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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
Surviving on snails and rats in Bihar
By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Bihar

National Highway 57 between Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga
The National Highway connects the two worst affected districts (Pic: Prashant Ravi)
Daily wage labourers Shiv Sagar Sahni and his young son Sugarath Sahni had a thatched house, two goats and 2,000 rupees (24) until a fortnight ago.

Now they are a penniless and famished family of eight taking shelter on National Highway 57.

They had to sell their goats and take loans from some well-off villagers to survive.

Like 50 other families, their village of Jarang-Baluaha, about a kilometre from the highway, was marooned in the floods.

Sharing a little space under a black polythene sheet and wooden cot, the Sahni family is among millions in the flood-ravaged northern Indian state of Bihar who have been stranded either on raised national highways, railway tracks or the rooftops of some government buildings.

"What to do. It's our tryst with destiny every year from which there seems to be no escape for us," Shiv Sagar Sahni told the BBC.

We're hungry and surviving somehow eating snails or rats
Rajesh and Ajudh Manjhi

Rows of buffaloes, cows and goats can be seen stranded with people on the highway.

Most people are sleeping or sitting under the open sky, ruing their fate and the recurring flood.

Rajesh Manjhi and Ajudh Manjhi have taken shelter on a road bridge.

"Last night some people brought a sheet of polythene for each family. That's the only help we have received till now," they said.

"No food, no relief... nothing has come to us so far. We're hungry and surviving somehow eating snails or rats."

Flood injustice

Pointing towards their submerged thatched houses in Atarbel village, they said that only two things had been rising for them during the last fortnight: "our hunger and debt".

"What can we do? We're poor people. Who cares for us?" they asked.

Banslal Sahni  (Pic: Prashant Ravi)_
Animals are the silent sufferers of the flood menace which has gripped our area
Banslal Sahni

They are agricultural labourers who make 45-50 rupees (a little more than a dollar) a day, but ever since the floods, they have been unable to find any work.

It's a vicious circle of debt for the poor families living on highways or embankments.

A week ago Kamod Ram and Basant Ram saw a helicopter dropping food packets at some distance on the highway, but they were grabbed by some bus passengers crossing the road.

"The government declares that relief has been sent for people like us but that is usurped by upper caste, well-off people on the way.

"They sell the stuff to ration shops and we buy them from there, paying money borrowed from those well off people," they said.

Animal victims

Sixty-year-old Banslal Sahni, sitting under the canopy of his black umbrella, has taken shelter on the highway because of his animals.

"I've come here for the sake of my animals. My family members could save their lives by going to the roof of the house but where could these hapless animals go?"

It happens every year. There is nothing new in it. This is our destiny
Rajkumari Devi

Sahni has 12 buffaloes and two cows tied to his cot on the highway.

Finding fodder for animals has also become a big problem in the area.

"Animals are the silent sufferers of the flood menace which has gripped our area. No-one takes notice of them.

"But what can you expect from a government which is not even taking care of us?" asks Rajkumari Devi.

Mother of three children and wife of a rickshaw puller, Rajkumari Devi, has taken shelter on the narrow part of the national highway near Bochaha village in Muzaffarpur.

Nine-year old Sarita Kumar makes chapati
Many of the displaced have taken on more debt to pay for food (Pic: Prashant Ravi)

Her nine-year-old eldest daughter, Sarita Kumari, was making chapati for the first time in two weeks after Devi took a loan of a few hundred rupees from a local shop-owner.

Their thatched house in the village has been completely damaged and swept away by the flood waters.

"It happens every year. There is nothing new in it. This is our destiny," says Ms Devi.

She and her family are lucky that they have been able to get at least one square meal after two weeks.

There are others who have not been able to eat even chapati for the past two weeks.

"We're somehow surviving on a handful of beaten rice, or snails and fish caught from the flood water," says Batohi Manjhi.

A major problem is drinking water.

The villagers say they drink, bathe and wash clothes in the same water that is used for sanitation.


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