Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bihar Flood Victims Hungry


By Manuwant Choudhary

Hunger forces flood victims in Bihar to block national highways leading to the capital Bihar, perhaps their only way to get their voices heard.
This is a first hand report of the plight of Bihar’s flood victims as fresh areas are flooded.
I was driving from my home in north Bihar to Patna and I personally witnessed eight road blockades within ten kilometers from Muzaffarpur to village Turkey, and initially there was no sign of the local police or administration.
Protestors said there was no way I would get to Patna today and being a journalist one is not used to taking a safe route I decided come what may I might as well experience not so much the misery of the flood victims but at least that of a traveler in flooded Bihar.
In todays Bihar the only way to get the government into action is not to call the politician or the police but the media and considering I myself was a TV reporter my first instinct was that this is national news and so I got the flash on all the news channels.
In 40 minutes a local Senior Divisional Officer accompanied by policemen arrived and got on with his job to clear the road.
He succeeded in clearing the first blockade within 5 minutes but then there was another blockade, then another, then another…
Hundreds of women blocked the road at the fifth blockade..”Water is in our homes, cattle have been washed away..where do we live? Straw homes have been destroyed…we do not have anything left to eat,” said Sakli Devi of village Madhaul.
Said Shivji Singh to the Muzaffarpur SDO, “If we did not block the sahibs will not have come but I understand even you have come because its your job. You must have got a telephone call from the chief minister. Where were you for five days? For five days these people have had nothing to eat.”
On assurances of food another road block was cleared but at the sixth road block it was a nightmare as even cellphone signals were weak and there was no sign of any police…just angry mobs..even children carrying thick sticks and threatening private vehicles.
And one agitator suddenly takes a decision that all those going to pray to Shiva on a pilgrimage be given right of way…so suddenly shouts of “Bol Bum” filled the air as vehicles forced their way out. A few Maruti 800s and autos were physically lifted aside to make way for the Bol Bum vehicles. And every time a Bol Bum vehicle found their passage out of the jam they would thank Shiva together amidst shouts.
It felt like jungle raj (Rule of the Jungle)
But Shiva helped us too and finally the lone SDO arrived and began talks in ernest.
Barely half a km from this we could see even Shiva fails when it comes to floods…the Bol Bum vehicles were stuck in yet another blockade – the eigth one and no these protestors were more angry – they knew no God, only hunger.
I spotted a dhaba (highway eatery) and took my chance…had a good meal and joined the blockade again.
Even a heavy downpour did not deter the protestors. It felt like being on a road on the Arabian sea.
Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar says a 100 kilo foodgrains is being given to each flood victim but at least in Muzaffarpur there is no sign of his governance.
A ten km route took me more than 6 hours to cross but for once my patience did not run out.

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