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Satabhaya’s sorrow

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It’s a struggle between man and sea. Back in 1971, a tidal surge triggered by a tropical cyclone invaded 16 villages on the coast of Kendrapara district in Odisha, sweeping away more than 700 people and causing immense destruction. Ever since, the advancing Bay of Bengal has been eating into human habitations, razing houses and destroying villages.

The worst affected are the people of the Satabhaya gram panchayat, enduring nature’s fury for decades, much before the word “climate change” entered the public discourse. Once a cluster of 16 revenue villages spread over 3,440 acres of land, the panchayat has been reduced to a few hamlets. Mohanpura, Sanagahirmatha, Paramnandapura, Kaduanasi and Sahebnagar have already gone under. The advancing sea sand has swallowed substantial portions of another eight villages.

Coconut trees battered by the sea, thatched houses just inches away from getting buried under sand and remains of tube wells show the enormity of the devastation. Without suitable land for resettlement, people had been left stranded on the edge of the sea for four decades. Remoteness, inaccessibility and lack of governmental resolve stretched their miseries for years.

When people across the world hold on to their homeland, Satabhaya’s inhabitants fought for an alternative place. Just before the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2014, their threat to boycott the polls moved the administration to initiate a relocation process.

In 2018, the villagers, described as climate change’s first orphans by filmmaker Nilamadhab Panda, agreed to relocate to Bagapatia, about 10 km into the mainland. Last month, the idol of Panchubarahi, presiding deity of Satabhaya, was shifted to Bagapatia, speeding up the process of relocation. As of now, more than 571 families have found a new address in Bagapatia colony.

Satabhaya today wears a deserted look. A few dozen families are busy gathering valuable household articles before the village is wiped out from the map.

(Biswaranjan Rout is a photographer contributing to The Hindu)

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