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HomeIndiaRemote, isolated and flood-prone, UP's Sitapur villages have bigger worries than coronavirus

Remote, isolated and flood-prone, UP’s Sitapur villages have bigger worries than coronavirus

In northeast UP's Durga Purwa and Nai Basti, villagers are surviving on meagre rations while several of their family members are stranded across North India due to lockdown.

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Sitapur: Nestled in the Biswan tehsil of northeast Uttar Pradesh are the villages, Durga Purwa and Nai Basti — 90 kilometres from the mainland district of Sitapur.

The two villages are separated by Shadra, Ghagra and Sarayu rivers, and life here has always been nomadic due to constant flooding. This has forced villagers to set up temporary shelters to relocate to higher grounds during floods.

The nationwide lockdown imposed on 24 March to arrest the spread of Covid-19 has only increased their troubles.

Not only are the villagers facing an acute shortage of essential commodities, but many are also worried about their families members who work as labourers in various cities of North India and are now stranded because of the lockdown.

“Abbu died last month but my brother Kayum who is stuck in New Delhi couldn’t attend his funeral,” said Imran, a resident of Durga Purwa. Kayum works in a tailor’s shop in Delhi.

“Whenever we talk over the phone, he cries and tells us that he is scared of the Covid-19 outbreak in the city. He isn’t getting enough food, we all feel helpless.”

Imran had a request for the Delhi government. “We have to organise the 40-day ceremony of Abbu, and it can’t happen without Kayum. I request the Delhi government to help him out.”

Several of these migrant workers are stranded with little money, and their families are helpless with little or no resources at their disposal. Many villagers said the meagre ration they have received from the government was not enough to survive. They also said they don’t have oil and salt to cook their meals.

Thirty five-year-old Desh Raj’s brother and two nephews are stuck in Punjab but he is unable to help them because of his own “mounting debt”.

“They are completely helpless, and cry whenever we get a chance to speak to them on the phone. They have no money to buy food. Since we already have massive loans to repay, there is little we can do to help them financially,” said Desh Raj.

There have been no reported cases of coronavirus from the two villages.

Also read: This Surat man buys 150 kg vegetables, 500 kg rice to feed 12,000 people twice a day

Harvested wheat is wasting away

Wheat cultivation is the primary source of income in Durga Purwa. However, due to the lockdown, the harvest is only getting piled up.

According to Desh Yadav, a wheat cultivator in the village, their entire harvest is wasting away because they are unable to travel to Sitapur to sell it.

Durga Purwa is also situated in a remote area and the people have to cover long distances on foot to reach the district to sell and purchase items.

“What will we do with this wheat? How do we travel to the city to sell the harvest? We hardly have oil and salt to cook our food, we don’t have cash and going all the way to the city isn’t possible now,” he said.

ThePrint learnt that the villagers have to walk about 10 km to reach the nearest bank to withdraw cash.

Wheat harvest in Nai Basti | Photo: Bismee Taskin | ThePrint

In the meantime, they are making ends meet by bartering wheat and watermelons among themselves.

Across the river in Nai Basti, the situation is even more grim. The village has no electricity. Villagers have to walk more than 4 km to reach the river, after which they have to arrange a boat to Durga Purwa and walk for 10-12 km again to reach banks and markets.

There is also a looming threat of floods. “In about 15 days, when the river will flood our homes and farms, we have to move again,” said Sanjay, a villager from Durga Purwa.

Also read: ‘Corona will be reduced to ashes here’ — lockdown norms don’t exist for people in Bihar, UP

‘Should we feed ourselves or worry about stranded sons?’

Seventy-year-old Ramfal lives in Nai Basti with his wife, but his two sons 25-year-old Anil and 19-year-old Pramod are stranded in Punjab with little food and no money.

“We have no phone, we can only talk to our sons when our neighbours lend us their phones. Only we know how we are spending our days. Our heart aches when we listen to both our sons weeping on call whenever we talk. They have no money and are surviving on meagre food,” he told ThePrint.

Ramfal has been borrowing money to send to his sons since they reportedly lost their jobs at a iron factory where they worked.

“They are burdened with loans, nobody is lending anymore, as they are already out of work. We are also in debt after transferring money to them from whatever we can arrange. The bank is also far away from here,” he said.

“I am old, I keep falling sick, we have no one else to help us out, our sons are our pillars and now life has deceived us. We have no clue if we will ever see our sons again,” a teary-eyed Ramfal added.

Ramfal’s elder son Anil, who is stranded in Punjab | Photo: Bismee Taskin | ThePrint

His wife broke down while talking about her son. “Floods every year already take a toll on our lives. We can barely make our ends meet and now this lockdown has made things worse for us.”

She added, “We don’t know what to worry about more, feeding our stomachs or our stranded sons.”

According to their daughter Rajkumari, the lockdown has also made it difficult to acquire medicines for her parents. “Their health is deteriorating by the day due to stress,” she said.

Rajkumari, who is married, said she has come to live with her parents because they are old and sick.

Also read: Returning migrants spike Bihar’s Covid numbers, state scrambles for faster testing

Trying to make all possible arrangements: SDM

“Our administration is trying to make all possible arrangements to solve the problems of the people. We have control rooms to address these problems, along with a police helpline no 112, so that people in distress can call,” Sub-Divisional Magistrate Suresh Kumar told ThePrint.

He also talked about their ‘jansunwai’ portal, which has been reaching out to several migrant workers.

“Last night (on Monday), around 125 people came back from Mumbai and Udaipur. People are coming back regularly. We have even put our personal phone numbers, and we are getting as many as 100 calls per day. As many as 1,000-1,200 people have come back to Biswan,” said Kumar.

He added, “Our distribution system is working in place through lekhpal and subedars who visit the villages. Between 1st and 10th of every month, we provide ration.”

According to Kumar, Block Development Officer Somnath Chaurasia has been tasked with ensuring these villagers receive aid from the government.

ThePrint could not reach BDO Chaurasia for a comment despite repeated attempts.

As of Tuesday evening, Uttar Pradesh had a total of 3,664 coronavirus cases, 1,709 of them active, with 82 deaths reported so far. Sitapur district has reported a total of 26 cases so far.

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