River Erosion that Changed Our Lives

The victims of river erosion have been forced time and again, to stand up against the ugly faces of civilization. Environmental refugees, as they should rightly be called, lead a totally miserable life. They have been displaced time and again, lost all their belongings time and again, schools and edu cational instions were engulfed by the river time and again. The process continued for more than forty years.

Nearly 1,50,000 people were forced to live in so called 'chars' devoid of minimum basic rquirements for life. Those who remained in the other bank after retreating away from the river were also forced to live like primitive animate beings. A whole generation was born in this areas who had no ray of hope in front of them. Devoid of basic necessitie and living in unimaginable distress, desparacy to get out of the situation lead to the rise of crime in this area. Social violence, woman trafficking, burglery etc. were prevelent. Gradually, forced under socio-economic conditions prevailing in this area, a large part of the dwellers got involved in various social crimes. The most alarming fact is that, living in the chars devoid of basic requirements for long, a feeling of being deprived occupies their mind all the time and it may lead to separatist movement if the government fails to act seriously.

The Most affected characters in this tragedy are women and children. Women, because of their lower gendered identity and children because of their age vulnerability. In absence of their migrant men folk, most of the women have to eke out their livelihood, to look after the children, aged and ability impaired members of their families. They have learned to roll 'bidis' (country cigarettes) in which, children too contribute their labor. 'Bidi' rolling has definite occupational hazards such as severe pain on the back and in the lower abdomen and tuberculosis in lungs. Younger women, as young as of 14 to 15 years, are married off to unknown elderly men coming from the remote country sides of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Panjab. After 'marriage' what happens to them remains as mystery. Either they are put into flesh trade, or, work as bonded laborers/mistresses in the farm house of rich farmers of these states - sporadic rescue operations seldom reveals the reality! Quite frequently men come back from cities with little money and STD and HIV/AIDS; and transmit the diseases to their unaware spouses!

Malda and Murshidabad are arsenic endemic areas. Women are more susceptible to arsenic poisoning because of their low nutritional status compared to that of their male counter parts. Arsenic syndrome with skin lesions on palm and feet cause at times social desertion of women on the pretext of carrying unknown sexual diseases. Arsenic in drinking water causes abortion in early pregnancy, which very often goes unrecorded. Men often fall prey to 'anti-social' earnings and land up in jails, leaving women with unbound family responsibilities. Inter country smuggling of essential provisions, arms, drugs and women and children between Bangladesh and Malda, Murshidabad and Chars has become a lucrative livelihood option for the landless and jobless young men of the area after the extensive erosion. Women with all the given counter forces, live with tremendous mental stress which deeply affects their general health. Children are thoroughly deprived of their basic human right to grow with safety certainty and care.

The international border between India and Bangladesh, according to the Pritam Singh Committee Report, was ironically, fixed along the mid-stream of Ganga. Every year, after the flood, erosion and silt deposition, the line is re-demarcated by the joint efforts of the two countries. However the Committee could not recommend any alternative on the issue of the flowing 'border' between West Bengal and then Bihar, (the southern part of the state re-framed as Jharkhand since 2000).The issue was referred to the Survey of India in 1982, and, the then Director General of the Survey of India passed his verdict, that the land mass had been formed on the western stream of Ganga, locally known as 'Chars' were 'disputed zones'. That 'dispute' of 1982, still persists over the largest 'Char' which is 192 sq. Km. in area with a population of more then 100,000 people. According to the Government of West Bengal, people living there are supposed to be governed by Bihar/Jharkhand state and, interestingly, for the Government of Bihar and then Jharkhand, these islanders are their 'guests' for a short period! As a result of this administrative confusion and apathy, more then 100,000 population living the in the largest 'Char are stateless, nowhere people, kept deprived of any basic entitlements. Their judicious right to life, food, work, health, education, land, development and national identity is completely violated by the governance of the two states and Central government. The conflict on the issue of 'borders' remains unresolved, in spite of the fact, that river Ganga had been decided as the official border between East Pakistan (Bangladesh since 1971) and the dividing line between Bihar ( Jharkhand since, 2000) and west Bengal in 1947. In the meanwhile, the river has changed its course to different directions; no serious efforts were taken to re-demarcate the flowing 'border'. Hence, these refugees of "development" (approximately, 90% of whom are Muslims and 10% belongs to the Scheduled Castes) lead as non-citizens of the country without any state identity, though they are in the voters' list of Jharkhand and have to give vote to elect their representatives to hold governance power. Is not it a gross violation of the Citizenship Rights of Indians as enshrined in the Constitution of India?

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