Amphan Robs Fisherfolk of Their Livelihood in Bengal Village
With the cyclone breaking embankments and dams, the fishery ponds have flooded. The fish are gone, as is livelihood.
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
As Cyclone Amphan ravaged through West Bengal on 20 May, the districts most affected were North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in southern Bengal.
As windspeeds crossed over 120 kmph, houses in these districts were destroyed, mud embankments and dams broken, and countless lives lost.
The Quint visited the Atpukur village – a village of fisherfolk – like most villages in the Minakhan Assembly constituency of the North 24 Parganas district. What we saw was a picture of death, devastation and helplessness.
A Three-Year-Old Waits For His Father
A crowd of people stand outside Kalpana Mondol's small, thatched hut as The Quint's team approaches it. A side of the hut has been battered. Outside, Kalpana stands with her three-year-old son in her arms.
On seeing us, Kalpana breaks down. Her husband, Gobindo Mondol, died on 20 May after a piece of asbestos slit through his neck during the cyclone. Gobindo, like most men in the village, was a fisherman who used to work as a daily wage labourer in Kolkata during the off-season.
He'd returned to the village right after the lockdown as jobs became scarce in the city. Three days before the cyclone, on Sunday, 17 May, Gobindo had sent Kalpana to her parent's house. Kalpana was to return on the day of the cyclone, but her parents stopped her.
She returned the day after, to Gobindo's bloodied, lifeless body, lying outside her house.
"This would not have happened has I been here," cries Kalpana.
Meanwhile, her son, oblivious to the mourning, laughs and play around as Kalpana talks to us.
“He’s yet to realise what happened. He keeps saying that father has gone to the river to take a bath and will come back. If I cry, he hugs me and says that I have nothing to worry about. He keeps saying that he wants to take the boat out with his father,” says Kalpana.
Unsure of what the future holds, Kalpana now just wants a job.
"I have my son to raise. How will I feed him?" she asks us.
Broken Dams, Broken Dreams
As the village mourns Gobindo's loss, they must also race against time to repair the four mud embankments/dams, that have come apart.
This has meant that salt water from the Bidyadhari river, that flows through the village, has mixed with the fishery ponds. The ponds are now overflowing. All the fish have either died due to the water or flown away into the river.
Almost all the men in the village, over a thousand, were engaged in repairing one of the dams before the high tide hits.
“Our house, our livelihood is all gone. Those who were in the fish business have lost everything,” says fisherman Kishan Bihari Majhi.
Like Gobindo, Majhi too, is a daily wage labourer during the non-fishing season.
"Because of the lockdown, our work outside has stop. Labour work has stopped. Fishery work has also stopped. There’s loss everywhere. Whether it is lockdown or the storm," he says.
"Over 20,000 families here depend directly on fishery," says another fisherman, Dinesh Das.
"These families have faced lakhs of losses. We will not be able to make up for this loss in the next 20-25 years also," he adds.
Das says that in his 40 bigha pond, there is now just water and no fish. That is the case with most fisherfolk in the village, he says.
'Never Been This Scared In My Life'
"It's not just the fish that we've lost," explains fisherman, Suprabhat Das.
"When the fishing season is over, the ponds are drained and rice is cultivated in those lands. Now that salt water has flooded everything, the soil has also become salty and therefore, barren. I don't think we'll be able to cultivate anything this year, or for the next few years, for that matter,” said Das.
Speaking about the state of the village, Das says that it is becoming difficult for all of them to live.
"I don't think I have ever been as scared as I was on the night of the cyclone. Tin and asbestos was flying everywhere. We could have come under a falling wall at any time," he says.
"But now that that fear is gone. A new fear, a fear of sustaining our livelihoods, has set in," he adds.
Das was also one of the first people to discover Gobindo Mondol's body the morning after the cyclone.
He says he will never be able to get the sight out of his mind.
Electricity and water supply remains disrupted in Atpukur and large parts of North 24 Parganas. According to government sources, atleast 35,000 houses have been destroyed in the district, and the number is only expected to rise.
(If you want to donate towards relief of families affected due to Amphan, click here.)
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