Supaul (Bihar): Malti and Bhagwati Devi are just two of the thousands of people who have had to abandon their homes to take shelter on an embankment in flood-affected Bihar's Supaul district. Their main worry, however, is not hunger but the difficulties they face in going through their ablutions unlike men.
"Poor women like us face more problems to relieve ourselves when floods force us to flee our villages. It is our fate. No one can imagine this except those like us," said Bhagwati, in her late 30s, who along with her family have taken shelter on the eastern Kosi embankment.
Malti, in her early 50s and the mother of three young daughters, spoke of her ignominy. "We have no option but to relieve ourselves in the open by closing our eyes and minds to the hell-like situation," she said.
With major rivers including the Kosi, Gandak, Bagmati and Ganga rising and posing a serious threat, Malti and Bhagwati are two of thousands of women in flood-affected districts in the state living with shame and fighting to relieve themselves.
"Flood-hit poor women face more problems than men as more than for food, they have to fight shame and shock to relieve themselves either on the crowded embankment or nearby. There is no other place as there is life-threatening water all around," said Ranjeev, a flood expert who works in the Kosi region.
Mahender Yadav, an activist working in the same regiion, told IANS: "It is beyond imagination how women trapped by the rising rivers go through their ablutions."
A much sought-after item by these women is polythene sheets or bags with which they can wrap around themselves and stand in the water to relieve themselves. "Even polythene sheets are in short supply as the authorities have failed to provide them," Yadav said.
Ranjeev said neither the men of their families nor the government pay proper attention to this big problem of women in the flood-hit district.
He said that there is no plan to erect makeshift toilets on the embankments for women.
"A few years ago, a British woman researcher was with me on a visit to an embankment during floods. She was stunned to know that women have been forced to relieve themselves in the open as there was no arrangement made for them," Ranjeev recalled.
It is over 10 days that rivers continued to flow above the danger mark in Saharsa, Supaul, Madhepura, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Khagaria, Sitamarhi, Nalanda and other districts, affecting 1.6 million people in more than 850 villages.
Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, after an aerial survey of the flood-affected 15 districts last week said the situation is grim but under control. He ordered the district officials to provide relief and rescue on a priority basis to people living in inundated areas.
The floods have so far claimed 17 lives in the state.
The state government has evacuated 116,000 people till date from flooded areas and around 50,000 people have taken shelter in 133 relief camps set up by the government at different places.
The government had earlier sounded a high alert as the water level of major rivers in north Bihar rose following heavy rain in their catchment areas in Nepal.
Over a dozen teams of the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have been deployed in the flood-hit districts, with the latter asking people living in low-lying areas to move to higher ground.