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WLTC Photo Stories 

Rehna Sultana

Rehna is a researcher and a community worker working in the Char Chapari area of Brahmaputra Valley, especially in Kamrup and Barpeta district. She has been working with the Char people to raise awareness towards their Constitutional rights, women empowerment, menstruation hygiene and girl child education. Since the last few years, Rehana has also been involved in documentation through media and government reports, interviews of victims in conflict areas and others. She also writes on different issues faces by the Char people with a focus on their socio-economic condition, gender, citizenship and politics. Her stories have been published in various publications. She has also published a book which is a compendium of research-oriented articles on the lifestyle, economic condition, language and culture of the population inhabiting the river islands and riverine areas of Assam.  

Anuwara Begum is 39-years-old and a widow. She lives with her two children in Selusuti, Kamrup (R). Before the lockdown, she worked as a daily wage worker. She is worried that if the lockdown persists, she will not be able to feed her children. A local NGO has provided her with relief materials- rice, dal, sugar, wheat, potatoes, salt, onion, mustard oil, biscuits – which will not last more than 10 days.

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Sukurjaan Nesa is 60-years-old and a widow, who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She works as a domestic worker but has not received any salary since the lockdown. Her employers have been avoiding any means of communication with her. Sukurjaan's family is in need of food and financial support but no one has reached out to her yet, not even the proposed government schemes. 

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Ujala Bewa is 80-years-old and lives alone in Selusuti, Kamrup (R). With no source of income, the lockdown has hit her the hardest. Meanwhile, a local NGO has provided support with a one-time relief of food items, soap, detergent powder, etc. Now she is seeking support to rebuild her house that was damaged in the recent storm. She has sought temporary refuge at some else’s house for now. 

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Jainab Begum is 26-years-old and lives with her husband and three children in Selsuti, Kamrup (R). She was a daily wage earner but has lost her job due to the lockdown. She is worried about not being able to feed her children if the lockdown continues to extend. She desperately wants to get back to work. Meanwhile, a local NGO has provided her with relief materials including rice, dal, sugar, wheat, potatoes, salt, onion, mustard oil and biscuits.

Our research area is Char Chapari villages in Kamrup rural. Almost 90 per cent of the people in this area are low-income. Most of them are daily wage earners, working as brick kiln labours, rickshaw and handcart pullers etc. They don't own any property in the area, so they either rent some land for cultivation or migrate to cities within and outside of Assam.

 

In almost every household there’s at least one family member who has migrated for work. 

During the lockdown, those who had rented land for cultivation find themselves in a difficult situation. They usually cultivate paddy and vegetables and then travel to markets in order to sell their produce. But due to the lockdown, they're unable to do this and, left with no choice, have been throwing a lot of the perishable goods in ponds or the nearby river. Reverse migration has also taken place as the lockdown has led to several job cuts in the cities.

 

For people with no ration card, it has been very difficult to get access to food. They often wait outside ration shops hoping to get even a handful of rice.  With no money, no work opportunities, no food at home, they expected support from the government, but that has not happened so far.

 

A recent storm which wreaked many houses has led to further distress. Almost half the houses in the village have been destroyed. Families have now been staying in single rooms where social distancing is impossible. In fact, people here aren’t even aware of such preventive measures. Annual seasonal floods are now expected, which will worsen the already grievous situation. 

 

During my interviews, I realised that there’s every chance of people suffering from starvation if relief materials do not come in soon. Some of the adults have already been skipping meals to ensure that at least their children don’t stay hungry. 

 

Another worrisome situation is an increase in domestic violence against women from their husbands and in-laws. 

Photo series co-ordinated by Banamallika Choudhury of Women’s Leadership Training Centre (WLTC) and Sampurna Das a doctoral student at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. 

 

WLTC is a feminist organisation based in Assam, working towards gender and social equality. It focuses on enhancing women’s capacities and creating space and opportunity for women (cis and trans) to take decision-making and leadership positions within families, communities, in governance and politics.

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