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It’s a hard rain in India


India has been ravaged by floods since time immemorial.  We Indians rejoice when the rain comes – it brings relief from the unrelenting, scorching summer heat.

As children, we ran out into the first April showers, screeching, dancing with joy, faces upturned eagerly, to receive those first blessed drops of rain. It was the antidote to the sweltering summer, to prickly heat, tropical, summer heat boils. It was ‘thank God summer’s over’ time. Westerners can’t fathom the joy that the first rains can bring in hot countries. For us, it’s ‘sumer is icumen in’, loud sing a curse!

As kids, we even welcomed the floods which happen every year in Kolkata.  Rain holidays for schoolchildren and office-goers. Then, when the waters subsided everyone rush outdoors, playing or watching cricket matches on our rare, traffic-free streets. Those were childhood memories.

Cut to monsoon 2017. The grim south Asian scenario: over 1,200 people have died in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, as rains ravaged the countryside, villages and cities. More than 41 million people have been devastated by the floods. Crops have been destroyed, rendering subsistence farmers distraught and economically demolished. Millions of already impoverished villagers are now homeless. They’ve watched all their meagre possessions washed away in the swirling waters.

In Assam, the dreaded monsoon floods are a certainty. Every year, with nightmarish regularity, we know there will be floods. Every year in a sickening, predictable cycle, we get news about animals killed in Kaziranga. Endangered species are not protected. Elephants, rhinos, a tiger or two. When human life is so cheap, who except for a handful of conservationists can be bothered about baby rhinos. They make cute pictures though, so social media is having a field day.

On 29-30 August, Mumbai experienced 315.8 mm of rain in 12 hours. That’s an entire month’s rain in one nightmarish night. It brought back memories of the worst ever flooding in 2005.

Heavy monsoon caused floods in Mumbai in August 2005.
Heavy monsoon rain caused floods in Mumbai in August 2005. By Hitesh Ashar

Mumbaikars, Bombayites to the oldies, have always show a resilience and can-do spirit, that emerges most forcefully in emergencies. People opened their homes to stranded folks. They provided not just tea and sympathy, but food, shelter and all manner of help to strangers. Temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras did likewise.

I read on Twitter, ‘We forget our religious differences when disaster strikes. Why do we allow politicians and religious bigots to create dissent at other times?’

While it’s heartening to see the best of humanity come to the fore, we need to ask the hard questions about why these disasters happen again and again.

Inclement weather cannot be stopped. Even before global warming became a term the world began to understand, we had floods. But the lack of preventive measures, (China and Japan have done the most to manage disasters effectively) makes this a man-made calamity. Speaking from the Indian perspective, it disgusts me that our governments have done nothing in over 70 years of Independence to prevent what we know will happen every monsoon.

A few hundred or thousand people dead is negligible in South Asian terms. We have callous, indifferent politicians who line their pockets in defence deals. They get away with murder, because we, the people, do not enforce accountability.

In a city like Mumbai where billionaires abound, plastic clogs our waterways and drains adding catastrophic consequences to nature’s wrath.

One of the city’s eminent gastero-enterologists, Dr Amrapurkar died 10 minutes away from his house because he fell into an open manhole. Every monsoon, people die because of open manholes.

There’s no punitive action. No one is held accountable. Because a famous man died, a social media petition demanding action is doing the rounds. Children die in manholes every year, but the mourning is short lived, even if the media highlights it briefly.

Hurricane Harvey has affected 13 million people. South Asian floods hit 41 million. In the US too there is corruption and bureaucracy; the people of New Orleans have screamed about it from the rooftops.

But in India, the voices of the wretchedly poor are given a cursory hearing only at election time. It’s a hard rain. And it continues to fall. Year after year, after year.


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