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Born in a flood, they named her Kosika

September 05, 2008 16:44 IST

Bihar's Supaul district marks the eastern end of the changed course that the Kosi river has taken. The last time anybody experienced floods in the district was in 1946.

"We had never experienced floods. My parents used to say the 1946 floods were the worst. That was before I was born," said Ram Yadav, an elder shopkeeper in Supaul's market.

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"But, people older than me are saying this was the route of Kosi-ji some 200 years ago, before man made structures and dams altered its course. Isn't it natural that she would one day take her normal course? We are nothing in front of nature," he said.

The flood-hit from the neighbouring villages managed to reach Suapul after surviving in the waters for more than two weeks.

In Supaul, like neighbouring Saharsa, it is the locals who have taken the lead.

"I gave whatever I could from my shop to the camps. There are so many people who have come here, and the administration has not been able to reach supplies here," Ram Yadav's son, Ajay, said.

Though short in supplies, Supaul is the hub for rescue operations.

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"They have managed to get lots of boats and fuel into the area and the rescue operations are on," Ajay said.

The people who are rescued are left with no place to go, so the schools and colleges are doubling up as relief camps. There are more than four such buildings in Supaul which act as government relief camps, but with minimal government presence.

"The water resources minister's house is there," one of the locals said, pointing to a house not far from a makeshift camp in local college, commonly known as the degree college, adding, "He has not come here to see the victims even once."

The person monitoring the relief work in the college is its principal Dr R P Yadav.

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"Strictly speaking, this is a government camp. If you want the truth, my lecturers run this camp. They started bringing in people and the government came three days later and said this will now be a government camp and gave two medical staff. And we have about 600 people," he said.

Though it claims to have taken over, the government has not provided enough medicines or supplies. "We ensure that we get at least two meals a day for these people. It is only the benevolent villagers who are helping us ensure this.

"The government doesn't even give us milk. What are the people with infants to do? There are so many of them. And how will even the adults sustain on two meager meals of kichidi a day?

"Even if you keep aside the problem of food, what about the other basic amenities? There are no toilet facilites here. People defecate in the open grounds. Will it not lead to the spread of disease?" the principal asked.

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Local politicians are trying to pitch in, using their clout to bring in tents. One such team was pitching tents in the degree college. "They are pitching the tents in the very place where the people relieve themselves.

These are people with high connections and it looks like they are doing this under compulsion. Who is to go to them and tell them to pitch the tents in a decent place? What is the point of helping out, if you do it in such a haphazard manner?" one of the locals said.

In the college camp, the Hindi lecturer is now in charge of the operations of the camp. "I have almost become a doctor. Now I know the symptoms of gastro, diarrhea and other diseases," he said.

But there was an instant when even he felt out of depth, Yadav said. "We had gotten some 40 people from the waters one evening and by the time we brought them to the camp, it was night time. Just as I was thinking the day's work was done, one guy came running to me and said there was a pregnant woman about to deliver the baby. I did not know what to do. I rushed to a clinic two kilometers from here and got a nurse. Thankfully, it all went well," he said introducing 30-year-old Lalita Devi. "We were in the water for 12 days, and every day I was afraid she would have had to deliver her baby in the water. If the child had been born when we were marooned, it wouldn't have survived," Lalita's mother Kamala Devi said.

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This is Lalita's fourth child, all girls. She does not know how to reach her husband. "She says he is working in Punjab as a labourer. She doesn't know where. She doesn't have a number," the lecturer said.

Lalita Devi herself does little of the talking. She is sitting with the two-day-old infant wrapped in her laps. Asked what the baby's name is, she says it is custom to name the baby on the sixth day. As though it stuck them at the moment, Lalita's mother and uncle chorus: "We will name her Kosika, now that you ask."

Why after the very force that has wrecked their lives? "No, no. Kosi-ji could have swept us away if she had wanted. She has given us a new life.

"It is not her mistake. My mother used to say forces of nature go awry only when we human beings meddle with it," the uncle said.

Krishnakumar P in Supaul district, Bihar