Assam floods: who cares?

Behind the theatrical show of peace, development, progress, connectedness of the North East India, an ever growing threat of neglect and resistance hides with anger, with helplessness, with more anger to offer and it is on the rise. There has been a history of disconnect, misrepresentation, nonrecognition and a horrible paternalistic attitude towards North East based on cultural and political aspects. Clubbed with this, on the rise now is the problem of a resource asymmetry which has an immense potential to accelerate with neglect from the rest of India.

As the media focused on a murder mystery of the elite family of the Mukherjeas and the Boras which grabbed the attention of the masses and attracted them to a gripping tale of a twisted murder plot giving them the opportunity to strangle and analyze the ‘character’ of a woman associated with the entire episode, it looked like the media and masses had no other complaints and responsibilities to fulfill. It seemed as if they reached their zenith in reporting. As for the rest of us, what more do we need than an unsolved murder mystery we could throw our two cents at, with a bowl of popcorn to reach out for now and then. We got our share of infotainment dissecting the case from every possible angle as if the burden of judiciary and decision suddenly landed on our firm shoulders.

As we adjusted ourselves in the plush of our leather seats, sitting in front of our television sets, readying ourselves to reach out to the world of murder by an ‘immoral’ woman and connecting with the inner Sherlock in us, by now completely obsessed and possessed by the unraveling mysteries with parts of stories being thrown at us by the media now and then, Assam witnessed the death of forty-one people with eighteen lakh people affected, 1880 villages under water, 1.1 lakh hectares of crop area under water, the dilapidated 227 relief camps housed almost 1.38 lakh people who had the misfortune to visit them and the core rhino habitat of the Kaziranga National Park completely submerged. The next time anyone would care about it would be maybe during their next visit to Kaziranga while taking a jeep safari tour through the forest and complaining about not spotting a single rhino.

In Dibrugarh alone, the floods managed to get 21 villages under water with 34,200 people affected and 22 relief camps housing 19760 people with 3921 hectares of crop area washed away by the ruthless and merciless floods. It would be wrong to think of it as a sudden and new problem in Assam. It happens every year. It can almost be treated as an annual ritual of Assam, soon to find its space in a world record of crossing levels of being apathetic towards a situation. From the tea capital, Dibrugarh has slowly and silently being transformed into the flood capital of the country. The floods bring with it anger and helplessness and recede with more anger and more helplessness. The Asian Development Bank has thrown in a grant of Rupees 1.84 lakh crore to improve and enhance the drainage facility of the state. But the question that must be raised here is whether or not it will be used for the purpose it is intended to be used for or will it get washed away with the floods next year again!

The tyranny of Dibrugarh’s distance from the centre has been brutal for its existence and it sure has been paying a hefty price for it. Imagine a scene like this is in Delhi, Mumbai or the other northern, southern and western mainlands of India. There is no state in India living with a constant threat of being eroded away without its problem being attended to or with the rest of India being kept away from it. The citizenry of Assam is troubled every year with the amount of erosion the flood offers to it and their voices seem to be muted on the receiving end. Most people did not have boats to save their lives when water came rushing towards them, they were washed away not only because of the ruthless floods but also because of the ruthless apathy of the government in the region and in the centre, the media and the ignorance alike. Imagine people having to live inside their houses with gumboots on, wading through waters inside their own houses, without electricity and hope, would the media dare to skip reporting these issues had it been the case and situation in Delhi or Mumbai like it does not care to when it is happening to Dibrugarh? Would it have been obsessed with a murder mystery of people coming from a not-so-elite or rural background when Delhi or Mumbai was being washed away? Do the people come with a price tag in India? Do lives in India matter more in some states and matter less in others? Do they not deserve the ‘Acche Din’ like Gujarat and Delhi deserve it? Do they not deserve a visit by the Prime Minister when our state is literally going down the drains and that too every year? Do they hide theirselves in the garb of poor excuses and continue being threatened? Do they give up their today for the rest of India’s tomorrow and not expect the rest of India to give up their tomorrow for the North East’s today? Should they prepare for another flood next year and more apathy or should they prepare for development like in other states? Do they get their share of development at all or has distance succeeded to pronounce its tyranny on the Northeast?

With the floods affecting not only lives, crops, animal habitats, connectivity, economy and gave rise to a region devoid of hope, the apathy must now be questioned and done away with. The state must utilize the grant it has been provided with and lay out a foolproof plan to improve the drainage and water connectivity. The pending work must not be ignored anymore. The political reasons and excuses must be sidelined keeping in mind that people’s lives matter more. Citizen’s concerns and suggestions must be accommodated and the anger must be addressed. The media must not ignore the northeast or Dibrugarh just because it is a periphery of the periphery. The people must be heard, awareness must be created, people must engage with concerns of the Northeast. It will only then be a truly collective nation. With most schools being turned into refugee camps, education is still being hampered for the bright youth India promises to hold. With most departments in colleges still flooded, a situation of deadlock has been reached only to return with more floods next year. Is it not time enough for the media to move from sleaze to development?

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