Mala Rani Barmoni, an 88 year old widow of Dharla river basin at Bumka village of Mogholhat union in Lalmonirhat sadar upazila is now a beggar. Once, she was the wife of one of the richest men in the village. Like Mala, many others elderly men and women live at Teesta and Dharla rivers basin villages who are mostly all beggars now. River erosion has looted them of their homesteads, croplands, orchards and other assets in the last 20 yrs.
“My husband had 30 bighas of croplands, two fruit orchards with eight bighas of land, a banana orchard with three bighas of land and a bamboo cluster spanning two bighas of land but all of these were eroded by the Dharla erosion. My assets are now in the womb of the river,” said Mala, adding that her husband died about 12 yrs ago. “After losing everything, I took shelter on government road five year back, and now I'm dependent on begging.” She wears tatters now, and can only recall the days where she could but new clothing every year. Another old aged widow, Lakhmi Rani, 78, at same village has also lost her assets and is now dependent on begging.
Abeda Bewa, 84, widow of late Nuhur Miah at Teesta River basin Kalmati village in Lalmonirhat sadar said that she has been begging for the last four years after losing everything by the erosion at Teesta. "The Teesta river snatched 25 bigha of crop lands and two orchards. from me and my family,“ said Abeda, "Now I beg in order to provide for myself."
"Beggars used to come to my house to ask for help, and that was only 8 years back,” said Adabur Rahman, 76, of Goddimari village at Hatibandha upazila. “Teesta looted 35 bigha of crop land and four fruit orchards from me in the last 20 years, and I have no option left to beg for food and money,” he said. Like him, Amzad Hossain, who was once a rich man, is now living in miserable conditions in a makeshift hut on the roadside after losing everything to river erosion at Gobordhan village of Aditmari upazila in Lalmonirhat.
Like him, many people in the village have lost their wealth and have no means to provide for themselves at this age. “I had 20 bighas of crop lands and three orchards after the liberation but all the assets are now gone,” said 68 year old Amzad Hossain. “My two sons also have no wealth, since I have nothing to pass on to,” he said, adding Teesta has snatched everything."
"Once, I was a rich man, as I had 26 bighas of crop lands 25 years back,” said another affected Naya Miah, 62, at same village.
“Teesta flooded us during the rainy season and eroded our crop lands when flood water came down every year. We got back some of our land but these were turned to sandy char, and the land was no longer cultivable." He said, adding several hundred of families in the village were affected seriously by the River Teesta. Mohini Kanta Das, 55, an affected farmer at Rajpur village in Lalmonirhat sadar said, “Now I'm a rickshaw puller, maintaining my five members family in miserable condition but once I was well off with 18 bighas of crop lands, about 15 years ago.”
Rickshaw pullers Mahsin Ali, Shamsul Islam, day-labourers Narayn Barmon, Rajani Mohanto, hawkers Taher Ali, Nur Islam and many others at Kalmati and Khuniyagachh villages all repeated the same tale, they lost everything to the river. They get back their lands but these are sandy chars. They might be able to use these lands if the River Teesta gets water from its upstream in India.
Sabuj Khandaker, convener of Teesta Putro, a local platform to save Teesta River in Lalmonirhat said that, in the last 20 years, at least 40 thousand families lost everything and at least two thousand affected people now beg for a living as a result.