Distance” as the reason for the electronic media’s neglect of the Northeast. Pushing the region to the fringes is nothing new. But nothing can justify this persistent undermining of a national disaster. The apathy of the media forces one to wonder about the agenda behind such biased reporting. With the waning of secessionist movements in the region, the need to legitimize Army has declined. Can this explain such lukewarm handling of the Assam floods?
The region has always felt marginalized and complained of a step motherly treatment from the centre. People from this region living in other states are constantly subjected to racially instigated hate crimes. The idea of who is an Indian continues to be a narrow one. In such a scenario, the dismissal of such a crisis and lack of concern on the part of national media as well as central government sends a very wrong message. The nation does not care about what happens beyond the chicken neck corridor. Their concern ends at Bengal. Shaping public opinion in favour of the victims would have made the region feel a little less alienated.
Both the government and the national(ist) media have conveniently downplayed the seriousness of the situation. Some border areas where the loss has been worse have received meagre support from the government. But the concern of TRPs for corporate backed mainstream media pushes such stories to the back burner. While people continue to suffer from the aftermath of the floods with disease and hygiene problems, the media has already moved on to the next big story.