Burma Times Special Report: March 16, 2015
The afternoon sun shines brightly overhead as three women step out from the horizon that marks the Leda refugee camp in Bangladesh. These women have to embark on a perilous journey everyday to look for water.
Bangladesh is not a desert, it is a tropical country but clean water is often difficult to get in this particular region. But the problem for these Burmese refugees is that the government has cut off the precious commodity along with other basic supplies. As a result, water related diseases are rife in this overcrowded refugee camp and at least one infant dies every other day.
For these women, it is a risky journey staying ahead of local Bengali miscreants who lurk in the corners, ready to pounce on the Burmese women at their convenience. As the refugee camp runs dry, this sick game has become one of their favourite past times.
“Yes there have been many cases like that,” says 19 year Kismat Ara Begum. “What can I say, I am too embarrassed to say what happened,” she says, trying hard to fight back tears as she remembers an incident of sexual harassment by local youths.
21 year Noor Hafeza says that they are forced to suffer in silence. “Some of us have complained to their village leaders.” she says. But instead of receiving justice, those particular women who complained have not been able to set foot outside the camps as miscreants threaten to kill them. “There is nothing to be done. Life can go on without food for a few days, but not without water,” says Noor.
In return for going through this extreme humiliation, do their struggle receive its just rewards? “Villagers don’t allow Rohingyas to use their tubewells,” says Noor. They have to collect water from streams and holes. As a result, water borne diseases are rife at Leda camp with infants dying everyday. The government has also shut down healthcare and this compounds the crisis.
It is difficult for men to embark on this long journey for water. Locating water sources are tough and if one is to make it before sunset, they must start at least by late afternoon. Few men return from work during this time. Yet some of them are sacrificing their livelihood for searching water. One of them is a disabled man Abdul Rashid, who depends on alms for the survival f his family.
“My daughter was molested by some men as she went to look for water,” says the man. So now he goes himself. Rashid is a tuberculosis patient and the journey for water taxes his weak body. But anything is better than asking his dear daughter to go into that world again.
As evening falls, many of the women are back in the camp with kolosh (water carrier) full of dirty water. Many of them will have stories to tell on how they collected this water. This will be dark tales of sexual predators that will be unheard in Bangladesh.