As darkness descended over the Choto Sehera village on that fateful day of 25 May 2009, Kalikinkar Das had an unique experience that he would treasure as long he lives. People came to him in numbers, handed over their life’s savings in a packet or wrapped in cloth with their respective names tagged on it, and said ‘please keep this secured, we fear theft and robbery’.
The packets contained mostly money and some even had jewels. No questioned asked, no documents signed to prove that such packets were given to him.
The very next day morning, he called each of them, and handed over their respective packet with the contents intact.
‘This I consider,’ said Kalikinkar Das, smiling, ‘to be the biggest blessings in my life. Trust,’ he said, pure trust on me and the Panchayat system is what overwhelmed me.’
Gurupada Das, Subhash Dhapar, Joydeb Das were some of those people who had come to him to surrender their treasures. They all went back happy the next day.
Kalikinkar Das is the Deputy Panchayat Chief of Sehera Radhanagar Panchayat. He along with the Panchayat Chief Ms. Geeta Mondal and the entire Panchcyat team had played a very important role during those first few hours and days. This would perhaps have been worse had they not.
‘When I heard that the embankments at two places were vulnerable, I immediately asked the people to repair it telling that money would not be a problem,’ narrated Kalikinkar.
But the battle was between unequal opponents. The embankment gave away and water gushed in. And when he saw that water had entered his office premise he knew fighting back would be in vain.
‘Then I called up the Gram Unnayan Samiti members, Sekhar Mondal and Ashok Mukherjee and told them to remove the people to safe places as soon as possible,’ he said.
There was utter chaos everywhere. People were running haywire. Some came to the Panchayat Office, some ran to the school. Kalikinkar had to break open the locks of the classrooms to let people in.
‘There were around 7 to 8 thousand people gathered in and around this place on the first two days,’ he described. ‘Those first few days were a very trying time,’ recalled Kalikinkar.
Moinuddin Sheikh, a homeopathic doctor was requested to stay in the village to see that people do not succumb to diseases like diarrhoea. He stayed for two full days without returning home.
‘That was one of the reasons that diarrhoea did not break out here’ reasoned Kalikinkar. ‘My Panchayat took the initiative to go to Hasnabad on 26 June and purchased Puffed Rice and Chapped Rice and distributed it to all who were here.’
He also instructed people to spread lime and bleaching powder in the village. But the best part was the construction of temporary toilets with concrete toilet pans and strict instruction to maintain cleanliness.
‘I must say that due to these timely decisions, my Panchayat is proud that no epidemic broke
out here’ he said with a smile of fulfilment.
Kalikinkar’s own house is erased. He is now temporarily staying in the Panhacyat office with his family.
‘Robbery was another problem in those initial few days’, remembered Kalikinkar, ‘we tackled that too. We asked the people to be on the guard and even informed the police.’ He also told warned people that if anyone is caught stealing he or she would have to return double the commodity stolen.
‘What is the future plan of your Panchayat?’ we asked.
Kalikinkar paused for some time, played with his fingers and said, ‘we need to re-establish the communication system. With villages totally cut off, it is difficult to even bring some help or relief.’
Kalikinkar was visibly appreciative of the support of Seva Kendra that was being rendered through the local NGO Dakshin Akhratola Swami Vivekananda Sangha. The tarpaulins provided by Unicef, the jerry cans by CRS and the cooked food programme by Caritas India and CRS (a Caritas member in the US) were timely and appropriate support for the people, he considered.
With a gentle plea he said, ‘we would be happy, if a little more cooked food is continued for a few more days to keep these people alive’.
Surely this small village by the Dasha River would have told a worse story had people like Kalikinkar not done what they were entrusted with by the people.