Page last updated at 10:05 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 11:05 UK

Heroism amid India's floods

By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Bihar

Anand Mohan
Mr Mohan has been described as 'an angel' (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

The catastrophic floods in the east Indian state of Bihar resulted in many deaths and much hardship, but the suffering could have been much worse if it was not for the efforts of some valiant individuals.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to take shelter in hundreds of crammed relief camps where food and clean water are in short supply.

One such hero was Anand Mohan, who has just graduated from India's premier engineering institute, the Indian Institute of Technology [IIT] and is set to join a multinational mining company in Australia in mid-October.

After graduating from IIT, he planned to return to Sharsha town in Bihar for a week to say good-bye to his parents.

Sharsha was among the five districts hardest-hit in Bihar.

Although efforts were made to provide food and shelter to hundreds of displaced people just behind Sharsha's railway station, supplies soon ran out.

Rampaging rivers

Homeless, hungry and dispossessed people were left to fend for themselves and many were left with little choice but to migrate to other camps.

For me they are really gods
Flood victim Vijendra Rai

When Anand saw the misery, he could not restrain himself and began collecting donations from friends and local people to help them.

"The first day we managed to buy a biscuit carton and some milk powder packs. We distributed the stuff among starving children in the camp," he said.

However soon he got more help as more friends and locals flocked to join him.

Management student Ravi Verma was among them.

Together they named their group as Aastha (Faith) Volunteers and started working round the clock to look after those in the relief camp.

Aastha volunteers
The volunteers have received donations from far and wide

"Now we do not want to go anywhere else. Here we're getting everything from these people. They're taking care of us more than the government or other agencies," said Sanjay Kumar Mukhia from the neighbouring district of Madhepura.

He lost 16 members of his family in floods caused by rampaging rivers.

"My three year's old son survived only because of milk supplied by these bhaiyas, (brothers)," said another flood victim, Ghuran Ram.

Vijendra Rai's three children were suffering from acute diarrhoea - but they all survived thanks to timely medical help from Aastha volunteers.

"For me they are really gods," Mr Rai said.

Unmindful of the media presence, Anand Mohan and his friends are drenched in sweat as they carry on working in humid and trying conditions.

"Please write that we're doing nothing special. It's all became possible because of community support," he said.

"My physics professor HC Verma and some friends at IIT are collecting donations and sending them to us. I'm really thankful to them."

And for young local people, he has become a role model.

Aastha now comprises a team of 15 dedicated volunteers managing over 300 flood victims in two adjacent relief camps.

Other heroes

The floods have created other heroes in Bihar as well - and Amrendra Shukla and Ravi Paswan are among them.

Both are friends, both are disabled and both are casual labourers. Paswan has one leg blighted by polio.


Yet they saved almost 40 people from drowning in the swirling floodwaters.

When the River Kosi breached the embankment at Kusaha in Nepal the gushing water descended upon Birpur town in Bihar's Supaul district.

In no time the whole town was under water, with many homes literally washed away.

Hundreds of people sought sanctuary on rooftops to escape the swirling waters.

For four days many people were left stranded.

"Before our eyes little children, women and elderly people were being swept away in the strong currents of the flood water," Shukla told the BBC.

An idea came to him and Paswan to tie three empty drums together with thick bamboo sticks and then place a wooden bed on top.

They initially took six children on it for 3km (1.8 miles) in neck-deep water to reach a safer place.

Over three days they evacuated over 40 people - mostly children, women and elderly people.

"Despite being physically challenged they came as angels for local people by saving their life in the terrible floods," said local official Madan Tiwari.

The two men have shrugged off the acclaim in typically modest fashion. They say that they just "followed their consciences" without caring for their own lives which "otherwise are of no use for anyone".

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