Denied entry in shelter homes during Cyclone Fani, say Dalits in Odisha

(May 17, 2019 )

It has been two weeks since Cyclone Fani left the coast of Odisha but many are still living under trees and bracing for monsoon.

This Dalit family complained that they were denied entry into the government-run shelter homes in Odisha when Cyclone Fani hit the state on May 3. (Photo credit: Smile Foundation)

On May 3 Cyclone Fani, categorised as an extremely sever storm, hit Odisha and caused massive damage in the coastal state. The state government received praise from across the world for apt disaster management for keeping the loss of life to minimum.

Still 64 people lost their lives. Several hundred were rendered homeless. A large number of them were poor and came from Dalit community. Many of them have complained that they were barred from entering government-run shelter homes on May 3.

The officials, the Dalit cyclone survivors say, denied entry to shelter homes citing space crunch. Turned away from safe houses, they took refuge under the uprooted trees in the villages to save themselves from the harsh winds and incessant rainfall.

“The situation has been extremely bad since the day of the cyclone. We were not even allowed to enter the school building as they said there was no space,” said Saila Jena, 60, a Dalit, who has been living with her family of six including three children. Saila is from Badipara village in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha.

Her family, like many others, put plastic sheets and clothes over the trees to protect them from winds speeding at 240 kmph and heavy downpours. The tree trunk and branches, now covered with plastic sheets, served as walls and roof for them providing shelter from nature’s fury.

“Apart from the clothes that we are wearing, we are left with nothing else,” she told a group of volunteers of Smile Foundation, an NGO working to provide relief to these families in Odisha.

The story of Chanchel Sahu, 49, is no different. With her mud house having been reduced to debris and shelter home not allowing them to enter, she has been living under a Banyan tree for the last two weeks.

“We were desperately trying to find a concrete roof to hide when the cyclone hit but unfortunately because we are from lower castes and are treated differently. We were not allowed entry. We pleaded but to no avail,” said Sahu.

While they are yet to recover from the cyclone shock, monsoon is on their doors. Though the news from South West Monsoon may be a relief for these families, they are bracing for the challenge.