Thursday, November 26, 2009

Notes from Bihar

Am feeling very mixed-up about the bihar visit. Next week will see me on my way to the Nowhere-land. Someone once said "Bihar was not a State, it was a state of mind" !

The last time i visited, I was very affected. I had a major bawling session after the 5-day visit to the horror of Suneet (with whom I travelled). The living conditions of "Musaharis" probably a major trigger to my bawling. Some of their houses were being 'reconstructed'. 6'x8' cells with 7' high ceilings. "replica" of their "old" houses built in wattle and mud. Concrete boxes, concrete cells. What goes on in the minds of people of rebuild? Surely they come with 'altruism', with a desire to set things right? Then how do we end-up with such outcomes? What rules do we follow inside our heads?

The floods themselves were of an unimaginable scale. Somehow it felt these peoples would never recover. Miles of land covered in sand. Fertile, productive land completely laid waste. Sources of the only livelihood totally destroyed. What will these people do? Lakhs of them. Homes - gone. Land - gone. Cattle - gone. Food stock - gone. Options - nil. So what happens to them? The men were slowly trickling aways to nearby towns and cities, in search for work. The women left fending for the young, old and themselves. Unbelievable burdens to carry. Silently. Maybe with no options, just starving away.

In some of the villages I saw many women carrying small babies. I had gone in November and the floods happened in August. And these villages were water-bound for more than a month. It meant many of these women must have delivered their babies during the floods. On rooftops, raining heavens, with the rest of the world looking on. Winter was next and they were out in the open. And the custom was to keep the mother and newborn, "outside" the house on a raised platform, open to the elements, with an imminent northern winter.

One can only imagine, what happens during a disaster.

The bureaucracy seemed as stunned as the people. Their records washed away. Disaster or avenues for more corruption? The local bureaucrat showed us water marks. Window-sill deep. All their furnitures had floated away. Along with the files. Somehow it seemed very symbolic. That the records of the fates of the people had floated away. They seemed as frustrated, confused and at wits-end as to what to do. 2 months of relief camps for lakhs and lakhs had drained their resources. People had nowhere to be and the relief camps were the only relief. It began to seem rather permanent. In panic the government began to dismantle the relief camps, forcing people to go back to their villages. The govt. pulled out, trying to figure out how rehabilitation could be done. The scale was daunting. This was no tsunami. This was no coastal India. This was the densely populated granary of India. With no land records and no landmarks, land distribution was going to be a nightmare. The mafia was moving in. The goons would begin to decide about the land, the bricks, the cement, the equipment. The contractors would become unofficial kings. Yes, it was beginning to look more and more difficult. The State's whine to the Centre was going unheard. Promises to houses like the Jayalalita-houses in TN were being demanded. Three and half lakhs houses of 2 and half lakhs each ? It seemed like a contractor's wet-dream. The cream was looking thicker and thicker. People would rather settle for the standard bamboo and mud houses. They needed shelter. Not mansions.

The coming months would see the impact of these floods. Scarcity of foodgrains, dals, vegetables, oilseeds .... will raise the prices sky high. Until people will only have the rise in prices of essential commodities to discuss and worry about. And while people are worrying in the rest of the country, what happens to the Biharis? Calcutta, Delhi are already over-run with them. The Marathi backlash at the in-pouring exodus was one way. But the cities will expand, groaning at the bursting-at-the-seams.

And a year later, I am going there again. The flood waters would have receded, though the river would still continue to flow the new course. Many of the immediate issues would have been dealt with. It is winter again. The fogs in Bihar would be rising as usual, blinding us to every path, every road, every pitfall.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely put. See the state of the state.

    caste, religion, professions...and so on... Bihar has too many kinds of prejudices and diversities budeled together... seriously, what most most projects lack is delivery of the stuff people would want for themselves, and more importantly how would they do it themselves. Including reconstructed houses. Letting people do these things has got its own risks - Socially polarized Altrusim...