‘How will we celebrate Eid?’ asks old Meherunnesa, surrounded by a crowd of people, ‘We have no food, we have no roofs over our heads.’ The others chime in about their sufferings. Elderly Hashem Ali says, ‘Last year my elder son sacrificed an animal (qurbani), but he won’t be able to do so this time. My six rooms are all flattened to the ground. We have to fix those, so how can we do qurbani?’ The flood victims of Kismat Chhinai on the river Dharla of Rajarhat, Kurigram, were speaking about Eid and their problems last Wednesday.
A committee of writers and artistes from Dhaka had gone to distribute relief among the distressed persons of Kismat Chhinai. The affected people far outnumbered the volume of relief. They complained that the local chairman and elected representatives hadn’t even inquired after them. I immediately called the chairman Nuruzzaman Huq over mobile phone and later met him in person too. He readily admitted that he hadn’t gone to the people, but gave assurance that he would be taking relief to the area on Thursday.
In the village Mogaltari, next to Kismat Chhinai, Abdur Rahim said that only two families there would be sacrificing animals on Eid. He said, ‘If more qurbani is done, more poor people can have meat. They can enjoy Eid.”
During a visit of this correspondent to Gangachara in Rangpur on Tuesday, more people spoke about Eid. Afzal Hossain said, ‘If we just get three square meals a day, that will be Eid for us. Simply getting a meal of rice is difficult now.’
I recently visited the area Tayyab Khan on the river Teesta in Rajarhat upazila, Kurigram. The river had devoured around 100 homes there. On Thursday I saw only a few houses were left standing. Almost all the 300 houses had been washed away. Daulat Hossain said, ‘There used to be about 600 or 700 voters here, but they have all left. The floods this time have destroyed their homes.’
In the village Gabur Helan of Chhenai union, many women whose homes had been destroyed by Teesta, came to gather in front of Dolna Begum’s house. They came one after the other – Alema, Rahima, Shaher Banu, Arzina, Julekha, Beauty. When asked whether they had received any aid for Eid, Rahima said, ‘Last Eid the government gave us rice. I don’t know if they will give us anything this time.’ She said, ‘This river has devoured so much. It destroyed our homes thrice. My granddaughter had come to see me when I was ill, but the river took her away too. We only found her body after four days.’
Many of the women there had received 10kg of rice each last Eid. The situation was worse this time so the women were hoping the government would provide rice. However, the chairman’s office at Bidyananda union informed us that there was no allocation this year, not even rice for 10 taka a kg.
The Bidyananda union Awami League president, village doctor Abdul Hakim said, ‘We can do nothing for the victims of floods and river erosion this Eid. Whatever relief comes from the government, the chairman and members filch away in the name of the party.’
The people by the river were busy shifting their hearths and homes, felling trees. Their land was crumbling into the river in front of their very eyes. They stay on vigil all night, in case their homes are washed away by the river. The wealthy become paupers in a matter of moments. It would have been cruel to bring up the topic of Eid with these people. Before the erosion sets in, cracks appear in the land. A woman was standing on a piece of cracked land. I urged her to move away. She replied, ‘It’s better if I die here, then I won’t suffer so much.’ When hapless people welcome death, how do you ask them about Eid?
I had gone to distribute relief on 25 August among the people who were victims of erosion by the river Dudhkumar in Bhurungamari, Kurigram. I asked a few of them if they had arranged anything for their children this Eid. One of them replied, ‘Receiving food is Eid enough for us. If there is food, it’s Eid. If there is no food, there is no Eid.’
Last Eid the government had distributed rice among the poor, though this time the suffering are far more than before. There is nothing this time. The homeless poor people cannot sacrifice animals. They enjoy he meat distributed by those wealthier who perform qurbani. But this year even that prospect seems bleak. Many of them rear chickens and ducks and cook those during Eid for friends and family. But the sudden floods this year have robbed them of their chickens, ducks, clothes, food, everything. They just managed to escape with their lives. There is no Eid for them this year.
If the government had special allocation for these flood and river erosion victims, then perhaps they could celebrate Eid to a certain degree. Who knows whether the local well-to-do can get together to jointly ensure a little joy and happiness for these distressed people on Eid?
* Tuhin Wadud is a teacher of the Bangla department, Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.