Ground Reports

Migration Owing to Floods, An Annual Crisis For Assam

Every year, at least 25-30 lakh citizens of Assam are affected by floods. Incessant rains on a yearly basis preceding and during the monsoons result in devastating floods that leave Assamese people in a dilapidated state, compelling them to migrate to the hills.

 


By Hrishi Raj Anand, 25 Jun 2022


Suchen Taye's House right now in Assam's Silchar while he continues to march with other protestors of SSC GD.

“The monsoons in the recent past have become quite unpredictable, and in order to avoid this, more accurate and decentralized forecasts can ensure some preparedness. Weather reports should be made available on district levels,” said Mr. Himanshu Thakar of South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers, and People.

In May, floods in Kathigoda affected 5 villages where a large community of Bengali Muslims reside. Most rely on farming and fisheries as a source of earning. Mahmadul Islam is a part-time teacher who recently graduated from a Kerala college completing a three-year English Honors course. He returned to his village in the Kathigoda constituency and has been teaching in a local school. He says, “every village has upto 2500 people. No matter which house you go to, you will find people who were forced to migrate to other States in hunt for jobs.” Many families, heartbroken with the annual losses, chose to drop farming and work either as a daily wage labourer or look to other measures.

Unpredictable monsoons have meant that for farmers, hurdles have multiplied. The destruction of produce has become an annual affair, say the farmers. With the land’s fertility deteriorating due to the erosion happening on a large scale in Assam, govt data surmises that several hundreds crores worth of crops are lost every year. The same data set reports that 4.27 lakh hectares of Assam’s land have already eroded due to floods. 

Mahmadul claims that with the maximum and effective utilization of government-owned land, there is a possibility to prevent forced migration, “there is a lot of government land here. Much of which could be used for paddy farming if correct steps are taken. Many would-be employed if these steps were taken.” 

As May turned to June, a larger, more devastating flood hit the shores of Assam. Those who had just resettled are once again on the verge of abandonment. With jobs scarce in the State and flood season hitting its peak, the youth of the village who are currently working elsewhere in order to make ends meet had to cancel their plans of coming back home.

Khalil Ahmad, a 34-year-old breadwinner of a family of 9, is currently working in Chennai as a TVS mechanic with his brother for the last three years. Khalil’s family used to work in farming, but irregular floods have meant income has been inconsistent. “It takes 3 days by train to reach my place from Chennai, flight tickets are unaffordable. We have to book train tickets several months in advance to avoid being on the waitlist,” said Khalil. His village is one of those submerged in the latest rounds of floods. 

Khalil earns INR 12,000 a month and managing family expenses as well as his has been strenuous, “savings is not an option, I hardly manage to cover the monthly expenses with rent, electricity, water, and food. Some I send home. Nothing is left after this. ” Khalil has not visited his hometown in two years, and will not go this year either, or else his family risks facing financial repercussions. His family has temporarily shifted to the hilly areas of Assam.

 

The limited options for educated youth mean that they look to government jobs for a future. But, for many, that option no longer exists. The Indian Armed Forces, where many young individuals belonging to poor, underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds look to, has not filled its vacancies for the last couple of years. The Staff Selection Commission General Duty (SSC GD), which many candidates cleared to land a job in the paramilitary forces, is no longer valid. 

One such candidate who hails from Assam’s Silchar is 27-year-old Suchen Taye. Suchan’s village is inundated due to the flood and his family has moved to a relative’s home. While the Assamese local is medically fit, and qualified and his documents are verified with the government, he still does not have a job in the Armed Forces because of the pending joining.

 

Suchen Taye at Nagpur during the Hunger Strike.

He was a part of the hunger strike in Nagpur along with other hopefuls, where he was on fast for 20 days straight, “while I was on a hunger strike, I had to go to the hospital twice. I had to be treated with 21 bottles of saline water. My family needs me right now, and so do my fellow candidates who are waiting for the job. I cannot leave either. If I had this job, I would have been able to help my family financially.”

According to an environmental historian at IIT with a base in Guwahati, increased population growth and environmental restrictions in char regions make it difficult for communities to maintain momentum with the rhythm of the river. Flood control measures fail every year. The embankments are almost useless, rendering no help to the people residing in riverine areas. Relief comes late and most of the citizens either shift to other hilly regions or choose to migrate to other States in search of jobs.