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behda gark kita peya

Mehtab Singh

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The Bihar floods have opened new opportunities for some people to make hay when the sun shines.

The Madhepura district administration has drafted private boatmen for relief operations. But the hands extended to the marooned people in the daytime — Dr Jekyll style — do a Mr Hyde after sundown. Many women have accused the boatmen of molestation.

When this reporter drove from Purnia to nearby villages in Madhepura, several women alleged that boatmen did not only misbehave but were even involved in incidents of loot. Though no woman Hindustan Times spoke to was a victim, several claimed to have seen boatmen misbehaving with young women. “Some of these boatmen are not even sparing pregnant women,” said Rita Devi of Murliganj block.

Bhawanand Rishidev of Barmatra village in Araria district said, “I saw a boatman raping a young woman in Bhangaha village. but when I tried to raise an alarm, my own boatman threatened to push me into the river.”

Mohammad Badrool, who had come from Ludhiana to be with his family, said, “At Laxmipur village, the district administration has pressed motor boats into service, but the boatmen claim they have not been given money for fuel. Those who desperately want a ride are asked to cough up between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 per trip per family.”

There are also widespread allegations that the boatmen rob people who cannot pay. “We want the authorities to depute a policeman or a magistrate on each boat to protect the flood victims,” said Badrool.

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