The Journey of Mintu Pal
As told to Debojyoti Chakrabortty and Anup Sinha*
Just over a week ago, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the Himalayan Mountain region in the state of Sikkim in India. It also affected neighboring Nepal, Bhutan, and the Tibetan region of China. But the epicenter was in the district of Mangan in northern Sikkim.
Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA-India), a member of ACT Alliance and partner of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is participating in an assessment team in the affected area. The team reports that nearly 40,000 homes, 387 schools, and 30 hospitals were damaged or destroyed in the quake. At least 130 people died, and many survivors have relocated to the 85 relief camps that have been established by the Indian government. UMCOR is ready to assist, once the assessment is complete.
While traveling through the affected area, CASA-India staff Debojyoti Chakrabortty and Anup Sinha came across construction worker Mintu Pal and his friends. Chakrabortty and Sinha gave the workers a lift and listened to Pal’s story, which follows.
I will never forget that fateful day. We were all at work at the dam site and had just started to return to our campsite at Dubang [in the extreme north of Sikkim]. It was around 6:00 in the evening. Suddenly, we felt the earth shake violently, and huge boulders started rolling down the mountain towards us. Every one of us ran for his life, for cover. Everyone was dumbstruck. It was a [once in a] lifetime experience, which we would never like to relive! We saw some of our co-workers crushed to death under the boulders.
We wanted to flee the place and move to the district headquarters in Mangan. However, we all soon realized that we were trapped. Roads were cut off in several places. After a painful wait for two to three days, we could only see occasional choppers flying above us. We feared for our lives.
At night, we did not sleep in our houses, fearing the return of the devastating earthquake and also a possible flash flood. Further north, on the mountain plateau, there is a natural lake, and our village is situated at the foot of that mountain. Since the earthquake, there is a leakage of water from the lake. We were afraid to sleep, as we feared the lake could burst its banks and the water swallow us as we slept. [Note: Although experts have since ruled out this danger, fear and rumors continue.]
On the fourth day [after the quake] we decided to walk down, all the way to Mangan, the district headquarters, around 40 kilometers [25 miles] from our campsite. We started early in the morning, carrying some water and something to eat. It was a tiresome journey. We were not really walking but, rather, more like trekking. We had to somehow manage to climb rocks, boulders, and even use ropes to jump the ditches. It took one full day to finally reach Tung village. We were dying to drink some water, as our water stock had been exhausted.
Walking over the debris and feeling fearful of landslides made all of us yearn for a safe hand to rescue us from this grave danger. Our families back home in Bankura, West Bengal state, have been counting the days ‘til our return since that fateful day of September 18. It is the time of Durga puja, the biggest festival of the Bengalis. We long to return to our dear ones and bring back the smile to their faces.
We thank God that we are still safe. It felt like paradise when we saw the army and you people, who gave us water to drink and food to eat. Thank you for giving us a lift to Mangan.
*Debojyoti Chakrabortty and Anup Sinha are staff members of Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA-India). The transcription of their conversation with Mintu Pal appears in an ACT Alliance/ACT India Forum report to which CASA-India contributed.