First Coronavirus, Now Cyclone Amphan: Kolkata’s Poor Cry For Help

Here are the stories of those who’ve lost their loved ones, their homes – and now hope to rebuild their lives.

4 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj, Mohd. Ibrahim

“Should we save ourselves from corona or the cyclone?”

That’s what the poor in Kolkata have been asking since Cyclone Amphan hit and ravaged through the city on 20 May.

On 21 May, the day after the cyclone, The Quint visited various parts of Kolkata to get a sense of the damage caused.

A Life Gone Too Soon

One of the first deaths reported in the city were that of Kamala Biswas and her younger son Pintu Biswas. Kamala's husband, who was rickshaw puller, passed away a few years ago. Pintu, worked as a DTC bus driver, to make ends meet.

Kamala lived in a makeshift asbestos house right under an old, abandoned factory in Kolkata's Regent Park area. During the storm, an entire side of the brick factory structure fell on their house. While the older son, Raju, got away with some injuries, Pintu and Kamala lost their lives.

Speaking to The Quint, their neighbour, Raju Chakraborty, says that the family had seen very difficult days and Pintu's stable job was finally putting them on the path to better times.

“It was about 6.30pm (on 20 May) when the wall broke down. A little later we understood that the mother and younger son have passed away. Police officers came. It was raining. After a lot of trouble, they recovered the bodies. Pintu had worked very hard to get this far in life. That is the regret we have. A good boy has left us”, said Raju.

'Scared Of Staying Out, Scared Of Staying In'

Kamala and Pintu's neighbours are shaken by the incident. As they deal with the trauma of seeing their neighbours dying, they must also deal with their loss of a home.

"I’m feeling very hurt after seeing their bodies. I’m broken inside. I couldn’t eat anything all of yesterday", said Jayanti Sarkar, another neighbour of the two, speaking to The Quint.

Jayanti is a contractual municipal worker, which means that she only earns on the days that she works. With the lockdown, income has stopped. During the cyclone a part of an old building fell on her house too. Thankfully she had sought shelter elsewhere along with her seventeen-year-old son. But the next morning, she returned to a place no longer fit to live.

“We were asked to keep a distance due to corona. Now this Amphan has come. That is putting us all in one place, as we huddle together to seek shelter. So, do we save ourselves from Amphan or corona? This way we are not getting saved from either. My financial situation is very bad. I stay with a child and I eat when I work. If I work I get money, if I don’t work then I don’t. We are not permanent staff. On top of that the house has collapsed. I’m scared of going out. I’m also scared of staying in”, said Jayanti.

‘I Earn Rs 2000 Only. How Will I Survive This?’

Like Jayanti, monetary concerns are top-of-mind for domestic help Khuku Mondol as well, who lives in the same area.

A huge banyan tree fell on a part of Khuku's house. As she waited out the storm in her house, some bricks from an adjoining building fell on the other part as well.

With two kids and a husband, Khuku doesn't know how long it will take before she can repair her house again. Especially since her husband now has reduced earnings due to the lockdown.

“It takes a lot of money to build a house. I get 2000 rupees for my work. Do I run the household or do this? My husband’s salary has decreased. He is only getting half his salary because of corona and the lockdown. There’s a storm happening and in the midst of that, this disaster has struck us”, said Khuku.

‘Spent The Night In Abandoned Cars’

Parag Das, a daily wage labourer, still gets goosebumps as he thinks about that night and how he endured it with his family on nine.

Parag's house lies next to an old garage with abandoned cars.

As the storm began, he and the other members of the family, took shelter in three abandoned cars at the garage.

During this time, a bark from a tree that stand over their house, fell and destroyed their roof. It was only after 3am, when the storm abated, that they returned to the house, now rendered unliveable.

“We were really scared and thinking of some way to escape. I got out of the car and went a little ahead. The entire place was full of live electric wires!”, said Parag to The Quint. “The kids were crying. Everything was waterlogged and broken. We could neither sleep, nor eat, nor do anything”, added his wife, Champa.

As per latest government reports, the death toll in West Bengal due to cyclone Amphan stands at 80, with the districts of North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata and Howrah most affected.

On 22 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state and went on an aerial tour of some parts along with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to assess the damage. The Prime Minister later declared a 1500 crore relief package for the cyclone affected states of West Bengal and Odisha. The state government has also announced a monetary compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh for the families of the deceased.

(If you want to donate towards relief of families affected due to Amphan, click here.)

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