Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

Assam Floods 2022: The Water May Dry, But The Tears Won't

Tragic accounts of children and youth who have lost their lives in the ongoing deluge.

Men walking on bamboo shoots amid a rising flood level in Assam.
Men walking on bamboo shoots amid a rising flood level in Assam. PTI

Since June 22, 22-year-old Rukeya Khatun and her family members have been living alongside a railway track in Tokoudubi village of Kampur sub-division in Nagaon district. A makeshift tarpaulin hut built by Rukeya’s husband Ibrahim Ali has become their home, located a few metres away from the original house situated below the tracks. On June 16, the waters of the Kopili River nearby started rising and had reached the tin roof of Rukeya’s house. It was her first experience of the flood after marriage. On June 24, when Rukeya was cooking a meal for the family, her two-and-a-half-year-old son Abdul Raihan slipped and fell into the water below the tracks. Some villagers saw the boy getting washed away and managed to pull him out, rushing him to a health relief camp where the doctors tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late.

“It was just a matter of a few seconds. We were being extra careful since we have been living alongside the railway tracks. We didn’t see how he crawled out of the hut and slipped into the water”, says Sumeria Khatun, Rukeya's sister. Rukeya didn’t want to talk about the tragedy.

Mukesh Ali, 50, in the nearby Ahomgaon, shows Outlook a passport-size photo of Abdul Sharif, his son. On the rainy morning of May 20, the 22-year-old had gone to the wetland in the backyard to catch fish. He never returned. “We didn’t know my son had gone out fishing, till a little boy from the neighbourhood came running to our house and said he had seen Sharif falling into the water. When we ran to the wetland, we saw his slippers kept on the side and started searching for him using fish nets. Slowly his mobile phone, some currency and his vest were caught in the net. After that, we informed the NDRF. They came with boats and recovered the body from the same spot,” Mukesh narrates.

Catching fish during the rains and selling it to the local market of Kampur is normal practice, says Ali. Sharif had been catching fish in the wetland for many years now. According to Ali, Sharif must have misjudged the high current and slipped into a hole. Ali’s wife, meanwhile, was seen searching for more photos of Sharif inside a suitcase that the family uses to keep documents like identity cards, land documents, voter cards, etc. Sharif was the eldest of three sons.

Since May, at least 10 people lost lives in Kampur after the devastating flood from the Kopili, Nishari and Barpani rivers. As of Saturday (July 2), flood water inundated a total of 238 villages in five revenue circles of Kampur— Kaliabor, Raha, Samaguri and Rupahi in the Nagaon district. According to government data, around 3,79, 000 people are highly affected by floods since pre-monsoon rains hit the state.

Mayong is one of the five revenue circles marooned by floods in Morigaon district, located on the banks of The Brahmaputra, about 50 km away from Guwahati. Flood water ravaged at least 103 villages in Mayong, affecting around 800 people till Saturday. In Boramari village at Bhuragaon revenue circle, Shamima Akhtara, 4, went to play in the backyard of her house with friends like she normally would. Her mother was inside the house, while her father Kasem Ali had gone to their paddy field to access the level of flood water. While playing Shamima, slipped into the flood water, and the high current pushed her to a nearby pond. “Someone in the village, who was passing through our house, informed us that the body of a child was found in the pond. I ran to the location and saw that it was my own daughter. I recovered her body and took it to the Morigaon civil hospital, where she was declared dead,” recalls Ali.

Morigaon district is one of the worst affected areas by the floods. Every year, the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries take away hectares of land forcing thousands to live on embankments and on the side of National Highway 37. As of Saturday, waters from the Kopili, Kolong and Umiam rivers have submerged a total of 310 villages that collectively have a population of 1,73,849. Among them, 38,029 are children.

In the Barpeta district, the five rivers—Brahmaputra, Beki, Aai, Nakhanda, Marachowlkhowa and Bhelengi—have been in a calamitous mood for the past month. A total of 317 villages in the revenue circles of Barpeta, Baghbar, Kalgachia, Chenga and Sarthebari, have been inundated by massive floods, affecting over 2.2 lakh people. In Sundaridiya village, located in another district of Barpeta, 13-year-old Jyotirmoy Das had stayed at home as schools were closed due to the massive flooding. The meritorious student would take time off his studies to help his mother with household chores. On June 24, a Class 8 student of R.T. Model School went outside the house in the morning. When he did not return till the evening, his parents started searching for him. When they couldn’t find him, they called up the NDRF. Jyotirmoy’s body was found floating a few metres away from the house.

Gajibur Ali’s 12-year-old son Mooran went missing on June 17. His village Rampur under Kalgachia revenue circle in the district was inundated by flood water from the Beki River, a tributary of Brahmaputra. According to locals, Ali had gone out of the house to check the level of flood water after the incessant rain had submerged many houses in the village.

“When he did not return till the evening, we started searching for him. Dividing ourselves into groups, we started announcing his disappearance on microphones in the nearby areas. The next morning, Mooran’s body was found near the river bank, stuck in the mud. The heavy rain has brought disaster upon us. We have been very careful with our children since the incident,” says Matiur Ali, a neighbour.

Situated 16 km away from the district headquarters of Kalgachia in Barpeta district, is the village of Bankabhanga which gets inundated in every flood. Like many locals, Abdul Maleque’s house was half-submerged in the flood water. On June 21, Maleque and his wife Mamtaz Begum had kept their one-and-a-half-year-old son Shakibul Hassan on a bed for around 20 minutes as the water level inside the house had stayed at 2ft. They had gone to the next room, a makeshift kitchen, to prepare khichdi for lunch. When they returned, the child was nowhere to be found.

After searching for quite some time in the water inside and in the areas around the house, Hassan’s body was found in the front yard. “Almost all the houses in our village were under water. While many locals took shelter in relief camps, others chose to stay in their own houses to keep an eye on their belongings. Also, it is difficult for people with children to stay at relief camps as they need to share a room with lots of people. The children get annoyed and need to be fed frequently. Maleque and his family had been living in the flooded house for the past one week before they lost their child,” says Abdul Rahim, a neighbour.

The above stories are a few of the thousands of tragedies that have befallen Assam which continues to reel under flood. Out of the 35 districts, 27 districts are still hit by flood leaving a population of 22,17,778 still at risk.

At the time of publishing this report online, a total of 153 people had lost their lives in the Assam floods.