On a train from flooded Bihar - to new beginnings

September 4th, 2008 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) Two years ago, the waters claimed her husband. Now, with her two sons going missing in the raging floods that swept through her Bihar village, tragedy has again struck Madhu Devi - one of the many hundreds who found themselves on a crowded train to New Delhi escaping their watery hells. She got off the Vikramshila Express from Bhagalpur that chugged into the station Wednesday. Peering through the bars of the windows of the third-class sleeper coaches
were distressed eyes searching for a safe haven.

Madhu Devi stood confused on the platform, away from other flood victims who had accompanied her on the lone journey. This was not the first trip to New Delhi for the 48-year-old Madhubani artist, who had come earlier to sell her paintings at the Delhi Haat.

But she is lost, dazed into incomprehension by the flooding of the Kosi, known as the river of sorrow, that has once again washed away her dreams and her confidence in life. The family of four has been reduced to one.

Her two sons, aged 12 and 18, left home one day and didn’t return even hours after the river waters had flooded the village. Officials told her that they may not have survived.

“My sons are my reason for being. Without them I don’t know how I’ll survive. My life, my home, my means of livelihood are lost,” said Madhu Devi, clutching a small plastic bag with her few remaining possessions, some money and the address of a friend here.

“All is meaningless. Chances are that the Kosi waters have taken them for good but
I will not lose hope,” she said, dressed in a cotton sari she had been given at a relief camp. But she doesn’t know where.

She does remember the “happier times” though.

“I have come here before, I sold my paintings here at an exhibition at Dilli Haat a few years ago. Those were happier times.”

After waiting for two days at a relief camp when she was given the opportunity to get on board a train to Delhi, she embraced it.

“There is too much grief there, I don’t want to lose hope,” she repeated.

Even in her sorrow, Madhu Devi is looking at the larger picture.

“Floods wreak havoc in my district year after year. The only reason it is in the limelight is because of widespread devastation. That is why the government is finally paying attention but even now the boats are not enough, relief operations are poor.”

In the past few days, hundreds of victims like Madhu Devi have arrived here on the regular and special trains commissioned by the Indian Railways to rescue people from Bihar, where the Kosi has changed course flooding vast swathes of Bihar and affecting over 2.5 million people in 1,598 villages spread over 15 districts.

Most victims who have come here are women and children.

There are others too, like Rani Devi and her husband Manu from Madhepura district who have come with their grandchildren to start life afresh after the floods killed their son and daughter-in-law.

As she struggled to quieten the two children, a harried Rani Devi said: “The children don’t stop crying. They don’t realise their parents are no more. They are tired and probably sad when we cry. The younger one has been suffering from diarrhoea and we haven’t even been able to get him proper treatment.

“We worked on a farm there and now that everything is flooded we had to leave. So we came here; maybe we will work as labourers,” she contemplated.

Said Vinay Odhar, Action Aid coordinator from Bihar: “The inadequate livelihood camps and relief camps are forcing victims to migrate to safer places.”

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