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A human stamp on a fluid riverine territory

English NewsA human stamp on a fluid riverine territory

The Miyah community living in the flood-prone char-chapori regions of Assam have embraced a lifestyle that is as fluid as the Brahmaputra

Brahmaputra, the central river of Assam in north-east India, reshapes the geography of its floodplains with the annual monsoon floods. The river and its tributaries braid through Assam, shaping the ecological, cultural and social needs of the region and its people.
The people inhabiting its unstable and fluid banks have come to rely on these alterations in the landscape to shape their lives accordingly. This photographic journey through the shifting riverine islands of flood hit lower-Assam — known as char-chapori — presents a fluid history of human-river entanglement
The people have devised various ways to adapt to the instability of the river. We witness this in Baladmari Char Part, where the mathauri or river bank has been damaged by steady erosion — a constant feature of the river’s shoreline during the monsoon season. Significant parts of the village are submerged and we see the remains of houses devastated by floods. The people here have readjusted their livelihood choices and transport modes accordingly. Houses are built in the middle of the river and people bathe, wash utensils and clothes in the water.
Almost every house here owns a boat; people have given up travelling via designated land pathways like roads and highways. They huddle together in boats to commute to daily markets and workplaces. They have also developed ropeways and a platform built with straw, cardboard and bamboo to move across the temporarily flooded areas.
The char-dwelling communities have devised their own infrastructure to endure the floods. In Puthipari, a village in the Dhubri district, people have constructed makeshift tents on higher grounds, which they use for stay during floods. They have even erected separate tents for livestock. They have also built emergency banks to store necessary food items.
Heavy rains and flooding regularly damage crops around the Brahmaputra and its tributary, Champavati. This has led the people here to shift to fishing. Being the main sources of income, both agriculture and fishing put the villagers at financial risk during the monsoon and drought spells in winter. During these times, they are completely dependent on the limited ration provided by the Government of Assam. Sometimes, they live on just one meal a day.

Amarjaan is an 80-year-old Miyah woman who has spent her entire life in the chars. She has witnessed bridges being built and washed away; rivers changing directions and appearing in other areas; students swimming to school; houses and animals swept away by the strong currents. Her testimony offers us a first-hand account of the ever-changing lives of char-dwellers.
A river does not follow boundaries. For the Miyah community, which coexists with a river that erases human-river boundaries every year, this rings truer than ever. In the wake of the current climate crisis, these narratives of river-human entanglement can open up new avenues in the study of life in river landscapes.

By Namrata Sarma, a student intern at Azim Premji University

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