Memories of the 2005 Maharashtra floods haunt Ladibai Kamble, a resident of Kavathesar village in Kolhapur’s Shirol taluka. On 2 August, the police had alerted the villagers about the imminent flood, urging them to vacate their homes. “Water had started entering our beghar vasahat (colony for the homeless),” she says. The ground beneath her feet had disappeared soon after.

It took merely two days for the floods to ravage Kavathesar. Villagers were moved to a relief camp in the nearby zilla parishad school at Kumbhoj village, after Maharashtra and neighbouring states of Karnataka and Kerala were struck by floods, as a result of heavy monsoon rains over the past few weeks. Nearly 200 have been reported as dead in the state already.

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(Puja and Jyoti Patil’s home, which collapsed in the floods. “We are a family of 12 members with just one acre of land. We don’t have a single rupee. This flood destroyed us completely,” they say.)

For 60-year-old Kamble, it’s her son, more than her home, that worries her. “His village in Satara (district) was also affected by floods,” she says, misty-eyed.

On returning to her place after 10 days, she found that the roof had collapsed. “This house can fall anytime. The walls have become weak,” she says. But the stench was worse. It made everything even more unbearable.

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(Sixty-year-old Ladibai Kamble, who stays alone in this house, says, “This flood is more dangerous than the one in 2005. Nothing happened to my house back then.”)

Kamble spent most of her life as a labourer, working in agricultural fields. It’s been two years since her retirement, and she now survives solely on a meagre pension of Rs 600, with a little help from her son. It’s been a decade since her husband breathed his last. “Even during the 2005 floods the government didn’t help us. My community members will help me face this,” she says, clinging on to her last hope — empathy, as one of her neighbours, Tanaji Ghatge, gathers wooden debris in one place.

The flood victims have already started returning to their homes, which don’t exist.

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(Suvarna Adsule is afraid she might soon catch an infection due to lack of safety gear and the unbearable stench. “How will I bring my children into this home? They will all fall sick," she says.)

Suvarna Adsule, 34, has been stranded with countless hours of additional labour. For three hours, she has been cleaning the muck and slush that’s left her home malodorous. “How do we stay here? How do we live now?” she asks. She had to throw away all the foul-smelling books of her children.

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(Yashwant Mane successfully managed to save his sofa by tying it at a height of 11 feet from the ground.)

Her husband, 45-year-old Babaso Adsule, says, “My father passed away 15 days after the 2005 floods. He suffered from a lot of diseases after it.” While the floodwater had reached a height of three feet within their house last time, this time, it went up to seven feet.

“I have been wearing the same saree for four days now,” Suvarna says. They’ve lost most of their utensils and clothes. The fridge has been damaged by the floods.

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(Tanaji Ghatge, 47, who works as a driver at an international school, hasn’t gone to work in the last 10 days. He says, “In 2005, the water receded fast, so a lot of houses weren’t destroyed.”)

She left her daughter and son at a relative’s place for six days. “Now they are asking us to take the kids back, because they will be out for Rakshabandhan. How can I bring my kids to this stinking house?”

The couple works as agricultural labourers in Kavathesar, earning Rs 100 for five hours of work. “How do we start our lives again?” they ask, teary-eyed.

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(Inside a crumbled home in a Beghar Vasahat in Kavathesar.)

According to the statement released by Pune’s Divisional Commissioner Office, over four lakh were evacuated from as many as 584 villages in Kolhapur and Sangli districts in Maharashtra. The death toll in the western part of the state alone has touched 43.

Amidst such large-scale devastation, 26-year-old Jyoti Patil has been left with ghosts of what was once her home. Everyone in the village stops by her house to see its remains.

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(The remains of Mariyambi Tippimani's home, who is yet to return to the village.)

“We don’t have any support. My husband is an alcoholic. We left at 12 in the night when the water entered our home, and my husband was drunk even then,” she recalls, weeping. “Even now he’s drunk in the relief camp.”

Patil’s son suffers from a congenital heart defect, or simply put, holes in his heart. “Every month, we have to spend Rs 2,000 on his treatment. What will we do now?”

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(The villagers themselves are repairing the faulty cable and electricity lines.)

She lives in a joint family, where her husband and his two brothers collectively own a one-acre plot of land. “Where will we go now? We will stay here only, even if we die,” says her sister-in-law, Puja. Their sugarcane field has been flooded for 13 days now, earning them a loss of around Rs 2,40,000. The crop was supposed to be cut in the next two months.

For Yashwant Mane, his ordeals have been exacerbated by the lack of electricity, drinking water, and relief supplies. Having lived through the floods of 2005, he knew he would have to leave his home this time as well. “We tied three sofas to the ceiling hooks. How else do you save them?” he asks. The 70-year-old shifted his utensils, clothes, fridge, and other necessities to the staircase, even though he knew that wouldn’t be enough.

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(The floodwater receded from Kavathesar village on 12 August, but the agricultural fields remain inundated, destroying the crops.)

On returning home after eight days, he realised he had lost 4,000 kilos of organic fertiliser. His son, Vaibhav, took up a different responsibility though. “I didn’t leave the house for a week. During floods, a lot of thefts happen,” he says.

Vaibhav had to stay without electricity and adequate drinking water for a week in Kavathesar. When the water entered and reached up to eight feet in their house, he left and went to a relative’s place in Kolhapur’s Rui village. “The water flow was powerful this time. My 1,000 litre water tank disappeared in front of my eyes within seconds.”

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(Animals remain the worst affected by the floods. Several dogs were found wandering for food in Kavathesar.)

Like Kamble and Suvarna, several residents of beghar vasahats talk of casteist environments prevailing in them. “We are cornered in this village. Even if some relief measures come from outside, they never reach us,” says 25-year-old Chandrakant Kamble, a Dalit.

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(Mariyambi Tippimani, who runs a small bangle business, lost several of her bangles to the flood.)

The administrative district of Shirol witnessed an intense drought this year. Incidentally, from 5 to 10 August, it only received 294 millimetres of rainfall — the lowest for Kolhapur in the same period. The taluka was soon flooded when water from Warna, Panchganga, and Krishna rivers entered simultaneously. “We will never forget the floods of 2019,” Chandrakant says.

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(People in Kavathesar detached their sewing machines from the metallic stands to save them from the floods.)

— All photos by Sanket Jain

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