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Kandhamal riot victims struggle to cope with slum life

Satyasundar Barik

BHUBANESWAR: Two years ago Premasila Digal was going round different homes in a remote village in Kandhamal district making people aware about health, nutrition and childcare.

Now she goes to different houses in the capital city for washing dishes and cleaning dirty floors. Flames of Kandhamal riot in 2008 turned life of Premasila upside down from a dignified job of an Anganwadi worker to a maid servant.

Hemamalini Naik, who worked 20 years as anganwadi karmi in Kandhamal district, is now an attendant in a hostel. She will lose day's wage if she fails to turn up for duty.

Families of Premasila and Hemamalini who were leading respectable life in Kandhamal landed in Saliasahi – Bhubaneswar's largest slum after the riot. The two neighbours were not alone in Saliasahi.

Another two Anganwadi workers, Lilabati Pradhan and Drushila Naik, could be spotted in the slum struggling with life on a daily basis. They have now taken up odd jobs like tailoring and manual labour.

“We did not wished for a slum life. It was the fate that had taken ugly turn after the riot in our village and drove us here. There is no guarantee that we will not be attacked again if we return. It is better to stay alive what if it is in a slum,” said Premasila in her tiny one-room hut.

Her husband, Dillip Digal, who was a social worker with a Christian organisation in Kandhamal, now work as a construction labourer. He works overtime to pay monthly rent of Rs. 1000 per single-room-hut in the slum cluster.

A dejected Premasila narrates, “we fled to nearby jungles after members of our community in Kotudi village were attacked. We had to starve for two days in a jungle before being rescued.” Family of Premasila made an attempt to return to the village. But about 8 km before their village, they were intercepted and threatened several months ago.

These anganwadi workers had submitted applications to Kandhamal District Collector to relocate them in safer places, but nothing has moved since then. Many Kandhamal riot victims have now turned construction workers in Bhubaneswar. They are dispersed in Sikharchandi, Beherasahi and Rental colony slums.

“We have also come across at least three Asha Karmis, frontline ground level health workers from Kandhamal, in the slum doing odd jobs. They are lost citizens. They have lost their self-esteem and respect,” said Amrita Patel, secretary of Sansristi, a research group on gender issues.

Ms. Patel said these anganwadi workers and Asha Karmis were part of government machinery providing basic services, but they had been forgotten.

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