“We were on duty round-the-clock and for 24 hours a day, for the 23 days that the floods ravaged the affected villages. We would not even get time off to have food, let alone anyone offering us any; and our first meal often used to be at 10 p.m at night. If anyone happened to be seriously unwell, we would have to rush to their village at odd hours.” said a visibly perturbed Satendra Nishad, but still we do not get compensation when we met him outside the Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s (S.D.M) office in Chitrakoot, U.P.
Satendra along with a group of fellow boatmen had come together to meet the S.D.M as a part of their months-long effort to receive compensation for their tireless work in rescuing communities living in villages on the banks of the Yamuna river in Chitrakoot. The Nishads is a traditional community of boatmen in Uttar Pradesh, and for many of them, this age-old occupation is still a major source of income.
Though Bundelkhand is often in the news for consecutive droughts year after year, a lesser-known phenomenon are short-lived but severe floods. Yamuna, Ken, and Betwa all flow through Bundelkhand and low-lying areas close to their banks are all susceptible to flash floods caused by heavy rains that span only a few days. The destruction, however, is long-lasting. The floods in Bundelkhand this year have affected the districts of Chitrakoot, Banda, Hamirpur, Mahoba and Tikamgarh and also the neighboring districts of Rewa and Satna.
In Chitrakoot district, villages that are on the banks of Yamuna have had their fields and homes upended, as we have reported. Since September of 2019, the water level of Yamuna has increased, resulting in floods in over 50 villages situated on its banks.
Another boatman, Kamal Nishad shared with us how the district administration had given promises of compensation for their tireless efforts and hence they were even instructed to not accept payments from anyone for the boat rides – “ They said the payment will come directly from the funds to be provided by the Yogi Adityanath government. The day that floods end, we will compensate you in a span of the next three to four days. Three months have passed since this promise.”
The direness of their situation may be hard to comprehend for authorities who have yet to understand the scale of the disaster for flood-affected farmers and locals, many of whom are still living in makeshift tents. As Santra Devi, among the group of petitioners shared with us, “There are 9 people in my household and we primarily depend on money from the boat rides.” Their drive to receive their dues, however, has not wavered, “ We will go till wherever our reach is. If we have to go all the way to meet Yogi, we will.” shared Kamal Nishad.
As for now, this seems to be a likely possibility considering the nature of responses that the local administration is still resorting to. Rajbahadur, the S.D.M of Chitrakoot had a standard reply when asked about the situation, “ We have written to the authorities and the money will come when it comes.”