Even natural calamities hurt the poor and vulnerable more than they do the rich and well connected. Dalits in the flood-affected areas are finding that they are last to be evacuated or given relief.
“The administration acts through mukhias and sarpanches who mostly belong to the forward castes and care more for their own kin and caste fellows,” said Gopal Rishideo, a Dalit in Gwalpada. “We have nothing. Even the snails we could have survived on have been carried away by the flood waters.”
“The boatmen demanded bribes to give us place in the rescue boats,” said Ram Naresh, Kumhar by caste. “Our lives meant little to them because we are poor.”
“It is as if we do not count,” said Kamal Kant, another Dalit and daily wage labourer. “ The well to do got away in boats when the first waves lashed our village. The boats never came back.”
While the rich have left, the poor in villages like Murliganj and Banmankhi in Supaul district are surviving by boiling leaves and drinking the concoction. There is no drinking water as all the wells are submerged.
Siddhi Ram who claims to have seen “several people drown while trying a crossing over a ditch to the overtopped highway”, said: “Ten days ago, when the first rescue boats came, we were denied a place in them,” said Siddhi Ram of Murliganj. “We have seen some boats in the area thereafter, but they never came back to our village.”
“These allegations are untrue,” said Keshav Kumar Singh, sub divisional officer at Banmankhi. “No one is being deliberately left behind.”
“There is no discrimination,” said Pratyay Amrit, disaster management department secretary in Patna. “We have sent out many communiqués emphasizing that all those affected should be treated equally. Nor have we received a single complaint.”
Meanwhile, oblivious to the sufferings of those still marooned, Industries Minister Dinesh Chandra Yadav, who is in charge of flood relief operations in Saharsa, has embarked on a relief camp inauguration spree, cutting ribbons with great fanfare. “Inaugurating a relief camp is a ridiculous idea,” observed Arun Kumar Sinha, a local activist. “It reflects the minister’s priorities.”