This village on the Arabian Sea might literally fall off the map in a few years. The muddy seawater that lashes its beaches of black sand is steadily eating into the coast, forcing villagers to retreat inland every few years.
In Chhotidanti and 15 other villages of Valsad district on Gujarat’s southern tip live the machchimad (fishermen). For years, they have been asking for a stone wall that will protect them from the sea rushing in. But after successive state governments, all they have is a partial wall that protects only a part of the village from floods every monsoon when the sea swells considerably. The unprotected have to live in waist deep water inside their homes, else move temporarily to Valsad town, 20 km away.
Sitting BJP MLA Daulat Desai has won the Valsad seat three times and is said to be ahead of his Congress rival this time as well. AlthoughValsad is largely an urban constituency, the fishing community, also known as ‘Tandel’, comprise a major vote bank, the only ones to matter here apart from the Patels.
They may still vote for Desai, but there is a pronounced feeling of indifference towards the elections among these people. For the residents of Chhotidanti the sea is both the provider of livelihood and the annual source of sorrow. And though they have learnt to adjust — the first row of houses that face the sea are made of tin, which can rebuilt without much cost if destroyed — they want the government to take firm steps to put an end to their problems.
“The water comes in, sometimes only for a few hours, and destroys everything. The original village has long been submerged. It was located at least one kilometre ahead towards the sea. Now, the new village is also under attack,” said Chandriben, the woman sarpanch.
Mahesh Tandel teaches in a school in Valsad town and also manages the family’s fishing business. “Last year, the water went 2km inside the village. We have made repeated appeals to the local authorities. But the wall remains incomplete.”
Desai, however, is respected. Villagers agreed he got roads built connecting their villages to the city, ensured regular power supply and always extended aid during floods. But they also want permanent solutions.
Many have migrated abroad to earn enough to be able to shift their families out of the village. Hundreds like Dalsukhbhai Tandel have shifted to Kuwait and other Gulf countries. Dalsukh is in two minds about whether to vote. “I do not stay here now but keep hearing from my family about the problems they face. Will my vote ensure that their problems end,” he asked.
There is no guarantee.