The Indian media is quick off the mark when the news from the North East is of the chest-thumping variety: when the government kills militants in a cross-border raid or when a police officer becomes the “face that militants fear”. But when it comes to the suffering of lakhs of people in the region, there are no runners in the hashtag race.

Since June 9, when the rains turned into a torrent, large parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have been inundated with floods. In Assam alone, over 600 villages have got submerged and over 3 lakh people affected, according to a press release of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority on June 13. At least three have died in Assam, though no official toll has been put out yet.

Most disastrously, the floods have ruined large swathes of crops that were ready to be harvested. The official figure: 11,041.53 hectares.

I began receiving disturbing updates on the destruction from my home district of Barpeta in western Assam since June 11. When I passed on the information to the district administration, I got this indifferent reply: “We are monitoring the development and are ready to act if any necessity arises.” The Circle Officer told me that the flood situation was manageable – there was no need for relief and rescue operations, he said. This wasn’t the impression I was getting from the continuing SOS calls, so finally I decided to visit the area.

Setting off from Guwahati, as I entered Nalbari district, I could see the distress all around. Farmers had abandoned their flooded fields, the rice crops dead in the water. Whatever was salvaged was being dried on a portion of the open road.

Barpeta, officially the worst-affected district, was even more depressing. Innas Ali, a farmer who cultivated high-yield rice on his one-hectare land and had spent nearly Rs 60,000 on it, was able to harvest just half the crop. One-third was lost because it germinated early, he said.

Burdened with debt

The high-yield rice, in fact, formed a fine thread in the disaster narrative. Assamese farmers have been cultivating high-yield rice, replacing the traditional variety, for the last few decades. This requires diesel-run water pumps to keep the fields irrigated and, in general, more investment. Many farmers keep up with the costs by knocking on the doors of moneylenders.

A study by Gorky Chakraborty of the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, revealed that nearly 67% of the respondents in Mandia, Chenga and Ruposhi block of Barpeta district were indebted and only 2.43% of them received credit from organised financial institutions. A major section of people who borrowed from moneylenders often agreed to repay with crops instead of money, in the process getting burdened with annual interest of 72% to 360%.

In such a situation, anyone can imagine how this flood will affect the lives of people like Innas Ali.

Resigned to fate

A group of young people helped me reach the riverine areas of Islampur, Rasulpur, Kadong Char, Kaimari Char under Baghbar Revenue Circle in Barpeta district. The scene in Islampur char, across River Beki, was heart-wrenching. Small huts were floating in the water, some people were riding the current in rafts to fetch drinking water. Some had deserted their houses, but most continued living perilously with the flood around them.

There was no government machinery in the places we visited – no humanitarian assistance like food, drinking water, medicine. The administration had not even visited the areas to assess the damage. Wanting to help, we updated the Circle Officer over telephone and sent him photographs on WhatsApp. But on June 17, he informed me that as per the information he had received from his official sources, there was no need to provide relief in those chars.

When I spoke to the Circle Officer on phone, I was sitting in a boat with a few older people, carrying relief material from Tapajuli char. The elderly could read my body language, they understood what the Circle Officer was telling me. One of them consoled me: “Don’t feel sorry, this has been happening to us for ages.”

The media, the civil society, the political class and the administration, no one is bothered about the suffering of these people. I remember the shameful incident after last year’s flood in Goalpara. The victims who demanded relief were assaulted by the police and slapped with criminal charges. Perhaps the victims this year realise that it is better to be silent and suffer than get beaten up.

Abdul Kalam Azad is a community worker in Guwahati. He tweets @abdulkazad.