A guest post from Satyanarayan who was a part of a relief team after the cyclone Phailin spelled a trail of havoc in Odisha. Not only crops and people were affected, but also animals and properties were ruthlessly damaged. Satya recounts his experience of being a part of a team that was completely managed by women activists.
Visiting the villages hit by cyclone Phailin and seeing fellow human beings suffer through nature’s calamity has been one of the most poignant experiences of my life until date (P.N: The photographs in this post are taken by me and may be reproduced with a link back to Anne de Plume’s blog ‘Iris’) . The Cyclonic storm named “Phailin” derived from the thai word called sapphire has caused massive devastation in and around costal belt of Odisha, leaving lakhs of people homeless and in distress. Needless to say, the rosy-sounding name of Phailin was not that rosy for the people of Odisha that hit the coasts on 12 October 2013. The devastation was massive as it has brought flood along with it.
The cyclonic storm struck Gopalpur at midnight with a gushing speed of about 220 kmph and moved in same south west direction to costal belt of Andhra Pradesh namely Srikakulam, Ichapuram, Jharkhand, Bihar. Unlike 1999 cyclone, this time at least there was accurate and timely prediction done by Indian Meteorological Department leaving State Government authorities to plan and execute proper plan of action to deal with the cyclone. There was timely deployment of ODRAF, NDRAF (National Disaster Relief Action Force), Air force, Army and Navy. Yet, there was a lot more to be done and achieved than what was being done for people.
However, while the preventive measures were great and the media coverage of the event was extensive, television channels and national media completely forgot to cover the aftermath of the cyclone which was excessively damaging in the form of floods. The aftermath of the cyclone was massive flood, extensive damage to kutcha houses, large scale disruption of electrical and communication lines, disruption of rail and road traffic and of course potential threat of flying debris. Soon people started to commute with boats inside the city of Berhampur as no other mode of communication was possible. The massive devastation has paralyzed the entire rescue operation.
Coverage by local media like OTV and ETV played the only key role in understanding the aftermath of the cyclone and in developing plan of action to deal with such crisis.
Seeing the situation first hand along with a relief team, I kept on imagining that it is “far beyond human mind to comprehend the act of nature’s fury”.
I made a choice to be associated with the Sailashree Vihar Women’s Association, a voluntary organization to support the cause and stand up with those people caught in this tragedy. The reason being that a group of twenty-two homemakers, all women, were uniting in their efforts to collect relief materials and also spread sensitivity about the situation in Odisha by visiting homes and generating awareness. The enthusiasm and energy in this group was huge. The group planned meticulously and resolved to deliver the collected relief material to the appropriate places. They wanted to go to ground zero and work there even if for a day.
The ladies spread the message in the neighbourhood and started collecting relief materials from the local residents. Items were collected in form of clothes, biscuits, mixtures, poha mixed with gur, candle, match box, water pouch etc. They took the help of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation in identifying the most impactful place of Ganjam district. Khalikote is the place that was chosen for distribution of relief material. They decided to travel to Sana Ghati and Badagora villages, some of the highly affected localities in Phailin. The relief material was to be distributed among 150 families in two villages.
Before traveling to the villages, all the ladies of the association sat together till midnight to make small packets, so as to streamline the distribution process and ensure that each family gets proper share of relief.
On the D-Day that is on 27 October 2013 early morning around 0630 AM around 8 women and a small group of 5-6 men assembled together to drive to our destination in two cars and one relief truck carrying the materials collected. On the way the relief van got some problem with its engine and it could not move further, there was immediate need of another relief van so that material could be shifted and reaching final destination. We were afraid because of many news pieces which reported that relief material were being looted on the way. By the time we reached Khalikote it was 0230 PM.
It was raining and the cloud was dense. There was absolute silence and the impact of devastation was felt. After reaching Khalikhote, we met with Mr Mishra, IIC (Inspector In-charge). The police advised us to first take appropriate permission from the Collector he advised us to meet with Mr Hanuman, Block Development Office. Someone advised us to leave the relief materials in the police station or with the village sarpanch who would ensure that the material are duly distributed. However, the women in our group protested and said that they would themselves like to distribute the material to the people who needed and would ensure that the relief reached those who are affected. We were advised to take police help in order to avoid any untoward situation. Mr. Hanuman took the permission of the Collector and he agreed to the distribution of relief and assigned a platoon of police force for smooth coordination and to control any kind of unforeseen situation if they arise. The situation was clearly tensed in the villages, because people were living in utter darkness (without electricity) for days now.
The police van with a loud-speaker announced the relief distribution program to villagers who slowly came out of their homes near the van. It was probably one of the most intense and heart-touching experiences of our life. Entire villages were under water and there were neither roads nor any other amenity available, paddy cultivation completely ripe and ready to be harvested were destroyed, and the anger and frustration on the faces of people were clearly visible. A place that they called their home, was washed away by the fury of nature. I wondered, “why god, why has it to be my people for years and years?”
On seeing women activists leading the relief vans, District Officials and Police force, villagers were extremely happy and sigh of relief could be seen in their eyes and similarly we could realize their agony and helplessness in dealing with the crisis. There was an instinctive understanding and a deeper connection that these villagers shared with women in our group, almost like mother-child relationship, which perhaps was beyond the comprehension of men like us. There was only one prayer on everyone’s lips “Oh God give them the Courage to fight”.There was one thing which was clear to us. The people whom we met were not taking the relief materials out of their choice, rather it was because of the circumstances that they were bound to accept help and aid from people. There was a look of suspicion and in fact hatred initially because it appears when a relief team reaches from the city that they are there to do ‘charity’ and not empathize with the condition of the affected.
At last the relief material were duly distributed and we came back home. The food we had packed as lunch remained untouched because we had seen much more than what we could absorb….