Jobs lost due to lockdown, houses destroyed by cyclone: Migrant labourers stare at uncertainty
On Monday, when I reached home, I thought my sufferings were over. But I was wrong. The lockdown took away my job and the cyclone took away everything, says a migrant from Kolkata
Jamal Mondal (45), a migrant labourer who returned from Bengaluru to his hometown Gosaba in South 24 Parganas district on Monday, was happy to be reunited with his family, even though he had lost his job due to the nationwide lockdown.
But his happiness was short-lived.
On Thursday morning, along with his four daughters and wife, Mondal was jostling outside a relief camp in the district for two loafs of bread and a tarpaulin sheet to spend the nights at a cyclone shelter, as his one-storey mud house was washed away by extremely severe cyclonic storm "Amphan" on Wednesday night.
"On Monday, when I reached home, I thought my sufferings were over. But I was wrong. The lockdown took away my job and the cyclone took away everything I was left with. I do not know what would I do next, where would I stay and how would I feed my family," Mondal told a television news channel.
The story is the same for hundreds of migrant labourers in South 24 Parganas who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and are left with nothing due to the monstrous cyclone now.
"Amphan" has killed at least 12 persons in West Bengal and ravaged Kolkata and several parts of the state. It has left behind a trail of unprecedented destruction by uprooting trees, destroying thousands of homes and swamping the low-lying areas of the state.
According to Jamir Ali (35), it was after the devastating Cyclone Aila in 2009 that he had decided to go to other states in search of work to feed his family of seven.
"After Aila, I had decided to go to Bengaluru in search of work. I worked there as a mason for 10 years, but due to the lockdown, lost my job and after an arduous journey of 15 days by foot, truck and bus, managed to reach home on Tuesday. I was hopeful that everything would be fine, but the worse was waiting to happen," he said.
Ali's house has been destroyed and since Wednesday night, there is no trace of his younger brother, who had gone out to tie down their boat near the embankment.
"My brother left the house at around 5 pm, saying he would be back within half-an-hour after tying down our fishing dinghy to one of the pillars on the embankment. The embankment is completely destroyed and there is no trace of him," Ali said.
Embankments in the Sundarban delta -- a UNESCO world heritage site -- were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometres of the islands.
The ecologically fragile Sunderban region, nestled around the world's largest mangrove forest, is home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.
For the residents of the area, the fight for survival with nature and wildlife is a routine affair.
The region also sends a large number of labourers to work in various parts of the country.
"Earlier, most of us used to work here. But after the 2009 cyclone, we lost much of our habitat due to the rising sea levels and had to move to other states. But this cyclone took away our homes. All us have to start from scratch as we are not left with even a single penny," said Joydeb Mondal while standing in a queue for food outside a relief camp.
"After this cyclone, more people would move out of the Sunderban region in search of jobs," a district official said.
Packing heavy rain and winds with speeds of up to 190 kmph, "Amphan" slammed the Digha coast of West Bengal at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, triggering heavy rainfall in various parts of the state.
The cyclone barrelled through the districts of North and South 24 Parganas, unleashing copious rain and windstorm, blowing away thatched houses, uprooting trees, electric poles and swamping the low-lying towns and villages.