Come Monsoon, one can only be sure that yet another tragic episode of people losing their precious lives is ready to unfold, as a result of drowning in the Noa-Dihing river. This year, the first victims of the murderous Noa-Dihing happen to be two Chakma youngsters who harboured aspirations to serve the Indian Army.
They went by the names of Mangal Jyoti Chakma, aged 19 years, the son of a struggling single mother and Sunil Chakma, aged 19 years, who was a son of poor farmers. They were both from the quaint village of Rajnagar, Diyun Circle, Changlang, Arunachal Pradesh. They had failed to escape the curse of the Noa-Dihing while returning from Jairampur, some 150 km away from Diyun across the river, where they had gone to take part in an Indian Army recruitment rally shouldering the humble hopes and aspirations of their poor parents.
It was a savage blow for the poor single mother when she got the news of the death of her son Mangal Jyoti Chakma. She had raised him amidst great hardship in a cruel world. Being not able to bear the tragic turn of events, she fainted while recounting before the fellow mourners the humble dreams her son had for his mother. Meanwhile, Sunil’s acquaintances simply cannot stop recalling what a sober and calm boy he was. They simply refuse to accept that such a tragic fate has befallen him and his family.
When the Indian Army recruitment rally at Jairampur was announced, it was a major calling for many poor humble Chakma youngster who consider these opportunities to be godsends. They believe that getting to serve India in any way possible would eventually prove a point or two in view of the rights-less life they are forced to live. So, numerous aspiring Chakma youngsters got themselves registered for the rally, sparing hardly any thought to the fact that they would have to travel across the murderous Noa-Dihing to get to the venue. However, misfortune did strike on their way back home when two promising Chakma youngsters with humble aspirations to serve the nation lost their lives as a result of drowning.
This tragedy, like many others in the past, has its roots primarily in the way the ferry boats are operated by tender bidders. The fact that construction of a basic suspension bridge could have easily averted such mishaps for good and eased communication big time for hundreds of people cross the Noa-Dihing every single day on business and otherwise, is another matter. It is all the more tragic because such tragedies have now become a norm – nobody seems to care. This apathy is deep-rooted in the rights-less existence of the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh. It has conditioned not only the minds of the people who have come to live like they don’t matter anymore – their fate is sealed as in doomed – but also, it has made the authorities feel apathetic to the extent that they believe that nothing can happen to them, even if people continue to lose their lives.
It was May 12, 2018. This group of 5 aspiring young Chakma Indian Army candidates were excused from the recruitment rally at around 1 pm. They were tired and dehydrated, with every drip of energy sapped from their exhausted crumbling bodies. But the thought of returning to their poor homes kept them going as they strode off from the venue with a view to return home that very day. They knew that the ferry boats would be taken off beyond 5 pm and they would end up getting stranded if they got late. Although they had four hours in hand to reach the bank of the river, it was a long way off as finding any mode of transport was difficult. So, they covered some distance by auto and some on foot. On the way, they also took time for refreshments.
By the time three of them neared the bank of the Noa-Dihing, the other two were slightly left lagging behind and the sun was still visible up in the sky. However, the ferry boat operators were wrapping up for the day. They tried to persuade the ferry boat operators, saying that two more boys were to arrive right after them, to consider one last trip. They, however, refused, citing their obligations. Now, having put in so much hard work to reach the river bank, they felt reluctant to halt their journey back home and they tried to muster the courage to cross the Noa-Dihing by themselves by which time the other two boys neared the river bank.
Holding each other’s hands, making a queue, the first 3 boys with individual backpacks stepped into the river from the point which they judged to be the shallowest. They didn’t even know if all of them knew swimming. They stepped into the river to cross it with the thought that it will not be deep enough to drown them. All the while, they all felt vulnerable but they didn’t speak a word. The lone survivor among the three boys later admitted that he doesn’t know swimming. As they started to cautiously trod the river bed, the water level began to rise up and the water current became more forceful. By that time, the other two boys had also stepped into the river to cross it. All of them strove to cover the breadth of the Noa-Dihing. When they had covered about two-thirds of it, they found the water level to be much above their heights. They also realised that there was no turning back from there – it was do or die.
At this juncture, the fight for life for each of them began as they no longer could resist the current of the river from sweeping them away. The sun too had set by that time and it turned dark. They lost track of time and space as their minds were occupied with their struggle to stay alive. The group of two boys in the meantime somehow first managed to find the bank of the river thereby ensuring their safety. Soon after, they could hear fleeting cries of help: “Save me! Save me!” But it was too dark to see anything – what remained was only the feeling of indescribable and irreparable loss.
Among the other three boys, the lone survivor recounted the last physical touch with one of his lost friends whose hand he was holding when they first stepped into the river. He said, “At that moment, when we found the water level above our heads, I could not resist the current and got swept away and perhaps that’s what happened to my lost friends too. At this point, my hand escaped my lost friend’s grip before being swept away. I don’t remember seeing or hearing anything but was only struggling even as I was being swept away. At one point, I could touch the riverbed with my feet. Soon after, I found my feet on the river bed and sometime later, I reached the river bank. Then, I heard the cries for help of my lost friends a few times, I guess. Soon, it all became quiet. It was dark. The moment I got out of the river, I found myself running along the riverbank downstream but to no avail. All was lost. I clutched my head in despair and I totally lost my mind. I was trembling and crying under the strain of anguish, heartbreak and unbearable turmoil. Now, I feel like telling anybody I come across not to cross the murderous Noa-Dihing.”
Meanwhile, the nearby villagers, having witnessed such mishaps innumerable times, felt helpless and mourned the boys. They have time and again demanded from the government to build a bridge over the Noa-Dihing, only for their demands to fall on deaf ears.
Amar Bikash Chakma, Gaon Burah of Udaipur village, expressing his point of view said, “A bridge over the Noa-Dihing would practically first prevent these mishaps and then solve our difficulties of communication between the village of Udaipur, north of the river, and Bijoypur village on the other side. When I first heard of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi inaugurating the 9.15 km Dhola-Sadiya Bridge not very far from where we people live, I could not help wishfully thinking perhaps one day our dream of crossing the Noa-Dihing over a constructed bridge will also come true. Similarly, the deplorable road condition connecting Namsai with Diyun has had already so much contributed to causing patient deaths on the way to hospitals and medical centres. A stretch of only about 30 – 35 km taking around two hours to cover speaks volumes for itself.”