Katihar/Kishanganj (Bihar), Aug 19 : Even as over 10 million people uprooted by the floods in 15 districts of Bihar grapple with survival issues amid inadequate relief, the womenfolk face problems of another kind -- privacy issues amid inhuman living conditions.
For Kunti Devi, in her early 40s, more than clean drinking water and milk for her children, attending to nature's call and maintaining personal hygiene amid the rising flood waters are bigger issues. Farzana Bano faces similar problems.
Both women along with their families are living under the open sky on an elevated railway track in Azamnagar block in Katihar district.
"We women have a serious problem which nobody looks at -- going through daily ablutions in the open. Men don't face such issues," Kunti Devi griped.
Dulari Devi, one of the group of women whom IANS talked to, said: "We women face more problems in relieving ourselves when floods force us out of our villages. No one can imagine what we go through, except us."
A few kilometres away, Mamta Devi and Lalo Khatoon in Kadwa block narrated similar tales of woe.
They said they had no option but to relieve themselves in the open by simply shutting their eyes and minds to their abysmal surroundings.
"We have to relieve ourselves near our temporary shelters, under the open sky, in front of all people. What to do?" they said.
Mahender Yadav, an activist working among flood victims in Seemanchal region comprising Katihar and Kishanganj districts, said: "Neither menfolk in the family nor the government pay any attention to this problem of women in flood-hit districts. There are no plans to erect makeshift toilets on elevated roads and embankments for women to relieve themselves during floods."
"Imagine the plight of pregnant women and those with newborns to nurse," he added.
Pokhariya villager Ganpat Rai, father to three grown-up daughters, rued: "Women, old and young, have no choice but to close their eyes and relieve themselves in the open.
"It has become a part of their lives. They have to live with it."
Floods in Bihar have claimed 153 lives so far, with the situation remaining grim in 15 districts, an official said.
The Disaster Management Department official said 108,195 lakh persons living in 1,688 panchayats of 156 blocks were affected by floods.
More than 60 lakh persons were affected in Kishanganj, Araria, Purnea, Katihar, and East and West Champaraan districts alone.
Ranjeev, a flood expert working in flood-prone Koshi region, said women have been fighting shame and struggling for their right to privacy during floods for years but the government has simply ignored the issue.
"A much sought-after item for these women is polythene/plastic sheets or anything they can wrap around to relieve themselves in the open. Even polythene sheets are in short supply as authorities have failed to provide them," he said.
Ranjeev recalled a British woman researcher visiting an embankment during floods a few years ago. He recalled how shocked she was when told of open defecation and other privacy issues of flood-hit women due to absence of any alternative.
He said authorities hardly provide for proper toilets at government relief camps. "So, the situation is none the better for those living in relief camps as far as privacy is concerned."
(Imran Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)