The whole world is abuzz with the effects of Climate Change and policy makers are busy issuing rules, regulations and promises to cut down carbon emission. Fair enough as we concentrate on the urbanized affected communities across the world. But, the moment we focus towards the grassroot victims of Climate Change, the situation takes a different turn and no policies and rules seems to work for them!
Here, we are talking about the much talked about coastal Sundarbans, which is one of the worst affected areas of Global Climate Change. Among the 102 islands of Sundarban, Mousuni is one of the 54 islands, which had been inhabited by human population. The island would have never come to focus if the dreaded AILA would not have washed away huge section of it by displacing them from their homes and lands.
As we approach towards Mousuni Isalnd
Saheba Bibi, 31 year old women from Baliayara Village of Mousuni Island is one of those displaced communities. Her in-laws were all fishermen by profession and owned agricultural land of 3 bighas. But that demonic AILA washed away all they had. Her father-in-law passed away without getting proper treatment after AILA. The family of seven members including her husband, two children, two brother-in-laws and ailing mother-in-law, spend two and half months in a shanty over the embankment without proper food and safe drinking water. When asked about the relief from the government, the lady was in tears saying that they were not lucky enough to get any yet!
Saheba Bibi in front of her house
They were somehow settling with their lost livelihood and properties when cyclone hit them again in 2014 and this time she lost her mother-in-law who couldn’t survive this trauma. Her husband, who was also a fisherman, was not living with them this time as he was in Kerela, working as a labour along with his brothers in a construction house. Like him, hundreds of inhabitants of Sundarban left to Kerela and other places like Andhrapradesh and Gujarat in search of better livelihood. Without any specialized skill, they end up joining as labours in the construction houses, brick fields etc.
Back home, when everything was messed up, the men of the house were far distant place, working 12 hours risking their lives on high rise buildings. Hearing the news of flooding at their homeland, Saheba’s husband decided to return home with the money he earned in 7 months. But the destiny was cruel to him as he faced a dreaded accident while crossing the railway tracks. His legs were injured badly and he returned home empty handed and bruised legs as all money were spent in his treatment.
Saheba showing where house was before AILA
Saheba's husband showing his injured legsNow, he can neither go for fishing and cannot work as labour too as he has been advised not to take loads on his body. So, the responsibility of running the family has come up on Saheba, who has studied only till 2nd standard with a mere knowledge of alphabets. When asked about her age, the lady shyly said that she has no clear idea as she was married at a very early age and became mother of two within two years of marriage. Once, owner of 3 bighas of agricultural land and good business of fishing, the family has now just a small shanty near the river which is also under the risk of being washed away if the monsoon turns hostile next year!
The couple has now started business of dry fishes, which has also very low demand in their locality. They merely earn Rs. 150-200 in a week from this business but still hoping to give a better life to their children. Their 14 year old son studies in class 8 in a nearby school and 12 year old daughter is a class 3 dropout who helps her mother in domestic work. They cannot afford to send both the children in school at a time so they choose the boy to study as they girl will be married in next few years!
Saheba, who has keen interest in embroidery (locally known as zari work) used to stitch sarees earlier a year back along with few other women of her neighbourhood. But, the earning was quite low as they used to get around Rs. 150 for a saree and that again had to be divided among 5 women. So, they stopped working that but willing to work on that if they are given better deals. As we were talking to Saheba, we were joined by Mansura Bibi, who is a local Panchyat representative. The lady in her early forties is very agile and is hopeful to have a better life for the women of her locality. She came with a proposal of starting some training sessions for these women who are interested in zari work. However, she didn’t forget to add that how all the women of the village are now living without their men as most of them have migrated to other cities in search of work. She is concerned about the safety of the women and children of her locality as there were many cases of trafficking in the Mousuni Island itself. She added that many were lured in the name of job and marriage without dowry and later they were trafficked in distant cities. However, they have become alert now and prefer to keep their daughters unmarried rather them sending them with an outsider.
Neighbours of Sahenba who also suffered like her and looking forward to a better life and livelihood
There are hundreds others like Saheba, who are struggling daily for two times meal and safe drinking water. The ponds of their locality are intruded with saline water and the water cannot be used for even cleaning the clothes as they turn dirtier after washing. The barren lands will be probably inundated with saline water again in the next monsoon. But, life has not stopped as they continue to struggle and look for good days to return.
Roads for the local Commuters
Another big concern of the women of this locality is healthcare. The only government hospital of their area is situated near Baghdanga village, which is more than 45 minutes journey by bumpy roads and the only option for conveyance is motor van or cycle van. Adding to this trauma, Mansura Bibi said that atleast 5 women of her village have suffered miscarriage as they couldn’t avail proper medical support when it was needed the most.
When we crave for the luxuries of our lives, these coastal women just want a glass of safe drinking water for their families, two times meal and a shelter that guarantees safety during coastal flooding.