Aila refugees of the Sunderbans have taken shelter in the new shanties of Nonadanga

April 16, 2012

Sriman Chakraborty, Kolkata, June 27
Sangbad Manthan (July 1, 2011)
This article, originally published last year in Sangbad Manthan, has been translated by Debarshi Das

Some ten to twelve slum quarters have been demolished in Nonadanga on June 9. Just a few months before that the refugees had taken shelter there. Before coming to Nonadanga they were living on rent in other slum areas of South Kolkata. From mid-2009 many men and women have been living around the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and other places. They originate from places like Deulbari, Basanti and other areas of the Sunderbans which had been devastated by the Aila. Arati Sardar, Mangala Naskar, Maya Samaddar had lived in Sabuj Palli on 600-800 rupees rent, or in relatives’ slum dwellings. They built shanty-houses in the open field behind the Nonadanga Market, beside the office of the Rights and People’s Welfare Samiti with help from the Director of the Samiti Bapi Mandal. Some of them came nine months ago, some six, some three. However they were despised by the local CPI(M) and Trinamool leaders. The local clubs, residents of the nearby nine feet by twelve feet flats, even the Nonadanga Bandhab People’s Welfare Samiti, started objecting to the setting up of shanty houses. It is to be noted that all residents of these nearby flats have been rehabilitated with government assistance after getting evicted from the Khalpara slums of 105, 106, 107 wards.

On visiting Nonadanga we found the tiled roofs of the houses have been broken. This is in the middle of full spate of monsoon rain. Household articles were looted, utensils containing cooked food were kicked aside, even the children’s meal plates were not spared. Those who objected were beaten up. The flat residents watched all this quietly. They did not protest. Some of them say, the open air of the field has got obstructed because of setting up the shanties. When a local Trinamool leader was requested for help he said now the houses will be burned down. Strangely, there are some houses standing beside the destroyed houses which have not been touched. The houses which have been targeted are the ones which had been recently set up.

Arati Sardar’s husband used to work as a labourer, laying down pipes. About a year back he had chest operation due to which he can no longer lift heavy things. Arati runs the house somehow by working as a maid servant. Their two sons are not attending school because of dearth of money. They are nine and twelve years old. Before Aila they used to live in Naskar Haat of Basanti. They used to work as agricultural labourers.

Maya Sardar came to Nonadanga a few months back. She used to live alone with her son by the Bypass. She runs an eatery. After her sister in law had built a shanty house in Nonadanga she also came here. She had to take loans to build her house. Ekadashi Naskar is in her twenties. Goons have broken her roof tiles. Her household goods have been looted. She has a son and a daughter. She manages somehow by working as domestic maid servant, the husband does not earn much. She used to live in Deulbari. Aila had damaged her house there. Then they lost the house in fights with other family members and migrated to Kolkata. They lived on rent for some days near the China Mandir of Nonadanga. But the rent was proving to be too high and they had shifted here.

Due to Aila, lives of many people have been destroyed and they have been rendered refugees. There is no reliable assessment of the damage. The refugees migrated to Kolkata merely to manage two square meals a day and to somehow survive. They did not have any ration card in village, neither do they have it here. It is the urge to survive which has pushed them to the refugee life. May be they too are going to turn into ingredients of some new project of Kolkata metropolis in the coming days.