It was almost 10 days or more ago that Radhey my auto rickshaw driver informed me in a matter fact way that a barrage had breached in Nepal and that floods in his village were imminent. It was just a matter of days. I could not at that time fathom the magnitude of the disaster in waiting. Every morning in a matter of fact way I would enquire about the flood and he would answer that the waters were coming. I must admit I did not see the urgency. How could I. Even the press did not report much. By the time India woke up it was very late: over 3 million people had been rendered homeless, a major river had changes its course, villages had been swept away, lovingly built homes obliterated from the face of the earth.
In a popular TV debate aired a few days back the anchor asked the disturbing and startling question: Does India care about Bihar? And the uncomfortable answer that made us squirm in our chairs was: No! Bihar simply seems to have fallen off the map. We just want to wish it away. The news from the ground gets grimmer by the day and no respite is in the offing. The figures are alarming millions of people have lost their homes and livelihood.
Almost every year Bihar suffers the fury of floods. Some years are worse than the other and lead to large scale migration. It was in 1985 that Radhey fled his village and came to Delhi to build a new life. Like many others he sent money regularly to his village to repair the house, build a new one, buy the much needed farm implement. Today everything is gone. The members of his family have fled the raging waters and taken shelter with relatives. Some have even come all the way to Delhi and will swell the ranks of the staggering migratory population of this choking city. Many pwhy children’s families have similar stories. What is saddening and infuriating is the calm with which they share their plight, as if they too have given up.
It took a long while for India to waken up, or has it really as in spite of the magnitude of the calamity there is no palpable urgency: no dramatic headlines, no continuous coverage… It is as if floods in Bihar are regular occurrences. Bihar once a vibrant state of India, the seat of the Maghadh Empire, of Licchavi the first known republic, of Buddhism the religion of tolerance is today neglected and derided. It is today equated to corruption, hooliganism, gang and caste wars and considered an aberration. Yet it is home to millions of people who bravely fight all odds.
The picture you see dropped in my inbox with an appeal for help.It took me some time to figure out that what looked like a mosaic pattern where actually people left stranded on a washed away road. Imagine the number of children who today instead of setting out for school are living in the open, hungry and wondering where all their dreams have fled. Imagine the number of people deprived of all the facilities we take for granted: water, food. medicine, shelter. Imagine the pain of seeing your life come to naught. Where does one pluck the courage to begin all over again.
Have we given up on Bihar. I do not know. All I know is the contempt with which the word Bihari is used. All I know is the baffled look on people’s faces when I tell them I too am a Bihari. All I know is that today I feel the need to reach out to those in need, casting aside the cliches and commonplace utterances one will be subjected to. Yes we know of the corruption that is rampant during all relief operations but does that absolve us of the duty to do something. Certainly not. As with the tsunami we will wait a little and when the initial wave of help dies down we will try and see how we can help some children reclaim their lost dreams.