Dodhia – A Mishing island in Brahmaputra
By Munmi Gogoi
Dodhia is one of the innumerable riverine islands (chars) in the Brahmaputra that is home to about 10 percent of Assam’s population. Inhabitants of the Char are normally far removed from most governmental benefits. The population is subjected to further adversities in the wake of the annual floods. Dodhia is home to the Mishing tribe – a community known for its affinity for the river and fishing. The Dodhia Karmichuk village comprises of 41 houses, with a population of about 200.
The Mishings have been coping with floods for a long time now. As one UNICEF volunteer (a local Mishing youth) says “the Mishings have been living intelligently with floods…” Each household has a boat and the people live in raised houses built on stilts or “chang ghars”.
These are typically subsistence communities and being excluded, they hardly have any access to basic government services like education, health and sanitation.
This year the flood waters rose so high that the entire village of Dodhia Karmichuk was submerged and the houses were flooded in. The residents were shifted to the nearby island and stayed in a relief camp (a primary school) for 10 days. It was there that UNICEF and AKHA its partner NGO distributed relief materials like mosquito nets, PUR sachets and jerry-cans to the residents of this village.
This was made possible through “AKHA” – a new initiative where a mobile boat with UNICEF support provides services to marginalized and excluded populations living in the riverine islands of Assam. In normal circumstances, the boat provides health services in these areas and training on health, sanitation, livestock care and education.
During emergencies like floods, AKHA has been providing relief materials and reaching out to these excluded populations. In the post-flood situation when the people have returned to their houses, AKHA volunteers have been regularly following up with the families and providing necessary services and inputs.
Nandapal Patir is a resident of the village. His family comprises of his wife and 3 children. Nandapal along with his neighbours have adopted the habits of purifying drinking water, water handling practices and using mosquito nets.
Says Nandapal – “Earlier there used to be cases of dysentery and diarrhea after the floods. This time though such instances have been rare and people are suffering from infrequent cold and fever. There has been no case of malaria either.”
Nanadapal is a farmer but also engages in part time masonry work in the village. He engages in fishing too, but purely for subsistence. His village till now had no proper sanitation facility. As one woman said when asked about the sanitation facilities – “We have to go by boats to nearby areas…” Hence, when UNICEF and AKHA were promoting sanitary latrines in the village, Nandapal showed active interest.
His masonry skills prompted his choice to construct a toilet at home. Nandapal quickly selected the site for installation (a raised platform), collected the required materials from the AKHA volunteers and prepared the place for latrine installation. Says Nandapal – “This is new to us. We never knew this is possible…… things are available.”