Assam floods turn colleges into makeshift 'jail', trafficking activities see spurt as state battles fever, diarrhoea amid deluge

Syeda Ambia Zahan
Most of the flood-affected areas in Assam have been without power supply for the past week or more.

As floods in Assam sweep away thousands of hectares of land rendering lakhs of people homeless, active human trafficking rackets, inundated jails and power cuts lasting for weeks are worsening the situation. Thousands of inundated villages in 29 districts of Assam are disconnected to the towns due to breakage of roads and bridges. As many as 427 relief camps lack sufficient drinking water and food, and diseases like fever and diarrhoea are being reported.

As on Wednesday, 28 people have died in floods in the state. Out these, ten died within a span of 24 hours (from Tuesday to Wednesday). Over one-and-a-half lakh people are lodged in 427 relief camps.

College turns into a jail

Due to the floods, a jail in Assam which has 409 inmates had to be shifted to a women's college in the state. The inmates were shifted to the Dhubri Girls College on Tuesday night after flood water inundated the jail.

Raunak Ali Hazarika, Deputy Inspector General, Western Range, Assam said, "The water was entering the cells and so, we had to shift the inmates to a makeshift jail in Dhubri Girls College. They will be kept there till the floods recede."

The inmates, out of which eight are women, are confined to classrooms on the first floor of the college. Police patrolling has been increased in the college to make sure no one escapes from the makeshift cells. The ongoing summer vacation has made it convenient to lodge the inmates in the college. However, the college's administrative office remains open.

Notably, Dhubri is one of the worst flood-hit districts of Assam. As on Wednesday, 2,51,288 people have been affected by floods in the Dhubri Revenue Circle alone, where the Dhubri district jail is located.

Mobile charging costs Rs 20

Most of the flood-affected areas in Assam have been without power supply for the past week or more. So, charging people's mobile phones has emerged as a new way of earning some money during the floods. In Barpeta district, where around 15 lakh people are affected by floods in 711 villages, shopkeepers who have additional power back up are charging Rs 20 to charge mobile phones of flood victims.

Mohammad Rahul Amin, a local scribe from Barpeta district said, "In a span of 1-2 kilometres, you will find 10-15 such mobile charging shops. They first charge their inverters through generators, and then through the power back-up, they charge mobile phones."

According to Amin, shopkeepers charge 200-250 mobile phones a day, thus earning a good sum.

Anuwar Ali, a vegetable vendor in Kayakuchi area of the district, has recently borrowed a generator from his friend Amin Ali to get into the business.

"Earlier, I used to earn Rs 200-300 by selling vegetables all through the day. Now, I cannot sell vegetables due to the flood. So, I shifted to mobile charging. Now I earn that amount in an hour or so," he said, adding, "A disaster is a disaster only if you take it that way. I feel bad for the people. But you can make the most of it if you were smart."

At present, 5,744 people are staying in relief camps in the district.

Floods come as a boon for traffickers

On Monday, Assam Police rescued 19 girls and women who were supposed to be trafficked to Gujarat from New Bongaigaon Railway Station. Ten of them were minors. All the nineteen are from the villages of Kamrup Rural and Bongaigaon.

Moitrayee Deka, Deputy Superintendent of Police (HQ), Bongaigaon district, under whose leadership the girls and women were rescued, said, "We received a tip-off about the trafficking and when we reached the railway station, we noticed some minor girls. We asked them where they were going and they said they were going to Gujarat for work at a salary of Rs 8000 per month. They were about to board the Usha Express. With the help of the girls, we arrested two persons €" Bikash Rabha and Bhonita Barman."

A week back, the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights asked the district administration and local people to keep a close watch on human trafficking in flood relief camps and other flood-affected areas.

Mustafa Hussain, District Child Protection Officer, Bongaigaon said, "All the families of these children are very poor, and many of them are from flood-prone areas. Most of the parents don't care about where their children will go and how they will make a living. So far, we have handed over four children to their parents after they showed concern about them. The others are kept in a children's home and their statements have been recorded in the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court."

In Bongaigaon district, over two lakh people are affected by the flood, and 3,364 people are staying in nine relief camps. Poor and unsuspecting families often tend to get lured by traffickers who promise them a better life.

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