Few in Rohmoria speak English but almost everyone knows the English word to describe what has happened to their region over the past 65 years- erosion. And when they talk about themselves, they inevitably point fingers towards the river. Seasonal sandbanks, drifting logs and passing boats become momentary landmarks of their pasts swept away by the Brahmaputra.
The great earthquake of 1950 changed the topography of the region. The Brahmaputra, which in 1916 was only 5 km wide and lay 6 km from Rohmoria, expanded to as wide as 19.7 km in the east of the village in 2008. Official records place the losses over years at 38 villages, 10 schools, six tea gardens, a police station and a highway among other things, but for the people of Rohmoria, the losses go much deeper.
The Brahmaputra, which in 1916 was only 5km wide and lay 6km from Rohmoria, expanded to as wide as 19.7 km in the east of the village in 2008.
Novojyoti Gogoi (15) and Dilip Gogoi (16) took turns cycling the 15km distance from their home in Nadwa to the river at Litting, just to spend some time by the bank.
Illegally logged timber waiting to be sawed at a mill near Garpara.
Rupan Gogoi (34) fishes in the Brahmaputra at Litting.
An abandoned brick kiln near Garpara.
Villagers from Garpara walk along the Tamuli Ali, a 400-year old road that once connected the nearby towns of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. Most parts of the road had been lost to erosion, rendering Rohmoria, which was once a buzzing town, a backwater.
Workers clear weeds at a tea plantation in Chamuni Notungaon before the beginning of the leaf collection season.
Photographs taken by the family of Anil Saikia (48) show the last chunks of their house being devoured by the Brahmaputra. The Saikias, who owned about 26 acres of land, dismantled their house in Garpara Gaon and relocated to Khagrijan after it became clear that their properties would be lost to the river very soon.
Lombhit Dangaoriya (42) of Genesuk waits for a boat to take him to his fields on a sandbank at Polo Bhonga. Having had lost his 4 acres to the river, he began cultivating an unclaimed piece of land on the sandbank but a boat ride to the field costs Rs. 20 and takes 2.5- 3 hours each way. He returned home after failing to find a boat for over an hour.
Workers haul a log from a boat on the riverbank at Rohmoria. The riverbanks around Rohmoria are littered with several illegal sawmills where wood felled upstream in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh is cut and sold in local markets. Villagers attribute the spurt in the number of these sawmills to the lack of any dependable source of livelihood in the region.
Dimbeshwar Das (37) of Rohmoriya segregates his catch from the nets he laid on the river overnight. “Once I was in the middle of the river when the flood came in. My boat drifted beyond Dibrugarh and when I returned two days later, I was even featured in the papers. I have been fishing since I was 12; the river was a 4-5 hour walk earlier but it only takes 5 minutes now.”
Gopal Saikia (60) of Garpara relocated after the river, which was once 10km away, came threateningly close to his 20 acres of land. “The land was so fertile that we could work hard for one year and relax for the next three years.” He now runs a business in the village.
Fishermen have a meal before heading to the markets with their night’s catch at Litting.
The family of Rupa Singh (21) and Sonia Singh (18) lives at Kochwanipathar, towards the end of the 9km long erosion-prone zone at Rohmoria. Rupa, now married for a year, stays with her in-laws at Dibrugarh and hopes her parents move to Dibrugarh too, for there is no fear of flooding or erosion there.
Elajer Kashyap (35) chops bamboo to build a temporary structure in the tea estate he works in at Kochwanipathar.
Ranjit Dang (35) of Litting ran a general store for sixteen years before it joined the river three years ago; he has since set up a new shop not very far from where the old one stood. He says the largest selling commodity in his store is country liquor, which he makes in a small structure behind the shop. “People here work hard from 8 AM to 5PM and need something to take them away from the pain.”
Villagers from Borotichuk and around gather to witness Bhavana, a traditional night-long play on the life of Lord Krishna.
Dipunjoy Gohain (34) is the current secretary of Rohmoria Ban O Khonia Protirodh Sangram Manch, a body of villagers from the region fighting erosion. Fed up with lack of response from the state, the villagers have tried controlling the erosion themselves and also imposed a blockade on oil production in the region on several occasions.
Bolu Gohain, a school teacher from Garpara, joined other villagers in erecting babmoo dampeners to check erosion on March 31, 2000 when a scarp collapsed and killed him. “He died an ordinary man but when his body was brought back from the hospital over 5000 people jostled to carry him on their shoulders. Our loss is personal but the agitation has gained momentum after his death. Villagers worship him as a martyr,” say his brothers Sudeso Gohain (55) and Pitamber Gohain (50).
At Nagakholi, downstream from Rohmoria, workers put up sand bags as part of a protection plan against erosion.
Kesav Boruah (16) of Garpara is a student of Class 10. For most youth from the region, the future lies in salaried jobs in the towns, away from farming, fishing and the fear of erosion.
Villagers tie prayer cloths around the trunk of an old tree that once lined the Tamuli Ali highway, hoping it would save the tree from falling off into the river.