‘Sundarbans Has Been My Home For 32 Years. Today I Can’t Recognise It. I’m Not Sure If We Can Survive Here Long’
MY HUSBAND and I have three children – a boy aged 13, a girl of 12 years and another girl of six years. We are a poor family. We don’t own land or other property. My husband worked as a daily labourer on other people’s agricultural land and fisheries. We managed to earn an average of Rs 70 daily. Our main expenses included food for the family, education for my son, clothes and medical facilities.
Our lives have changed drastically in the last few months. Cyclone Aila destroyed the paddy fields and fisheries with saline water. Crops for the year have been destroyed and fish have died, rotting the water bodies beyond use.
My children took to various sicknesses immediately after Aila. My younger daughter got skin infections using the water from a tubewell in the village, which has not been repaired yet. Both my elder daughter and son suffered from severe case of diarrhoea. The nearest dispensary to this village takes more than an hour to reach. Due to the damage caused by the cyclone, it is still not functioning, leaving people like us with no option.
My children go with their father to collect fish from the saline water every morning. We use some for personal consumption and sell the rest. Under these trying circumstances, it’s the only source of income left for us.
My son was studying in Class 8. He lost all his books and now we don’t have money to pay for his school fees anymore. He has gone to Kolkata to work as a carpenter.
My youngest daughter used to go to the ‘Khichdi centre’ (ICDS) but it has been closed since the cyclone. She’s unable to get proper nutrition and has been suffering from stomach infections of late.
I have not seen such devastation and change in the course of nature in so many years . We don’t know what to do with our lives here anymore. Most families near our house have migrated to other places to work in fields. We are planning to go to the brick kilns in Minakha this month. This will ensure some safety to our family for the next six months. My daughter might also have to work as domestic help. We do not know how we will sustain ourselves after the brick kiln work gets over.
“There is nothing left in this place anymore which can be called home.”
Naseema Bibi is 32. She lives in Simulhati, West Bengal