Sareena was performing her morning prayers on June 14, 2018, when she heard a loud noise. And before she even realised what had happened, her house fell. Her husband Salim, and their three children were the house. Salim tried to stop a big slab from the ceiling from falling on the children, and injured his spine. Three-year-old Shabanas died on the spot, and 13-year-old Dilna Sherin on the way to the hospital.
Nine months after the first flash floods and landslides hit Kerala, and later turned into a deluge, Sareena, Salim and their only child who survived, 13-year-old Shammas, are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. None of them have been able to go back to Karimchola hill where they used to live, as each of the eight houses that was there has been demolished in the landslide.
“They died where they were sleeping, my innocent kids,” Sareena says, “What did they know? They knew nothing. It’s haunting us every moment of our lives – and the pain increases when I see my son Shammas is now alone.”
“I tried... I tried to take out my kids who were sleeping in the same room, but before I could take them out…” Sareena stops abruptly.
“At that point, my son screamed,” she continues, “the scream still echoes inside me. Later, I heard that my daughter was breathing when she was taken to hospital. But she couldn’t be saved,” the mother says.
Salim, Sareena and Shammas live in a small rented house in Punoor in the same panchayat, Kattippara. Salim, who used to work in Saudi Arabia, is badly injured on his spine, and will perhaps never be able to return to Saudi for work. For most of the last nine months, he has been bed-ridden. It has taken him this long to even be able to sit up, and will taken at least a year more to go back to work, the doctors have told the family.
“I am advised by the doctors that I shouldn’t lift weights or do anything that strains my spine. I won’t be able to start working anytime soon, it will take months. Even if I am back to work, how will I be able to go back to Saudi?” he says.
The house in Karimchola was built with all the savings that the family had while Salim worked for 11 years in Saudi. Now, the family has bought six cents of land in the Panchayat for which the Kerala government has released Rs 6 lakh. The state government on March 5 decided to provide government land of three cents to five cents to those who lost their homes in the floods, where Poromboke land is available. Where there is no land, the government is allocating money to buy land.
The amount is only released when the land is purchased, as is the norm. The family will get money from the government for building the house only after a house is built. A part of the ex-gratia of Rs 6 lakh they got as compensation for the death of their two children, has been used to build the foundation for the house.
“We bought land on the side of a road, we can’t risk buying land on a hill anymore,” Salim says, “but we don’t have any more money to finish the work on the house. We can only avail government assistance after we finish the rest of the work.”
All his savings spent on the old house, and with no fresh income, Salim says he has nothing left.
“My parents also used to live in Karimchola, too. They lived here for 50 years. But now, we have nothing left, not even soil…”