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Floods, Livelihood and Citizenship: For Assam’s Fishermen, Too Much is at Stake

Fishermen narrated the tales of his fellow villagers in the area who have to deal with the switch-over to a new occupation, a looming business loan and concerns of the NRC list which is set to be released on July 31.

Aditya Sharma | News18.com@aditya_shz

Updated:July 16, 2019, 6:43 PM IST
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Floods, Livelihood and Citizenship: For Assam’s Fishermen, Too Much is at Stake
Farmers have switched to fishing that are usually found in abundance in the area, thanks to the many water bodies. (News18)
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Howli (Barpeta): For Abdul Ajiz, a resident of Barpeta district in Assam, July has brought more worries than he could have possibly imagined. The fisherman is troubled by the floods that have destroyed his home and farm.

The fish in his pond have disappeared too. Perhaps making things worse is a looming sense of anxiety over the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list which is set to be released on July 31.

“There is water inside my home. It’s a struggle to take care of the family in this cruel monsoon. Small fish in the pond near my home have disappeared. The flood water has taken them away. Between all this, I also have to worry about the NRC. My family has been named in the list. Still, we are worried,” he said.

While Assam is braving the floods, fisherman like Ajiz are having to suffer the most. The majorly rice-growing Barpeta district has witnessed a change in occupation patterns over the past few years. Farmers have switched to fishing that are usually found in abundance in the area, thanks to the many water bodies. However, the switch in daily business has cost them dearly.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-16 at 16.42.05

Villagers busy fishing at a pond in Barpeta

Nurul Haque, a small-time fish trader, seemed convinced that the floods return every year in Assam only to help the fish, because the loss of property and livelihood is colossal.

“The floods keep coming back to hijack our lives. Our homes are under water. It is difficult to travel on the road. How do we sell the fish we have caught?” said Haque, adding that at a rate of Rs 40-50 per kilogram of small fish, the money that they make hardly suffices.

“Selling 5kg fish totals to something around Rs 250. This is nothing when compared to the amount of loss of property and livelihood,” he added.

Qurban Ali, another small-time businessman, narrated the tales of fishermen in the Hauli area of the district who have to deal with the switch-over to a new occupation, a looming business loan and concerns of citizenship.

“This month has increased tension. Along with other fishermen, I took a loan of Rs 5 lakh to produce fish in ponds. Ever since the NRC began to take shape, I have been battling to prove my citizenship and run a business along with it. Now, when the fish are gone, my citizenship is the only thing that remains,” said Ali.

According to Ali, running around collecting documents and then submitting application forms for the NRC takes a toll on their trade.

“My house is in Barpeta district but my centre for submitting forms and hearings in the NRC is in Sivasagar district, which is 100-odd kilometres away. Am I supposed to earn money or prove my citizenship?” he said.

“We have too many problems right now — livelihood, citizenship and floods. Which one do I tend to first? Will the government help us? No,” he signed off.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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