Living on the edge

Print edition : August 04, 2001

THE 4.5-km-long embankment in the Kundimohra region in Niali block of Cuttack district is lined with thousands of marooned people. To reach food, medicine and relief materials to them, one has to travel 1.5 km by boat from the mainland. The people are living in tiny polythene tents held up by sticks. The deathly silence all round is broken only when Air Force choppers carrying food packets fly past. As the food materials are dropped men, women and children scramble to grab as many packets as they can for themselves and their family.

Vidyadhar Maharana, 79, lives on the embankment. He has no family and his house in Puychanda village in Niali block was washed away, leaving him homeless. When Frontline asked him if he was getting enough food, he broke down. "I am not strong like the others here. I have nobody to gather supplies for me either. The government and the NGOs do give food from time to time (each family gets 300 gm of rice a day) but I do not always get it."

A few kilometres from Vidyadhar's tent is an aged woman with two daughters. Asked how they were doing, they simply gave blank stares. When the photographer tried to take their picture, the old lady picked up a stick and stared as if in warning. Most of the people all round were silent. Even the children did not smile when photographed.

At a far end of the embankment sat Murlidhar Raut and his wife and daughter, eating rice soaked in water. Asked if the food given was enough for his family, he said ''No,'' without even bothering to look up. "What we are eating here was given to us several days ago. It would have got over long back, but we are rationing it so that it lasts as long as possible. Now please leave and let us eat in peace."

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