Untouched by aid, relief

17 Sep 2011

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With no shelter for them, many of the Bheels, Meghwars and Kohlis coming into Badin are living under the open sky. – Photo by Zofeen T. Ebrahim.

“I don’t know how or when we’ll go back,” Bayan Natho, bent double, breaks down in grief.

The octogenarian, belonging to the low caste Meghwar Hindu community narrates how she was brought on a charpai from her village of Allah Ditto Leghari, near Juddho, about 80 km from Badin city.

“The water had come up to my waist. My grandsons put me on a charpai and waded across to dry land,” she recalled.

Once they reached the main road, she and other women and children, some four to five dozen of them were packed like sardines in a Shehzore and brought to Badin where the government has set up 271 camps for over 77,000 displaced people.

But much to their consternation, not a single camp has been designated for this community and they are not welcomed by those who got in there first.

The district of Badin has a population of 1.8 million of which 1.6 have directly been affected by this year’s floods. Of the total population 20 percent constitute Hindus with a majority belonging to the scheduled caste.

“Catastrophes, when they hit,” explains Dadlo Zuhrani, the district deputy officer heading the human resource management, “do not differentiate between religion, caste or creed and neither do our relief efforts. Our relief activities are area specific not community specific and we do not discriminate.”

And maybe the government does not and which is a good thing. But how do you erase or tear up centuries old social contract between the Hindus and Muslims who, while living in harmony in rural Sindh, never trespass the demarcating lines that separate the two. Not a drop of water can be taken by wells that are marked for Muslims and vessels used by the latter cannot be touched by these Dalits.

What is more, neither is comfortable with the proximity that the flood crisis is forcing upon the two. And while it may come as a blessing in disguise and it is hoped those who hold such un-Islamic views may learn to become tolerant, for now the scheduled caste seems to be off the radar from those at the giving end.

With no shelter for them, many of the Bheels, Meghwars and Kohlis coming into Badin from villages that have now been completely submerged, either pitch in with some relative or set up home on the roadside.

“We tried to find refuge in the Technical College on Seerani Road, but were turned out by the management,” said one. And so they set up their home across the road where there was a dry patch. “Our children have had nothing to eat since yesterday,” said a mother, adding: “We’ve resorted to begging.”

Others who know they will be turned away prefer staying under open sky than bear the humiliation.

Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a freelance journalist.

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