A film made by children who live on chars – or river islands – in Bangladesh and India shows their struggle with floods and social discrimination
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This participatory film made by young people from Gaibandha district in Bangladesh and Malda district in West Bengal depicts their precarious existence living on chars – the shifting river bars in the Ganga Jamuna river.
Chars are land formed from silt in the middle of a river or along its banks and are created or eroded as the river changes its course. Floods and riverbank erosion regularly wash away the land, livestock and income from agriculture of people living there, forcing families to migrate from place to place.
People living on chars do not have a permanent identity – one family might shift home several times within a few years. They often have no access to education, health or sanitation facilities. Early marriage, maternal death and extreme poverty are common social phenomenon in the char areas.
The Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna are the three major rivers of South Asia and 620 million people directly depend on these rivers and their tributaries for their livelihoods. The Ganga is known as the Jamuna once it reaches Bangladesh. Cooperation between countries who share the river basin is essential to meet the growing water-related needs of people in the region.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Ecosystems for Life programme facilitated the participatory video to encourage dialogue between people from India and Bangladesh on the development of shared river systems.
“When I saw the film first, I really could not believe that we made it. We tried to show the life of char dwellers through the lens. I am sure our film will win the hearts of a million people,” said 15 year old Ruma, one of the Bangladeshi participants.
Ruma and her friends were invited to the launch of the film in Dhaka attended by the Water Minister of Bangladesh. They were supposed to attend the launch in India but they could not make it because floods had washed away some of their homes once again.
Zobaidur Rahman is Bangladesh coordinator for thethirdpole.net.