On 5 August, Juni Dhamani village in the Miraj taluka of Sangli district, Maharashtra, had started to flood. Within just three days, the entire village was submerged, and an urgent rescue operation was launched.
But days after the floods, the Municipal Council hadn’t provided any assistance in cleaning Juni Dhamani. Vijay Suryavanshi, a clerk with the village’s gram panchayat, points out: “Sangli city was cleaned within a day. But the Nagarpalika sent no one to clean our village even after four days. Our village has gone back by 20 years.”
Juni Dhamani's flooded fields.
From 5-10 August, Miraj taluka received 175.4 mm of rainfall. Juni Dhamani is flooded by the confluence of the Warna and Krishna rivers.
Most of the villagers of Juni Dhamani belong to the Koli caste, which has been listed as Specially Backward Class in Maharashtra. In Suryavanshi’s words is a clue to the unequal treatment that has plagued post-flood recovery in some of Maharashtra’s villages.
Stranded animals are brought down from the first floor of a house in the village. Mattresses are laid on the stairs to ease their descent.
For the residents of Juni Dhamani, this delay in returning to normalcy has meant their nightmare is far from over.
Sunil Suryavanshi, 48, who runs a small grocery shop in the village, remembers that the water level had reached 15 feet by the time he evacuated the village. With an impairment in one of his limbs, Sunil “got on a boat somehow and the villagers saved (his) life”.
Several villagers had not returned to the Juni Dhamani even after the water receded, fearing diseases.
In 2005, when the villagers had last faced floods of a similar fury, the floodwaters had receded quickly. The water level then wasn’t even seven feet. But this time around, Sunil describes a scene of utter devastation when he returned to Juni Dhamani on 14 August. All of the sugar sacks from his stores were missing. “Almost 150 kg [of sugar] dissolved in the flood water,” he says. The sacks of grain were unusable; Sunil had to dispose of 150 kg of damp jowar in the nearby Krishna river. “At least the fish will eat it,” he says. Sunil estimates his losses at around Rs 90,000.
Also among the villagers who returned on 14 August to take stock of the damage was Mahadevi Koli, 40. “I don’t understand how to clean this radh (mucky soil),” she says.
Here: Mattresses destroyed in the flood are thrown.
Mahadevi left her home on 5 August after the water level in her house rose to three feet. “We didn’t carry anything. We were all scared and immediately left for our relative’s place in Tardal village (Kolhapur district),” she says. A collapsed wall rendered her entire home risky. “We lost everything in the floods. I had to throw away the bags and musty books,” she says.
Her livelihood too is in peril post-floods. Mahadevi works as an agricultural labourer in the nearby Inam Dhamani village where she gets Rs 100 daily for five hours of work. “All the fields are destroyed. We won’t get work for at least two months now, and there was no work in the last month,” she says.
Here: Household items, ravaged by the flood.
Mahadevi’s husband, Ramesh Koli (45), is also an agricultural labourer. “How many days will our relatives host us?” he says, articulating the uncertainties of the future. “We will survive only if the government helps us.” Mahadevi and Ramesh have three children, and they are apprehensive about bringing them back home. They worry about buying books, bags and other academic supplies for their son and daughter.
In this image: Mahadevi Koli checks if any of the books can be salvaged.
As the floodwaters receded, a muck — mud mixed with sewerage — is what is left behind. The villagers are at a loss over how to clean it. All-pervasive, it has made day-to-day life untenable in Juni Dhamani.
Above: After the flood, food grains and flour have to be thrown away.
Mangal Koli, for instance, has been wearing the same sari for a week now. “There’s no clear space on the ground. Where do we dry our clothes?” she asks. Mangal’s home was submerged in the floods, and she climbed atop her roof, at a height of 10 feet. It’s a slippery space and she might lose her footing, but she shrugs off the hazard. “What can I do? We need clothes to wear,” she says.
Above: Mangal Koli is forced to climb the slippery rooftop of her house where she dries washed laundry.
For the villagers of Juni Dhamani, clean water has been hard to come by in the days after the flood. A few NGOs and individuals brought in water bottles. “Even after a week, no government help has reached the village. The villagers and some volunteers from an NGO are cleaning up the village,” says a local, Kapil Suryavanshi.
Deeply entrenched patriarchal structures in the village have added to the post-flood woes. For instance, the lack of clean water has particularly endangered the lives of the womenfolk, who are forced to go to the flooded fields on the outskirts of the village to wash clothes and utensils. Shobha Suryavanshi says there is no recourse for this, as the clothes and vessels must be washed, lest they stink says, “If we don’t clean these vessels and wash clothes now, then it will stink twice as before.”
Here: Shobha Suryavanshi and Ujjwala Suryavanshi wash utensils by a flooded field.
“The water has reached at least seven feet higher than the 2005 floods. Even our rooftops have become dirty,” says Ujjwala Suryavanshi. Shobha and Ujjwala stay in a joint family with 14 other members. “We buy our yearly supply of grains in advance. We threw 210 kg of jowar, 100 kg of gehu (wheat), and 50 kg of rice. We don’t have any money left. How will we buy the grains again?” Ujjwala asks.
Shobha Koli, 60, has had to clean out the cattle shed by herself, first storing the muddy water in cement tanks. “I don’t know for how many weeks I’ll have to clean this. The smell doesn’t go,” she says. She lost her sugarcane crop — about 150 tonnes — cultivated on her two-acre plot.
Juni Dhamani’s residents have returned to a village they no longer recognise. With devastated homes and ruined livelihoods, all they can do is wait for relief aid from the government. “What will we eat now? How much will we poor farmers earn?” asks Ujjwala. It’s a question that has no palatable answer.
As she cleans out the cattle shed, Shobha Koli says, “In 2005, the water didn’t stay for so many days. It didn’t cause a lot of damage then.”
As per a statement by the Divisional Commissioner — Pune, as quoted in a Press Trust of India report, the death toll has risen to 56 in the Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, and Solapur districts, while two people remain missing. The report also said that 87,939 families from 104 villages in Sangli were directly affected by the August flood.
In the banner image: Shobha Koli stands in the post-flood muck in a cattle shed. “We don’t even have chappals to wear now,” she says.
— All photos by Sanket Jain