By Imran Khan
Maner/Danapur (Bihar), Aug 25 (IANS) Coping with hunger and homelessness in flood-hit Bihar is a task in itself but for women, there is an additional embarrassing chore — relieving themselves in the open.
Doing so in the open was manageable while they were in the comfort zone of their villages, but not so at the three relief camps the state government has opened here. Neither is the situation any better for those who have stayed back as they have had to shift to rooftops and other higher ground, where privacy is at a premium.
“Women have suffered more than men since we had to flee our villages in the diara (riverine area). Where does a woman go to relieve herself,” asked Aarti, a woman in her 50s.
Like thousands of other people, she and her family are now staying in one of the three relief camps in Maner in Patna district, a place famous for the tomb of a Muslim saint.
Aarti’s village is not far from Maner.
However, there are thousands of people who have refused to abandon their homes in dozens of villages in flood-hit Maner. They are living on roof-tops or have found some other high ground.
“Whichever cranny a flood-hit family has been forced into, a woman faces a big problem. Where does she go to answer the call of nature,” asked Nikhil Anand, a social activist in Maner.
“Imagine the plight of women who are pregnant and those with new-born children,” he added.
Mahender Yadav, an activist working among flood victims, said: “Flood-hit women face more problems. They have to swallow their dignity to find some place on the crowded embankment or nearby. There is no other place as there is water all around.”
An item much sought after by such women is polythene sheets or bags which they wrap around themselves and stand in the water to relieve themselves, he said.
“Even polythene sheets are in short supply as the authorities have failed to provide them,” Yadav said.
Ranjeev, a water expert, said the authorities have failed to plan to provide makeshift toilets, even on embankments, for women in flood-hit areas.
Munia Devi, in her early 40s and a resident of Nayatola village near Maner, said: “Poor women like us are without any help when floods submerge our villages. It is our fate. No one can imagine what we have been going through.”
Surender Rai, a father of two young daughters, said, “Women have no choice but to close their eyes and minds to this situation.”
Rai is a resident of Mahavir tola near Maner. His family has not left the village, but the women are in as difficult a situation as those in the relief camps.
Lakhni Devi, a middle-aged woman who, along with her family, has taken shelter at Daldev Inter School in Danapur, also in Patna district, said women are real sufferers in times of floods.
“There is one toilet but it is closed; we have to relieve ourselves nearby, ignoring the shame (of doing so),” she said.
Madhumita Kumari, a teenaged schoolgirl, echoed her. “I have been living here for the past few days. In our village, at least there is safety even in the open. Certainly not here.”
The river Ganga and its tributaries, like the Sone and the Punpun, have been flowing above the danger mark in Patna and neighbouring districts for about a week, affecting over one million people.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered the district officials to provide relief and rescue on a priority basis to people living in inundated areas.
The floods have so far claimed 19 lives in Bihar.
Over a dozen teams of the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have been deployed in the flood-hit districts.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])