Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Risky Terrain - Women, Vulnerability and Disaster

06 July 2013: It has been raining since 5th noon, and it was just getting worse. I along with Rahul and Bharti went to meet few officers in the Block Administrative Office, took some data, and then proceeded towards Madkot, from where we should be going to a village called Devibagar, which was on the other side of the river. The roads were getting more damaged due to the rains, and in several places it was slippery. I was saying a prayer in my heart, as at several points I could feel that the wheels were just dragging on the wet slippery surface. When we were about four kilometers from Madkot, we saw that the road has been blocked as new debris had come down the mountain and few men were working at it. Seeing that on both sides vehicles had stopped and that the road looked very unsafe.... (we could see deep cracks appearing on the road which would after all fall into the ravine that had water cutting from below the road at over 70 feet down! It was frightening even to look at the water.

Seeing the situation we asked Bharti to return to Munsiyari, and we two men along with the IDBP soldier, began to walk towards Madkot. I kept looking in front of me and on road making sure that I am neither too close to the edge of the road nor closer to the mountain, and avoid water that had turned muddy by then. Suddenly, the soldier shouted at me, "Sir, Stop! STOP !" I stopped and turned back to him and asked, "What happened?" He said "You see the debris is coming down the hill from up? You need to look up as well!" We waited for the debris to fall, and then we jumped past that and we walked towards Madkot, wondering - "What a risky life is this! In flood prone areas, I should be careful of whirlwinds. But here what I have is - I need to look ahead of me, below me and above me, even to take a step forward!" Another prayer in heart : "God, please take me back home safely!"

After we crossed through Madkot, another three kilometers of walk to Devibagar. We stopped a gentleman in his late thirties or early forties who was walking with a young girl (approx 17 - 19 years), and asked him about how the disaster has impacted his life. He said that his house is safe, but food prices and transportation are the concern, and he did not want to talk to us because, pointing to the girl he said, he was taking his wife to the doctor! Alert, certainly in this place child marriage is rampant.

When we reached Devibagar and got into the Tourist guest house closer to the hot spring there, the eight families living there came forward, and we had very good discussion. The families took us around the affected area, spoke about how their houses were washed away by the river and how much of compensation they got etc. The children mentioned that they were studying in the Madkot school which has been washed away, and they are not sure where they would go to for schooling.  The families sounded desperate as they did not have any work and were living on the ration (relief food items and the money they got. The men and women kept mentioning that they are not getting work, even the road work. Their desperateness was on their eyes, looks and body language. I also noticed that this was the only village where I saw at least 6 young girls in their teens, which was not the case in the villages where we have visited so far, where I hardly saw a young girl. So, the question began to come to my mind:

Are these girls vulnerable to be trafficked? Why aren't many girls in other villages, including Madkot which is more thickly populated? Have the girls of those villages been already married off or trafficked? So, in that case, is Devibagar better than others - in protecting their girls?

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