Photo feature

Ground Zero: Glimpses from a relief camp in flood-ravaged Assam

While the authorities struggle to provide relief, people are finding ways to get by.

In every direction you look on the way to the famous pumpkin market of Khowang, in Assam’s Dibrugarh district, there is just water. The national highway appears like an elongated island of brown amidst different shades of blue and green. At Khowang, the sight to greet you is misery. Scores of people have camped on high ground along railway tracks in tents made from bamboo poles and tarpaulin sheets.

They moved there about a week ago after a breach in the bund at Kawaimari near Khowang Ghat resulted in the flooding of around 73 villages in Dibrugarh West revenue circle and another 14 villages in Moran revenue circle. Their tragedy mirrors the adversity that has beset much of Assam.

Heavy monsoon rains in the state has swelled its rivers, making them overflow their banks. So far this year, more than 50 people have died in the floods, including 15 people in the past week. As many as 1.5 million have been impacted.


The relief camp near the railway tracks.



A young woman sleeps on a bed alongside her utensils at the camp in Khowang.



A mother feeds her child.


At Khowang, some older children play hide-and-seek among the tents, while the younger ones complain to their mothers. Two women busily chop a gourd to cook on a makeshift stove of bricks. Some lucky ones were able to rescue gas burners and cylinders while escaping the rising floodwaters. The less fortunate are now using kerosene stoves and firewood.

“The last flood like this was in 1977,” an old man recounted.

The district authorities have tried to provide the camp some drinking water, but it hasn’t been enough. As a result, people are drawing water from the lone tube well that, constructed on high ground, hadn’t sunk, though they know it isn’t clean.

“The water rose fast within a night,” an old lady said. “It took only eight hours for the whole place to go under water along with the national highway. Every hour it rose by around one foot.”

There water level is still too high for the camp dwellers to go back, and besides the Burhidihing River is still overflowing. For them, normalcy is still a long way away.


A boy inspects his book damaged in the floodwaters.



A boy looks on as his mother cleans utensils.



A boy shows off his set of books.



A man pulls out rations from his flooded house.



A submerged house.



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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.