INDIA Pain has its own language

By Akanksha Nigam, CARE India Communications Officer

When I was asked to go to Orissa for cyclone relief deployment, my only major concern was the language barrier. I was not at all familiar with Oriya—the language spoke in Orissa. But interacting with the victims of cyclone Phailin in Suryanarayanpur village, I realised that pain has its own language—one that doesn’t need words. The village has only 25 houses of which 18 were partially or fully damaged by the cyclone that struck on the night of October 12. Looking around the village for someone who could speak my mother tongue –Hindi—I met Jasodha Naik.

Jasodha speaks broken Hindi but what she cannot express in words, she tells me through gestures. Her little knowledge of Hindi is thanks to working as a migrant labour in Gujarat. Hers was one of 18 houses that were blown away in the storm. A widowed mother of four, Jasodha showed me what used to be her house once but was, now, just a heap of mud and bamboo. The next obvious question was where she was living now.

“There are only four concrete houses in the village left and 20 families are living in those houses”, she says. The houses that she mentions are actually four tiny rooms. While men and boys live in two rooms, women, girls and babies share the other rooms. There are up to 30 women, girls and babies who share one room.

“When the cyclone came, we all ran to these four rooms. We couldn’t take anything with us as everything happened so quickly. All I have in my name is this saree that I am wearing. Everything else is gone,” Jasodha says.

Water, shelter, food – everything is needed

Water supply is also a problem here. With no electricity, the village pump cannot be used. This leaves them with the only option of an open well. The water here is used for bathing, cooking, drinking and cleaning. How clean and safe such water is going to be – that is anybody’s guess. “We pray every day that we don’t fall sick. The cyclone has taken everything and we cannot afford treatment now,” Bonita, another woman of the village, asks Jasodha to tell me.

The women, including teenage girls like 15-year-old Priyadarshini Bharti, have to bathe in the open well. They have no spare change of clothes, which means they wash and wear the same outfit every day. “Thankfully, the men in our village are decent and, therefore, we haven’t faced any problems here. You are from the city and you know how dangerous such situations can become. The girls and women either stay indoors while waiting for their clothes to dry or borrow clothes from others for some time. Those who have their menstrual cycles suffer the most. It becomes difficult to stay in the same room but we are all adjusting,” says Jasodha, as she shows me the tiny rooms where they all stay.

Another fall out of this is that the children here have stopped going to school. “We are just focussing on getting our lives back on track and it is not possible to send them to school. Besides, they all lost their books and study material in the cyclone.” But that is only one of the many problems that women like Jasodha are facing in this village. They have limited rations. Though government is distributing ration, it is not enough for everyone. “We cook meals twice a day. While children are fed both the times, the adults have only one meal at night. We can’t help it. We have limited ration and we have to make it with that,” she says. I had reached the village around 1pm and Jasodha told me that she and others hadn’t eaten anything till then. “We cooked rice in the morning and gave it to the children,” she says. With no gas available, even cooking whatever little food they have is an ordeal. The have to use a mud stove fuelled by coal but now, with each passing day, the coal supply is fast depleting.

The group of women here also includes a lactating mother, Geetanjali. She delivered her son Dharamendra last month. The baby thankfully received all his vaccinations before the cyclone struck. Nutritious food is out of question for Geetanjali. She too is surviving on one meal a day. Through gestures, Geetanjali tells me that this is affecting her breastfeeding. She is struggling to provide him with the required amount of milk.

The problems that this village is facing are not just limited to its women. The men too have their own woes to deal with. Most of the population in this village work as migrant labourers for six months and stay home with their earnings for the remaining six. Many had just returned and lost all their six months’ earnings in the cyclone. Now, they have no resources left even to go back and work as labourers in other states. “Any and all help — big or small — is welcome right now. We are dependent on the goodwill of others. It would be nice if we could only get a new set of clothes if nothing else”, whispers Jasodha, as I get ready to leave.

CARE India’s emergency team is on the ground assessing the needs and will provide emergency relief items such as jerry cans, tarpaulins, hygiene kits and solar lamps. CARE has provided 5,000 children with biscuits and will distribute water purification systems in 100 villages. CARE India will support recovery with shelter and livelihood support.

Please click here to read another story about cyclone Phailin