By the morning of 20 May, I had been informed by news reports, as well as the Windy weather app, that my town, Andul, in the Howrah district of southern West Bengal, was expected to be mauled by the impending Cyclone Amphan. By 6 am, it began raining, followed by strong winds. At around 4 pm, the rain increased in ferocity, and the power supply had already been cut off over an hour ago. Between 7 pm and 9 pm, we witnessed the cyclone, watching from our windows as trees hit the ground and windows rattled in the strong winds.
I left the house at around 9:30 pm to document my locality, Uttar Hatgacha, near the Andul station. Several electric posts and at least fifty trees in the area lay on the ground. The entrance to my locality was blocked by two large trees, and it continued to rain heavily. The next morning, I woke up at 4 am and left the house, and saw that residents were out on the streets and had begun cutting the trees fallen on the road. Around a kilometre from Uttar Hatgacha, there are two slums, Sitalatala Basti and Panchpara, near the Hooghly River, where falling trees and waterlogging had completely or partially destroyed scores of houses. Around a hundred and fifty people had been left homeless. Electric power was still disconnected, and there was a shortage of drinking water—there is one tube well in the area but it was not enough for the locality, so people had to wait for a long time for a bucket of drinking water. Howrah district was among one of the worst affected by the storm.
The power supply was eventually restored after eight days, on the evening of 27 May, but only after residents in the area pooled money for an electrician. Two days after the cyclone, local residents of Andul had started to protest against the state government, ruled by the Trinamool Congress, and there was a strike on 23 May to demand electricity. According to the locals I spoke to, the next day the strike turned violent. That day, the villagers of my locality had gone to the pradhan, Minoti Senapati, to demand electricity. A 16-year-old named Niladri Dutta, who is also my neighbour, told me that a heated argument broke out among the crowd outside Senapati’s house. According to Dutta, the argument continued for around two hours. Towards the end, Dutta also recorded a video of the altercation.
“On 24 May, the current had not come back in our neighbourhood, so people from various neighbourhoods went to our pradhan’s house, to see how we could get it back,” Datta told me. “I went to ask for the trees to at least be cut down, there was a ruckus about that.” He said that the deputy pradhan, Rupam Sadhukhan, had also come to talk to the villagers. “He was trying to convince us that they were working too, that [we] shouldn’t disturb them. This is the discussion that ensued on both sides. A quarrel broke out in the midst of this. We’ve said before as well that the work wasn’t done well. That’s why I tried to keep the evidence by taking a video. I think he didn’t appreciate the fact that I was taking a video, but I didn’t stop, because we need it.”
The pradhan’s husband, Sadanada Senapati, who was also there, came and hit Dutta. “As far as I can remember, he did this to stop me from taking the video,” Dutta said. “Then he went inside the house, then we were sent back home, and told they will do the work satisfactorily, we don’t have to think too much about it. We came back with more people, who were demanding to know why I had been hit. There was a lot of fighting over this, but no more assaults on people, only squabbles. At the end, they weren’t ready to listen to anything. Everyone dispersed, some of their people stopped us, but we went home eventually.”