Hundreds of Dalits stranded in Puri community shelters a month after Cyclone Fani -Satya Sundar Barik
They remain highly vulnerable to disaster, with weak resilience.
Puri: Sulochana Das, a 35-year-old woman in the nondescript village of Sainsa Sasana, had little choice when her four-member family rushed to take refuge in a roadside shop as cyclone Fani menacingly hurtled towards the Odisha coast on May 3.
A month later, Ms. Das’ family cannot just think of moving out of the 10 sq. ft. one-room shop because the place where her home existed before is now a vacant area. Creating a liveable shelter appears to be distant dream for her family.
Many families face a similar ordeal. The adjacent Sainsa Sasana Panchayat office is still occupied by seven families. After the State government discontinued the free kitchens, these families have set up separate hearths out in the open, leading a life of destitution in their own village.
Just two kilometres away from Sainsa Sasana, the Bhagabatipur school accommodates five families.
Almost all families still taking shelter in community houses or government buildings are Dalits.
Tales of loss
Close to the Chilika Lake, about 80 km away from here, 30 Dalit families continue to reside in the Satpada College premises. The little known ASHA Multipurpose Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre at the Pachaspola hamlet under Puri Sadar block houses 28 Dalit families.
“Disaster does not spare people along caste lines, or as rich and poor. But after the cyclone Fani ravaged Puri district, a clear pattern has emerged that vulnerability to disaster among the social excluded [Dalits] is high, while resilience is very weak,” said Bimal Pandia of OXFAM, a leading voluntary organisation.
Mr. Pandia said, “Hundreds of Dalit families are still in community shelters like Panchayat offices, schools and other government offices as they are not able to erect even makeshift houses.”
At Bhoi Sahi, a Dalit hamlet of Sainsa Sasana, houses of 10-12 families have been completely razed to ground. “We have received 50 kg rice and ?2,000 from the government. It has been more than a month since we have been able to get any wage employment. The little savings we had has been exhausted,” said Pabitra Das, one Dalit villager.
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