River Brahmaputra and its tributaries have overflowed once again putting Assam deep in a flood. Rescue workers in action there tell of a tragedy and damage by the flood of a high scale. As per statistics of Tuesday, the death toll is 60. Across 2,523 villages more than 28 lakh peoplle are in dire straits. In Bihar and Mizoram, the situation is no different. Although the water level has come down, civic life is still facing great hardship. However, since the tragedy has not happened in any big city or Hindi heartland, it has not awakened our 'national consciousness' much.
That is not all; the indifference of news agencies and mainstream media even raises suspicions about news being deliberately blacked out. Had it not been for the picture of a tiger that huddled within a house like a kitten out of fear of water, media in many parts of our country would not have carried even a mention of it. 90 percent of the Kaziranga National Park was inundated by the flood, which caused the death of thousands of animals. Rescue operations are ongoing in scattered parts.
Pictures appear in local media of Congress MLA from Mariani Roopjyoti Kurmi going to rescue camps with rice bags and of BJP MLA from Khumtai, Mrinal Saikia visiting homes in a boat loaded with cooked food and serving it there. So did a few voluntary organizations. But it is only after the flood is over, the sky gets clear, Brahmaputra becomes calm, and Majuli island and Haflong hills once again become fit for tourism that national commissions and their paraphernalia will descend to assess the flood. But before that, relief should be delivered there, and local inhabitants should be helped to be get back to their normal life.
Small groups have started heading to the area on relief missions including from Kerala. And now, who else than Malayalis know about the damage caused by floods! Even as water was gushing forth with ferocity, Keralites had held their hands together. They had woven new models of mutual help forgetting all other differences. And support had poured in from every land that loved Malayalam and Malayali.
It was not only the Indian diaspora that came forward to offer succour to Kerala, but even foreign governments did so. But that is not the case with Assam. It is not only flood water that haunts them. In the case of Kerala, though the flood had taken away much that we had preserved, the deep soil that belonged to us was left intact by the flood. But the Assamese are consternated by a spectre more frightening than flood, i..e the question whether they can continue to live in the land of their birth. Even after the flood water shows mercy on them, they need to produce documentary evidence of citizensship in order to continue living in their own land.
It is not enough to have the documents, but those who scrutinize them need to be convinced too that the papers are all in order. Many are those who had to become 'foreign' even when in possession of all necessary documents, just because the evaluator was not convinced. If the people were in a panic to grab their documents from their homes, rather than to respond to the call by rescue teams even when water was out to swallow them, one can easily guess their tragic predicament.
In fact the questions raised about citizenship have caused loss of lives as much as caused by the flood. 58 people have died, not in massacres that from time to time happen in Assam with the allegation of foreign infiltrators, but out of the anxiety surrounding the National Citizenship Register alone. And that includes Hindus, Muslims, Bodos, Gurkhas and similar tribals. Many were committing suicide out of the agony over the verdict of 'foreigner' by the Foreigner's Tribunal that assesses illegal immigration.
Many have lost their mental equilibrium. A large number of our compatriots reach the point of wishing that they had been swept away as dead bodies in the flowing flood water. Let us first prop them up to tide over the flood. And then, we have to come forward to restore their right to live in this soil as human beings with all due dignity.