Two months old Nayanmoni wailing in her mother’s arms will not be able recall what happened to her last Wednesday as she grows up. However, for Minati, it shall always be the worst nightmare. On September 8, Minati, who is in her early 30s, along with her two-month-old daughter crossed the mighty Brahmaputra from Majuli (world’s largest inhabited river island) to Jorhat in Upper Assam to visit Jorhat Medical College hospital for her daughter’s routine check-up and vaccination. The journey in the ferry, which is the only mode of transportation for the inhabitants of the island, took a bit more time than usual. It takes more than one-and-half hour to cross the Red river from Kamalabari Ghat in Majuli to Nimatighat at Jorhat. However, the time varies depending on the force of the water and its level. Ferry services, which were suspended due floods, had resumed two days ago.
Though Minati had relatives in the tea city, she decided to return the same day as she had come alone. Her husband Morton Misong, an indigenous inhabitant of the river island from the Mishing community, is a daily wage worker and had job commitments. One needs to pace things up if he needs to return to Majuli on the same day as the last ferry leaves around 4 pm. Minati was at Nimatighat, which is around 25-minute drive from the city, much ahead of the departure time of her ferry.
‘Ma Kamala’, the single engine boat was ready with 92 passengers and a fleet of motor-bikes to set on its journey to Majuli. Minati with her two-year-old daughter was inside the boat along with the other passengers. These boats do not provide tickets to the passengers and are operated by local lessees. Almost at 4pm, the boat left for Majuli. Barely few minutes from the ‘ghat’ (bank), Minati could feel a strong jerk flowed by frantic shouts from fellow passengers. People seated beside Minati started scrambling out of the cabin. It did not take time for young Minati to understand that the boat she was on met with an accident and something terrifying was awaiting.
By the time she could climb out, her boat had capsized and was sinking. The worst was yet to unfurl for Minati. In the chaos, Minati’s daughter slipped out of her hands and fell into the fierce river. She too was in the cold water nose deep.
“I was total blank. I could see my daughter sinking and drifting away from me. I could see her tiny fingers out of the water. In one last try, I managed to hold the hand of my drowning daughter and with the other hand I clutched to the edge of the sinking boat. I was in nose deep water and luckily I knew swimming. Somehow, I managed to climb on to the bottom of the boat which by now had turtled upside down. I knew my daughter was safe as by then the local boatmen had initiated rescue operation on their own,” narrated Minati.
“Right at that moment, I saw two other girls drowning. They possibly didn’t know swimming. I had my daughter in my hand. I needed to do something fast or else it shall be too late. I removed my ‘chadar’ (a traditional piece of cloth worn around the body along with the ‘mekhela’) and threw it to them. Luckily, they managed to catch it and were saved,” added Minati.
Fondly called as Nayanmoni, the two-month-old daughter of Minati will traditionally christened once she turns six months old. Unaware of the happenings, little Nayanmoni clings to her mother as she stayed in Jorhat for a couple of days and returned to her home in Borduwa Chapori of Majuli on September 13.
According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, 89 passengers of the total 92 were rescued, two have died and third is still missing. The accident occurred when the ferry heading to Majuli from Nimati Ghat collided with another ‘MB Tipkai’ – operated by state’s IWT department – coming from the riverine island.
So far, Jorhat police have arrested six persons, including the owner of the boat.