HomeTechnologyClimate migration: Indian children find hope in a new language

Climate migration: Indian children find hope in a new language


BENGALURU, India (AP) — Eight-year-old Jerifa Islam remembers only the river was angry, its waters gnawing at her family’s farmland and waves lapping at her home during rainy-season floods. Then one day in July 2019, the mighty river Brahmaputra swallowed it whole.

His house in the Darrang district of the Indian state of Assam was razed to the ground. But the calamity set Jerifa and her brother, Raju 12, on a path that eventually took them to schools nearly 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) away in Bangalore, where the people speak the Kannada language that is so different from India’s native Bengali. the children.

Those first days were difficult. Classes in the state free schools were taught in Kannada and Raju could not understand a word of the instruction.

But he insisted, reasoning that just being in class was better than months in Assam when submerged roads kept him away from school for months. “At first I didn’t understand what was going on, then with the teacher slowly explaining things to me, I started to learn,” he said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring the lives of people around the world who have been forced to move due to rising sea levels, drought, scorching temperatures and other things caused or exacerbated due to climate change.

The children were born in a low-lying village, flanked by the Himalayas and the river. Like many parts of northeast India, it was no stranger to heavy rain and natural flooding.

But her father, Jaidul Islam, 32, and her mother, Pinjira Khatun, 28, knew something had changed. The rains had become more erratic, the flash floods more frequent and unpredictable. They were among the estimated 2.6 million people in Assam state affected by flooding the year they decided to move to Bangalore, a city of more than 8 million known as India’s Silicon Valley.

No one in her family had ever moved so far from home, but any lingering doubts were overcome by dreams of a better life and a good education for her children. The couple spoke a little Hindi, the most widely used language in India, and hoped that would be enough to get by in the city, where they knew nearby villagers had found work.

The two packed what little they could salvage into a large suitcase that they hoped to one day fill with new belongings. “We left home with nothing. Some clothes for the children, a mosquito net and two towels. That was it,” Islam said.

The suitcase is now filling up with school exercise books, and the parents, who have no formal education, said their lives are focused on ensuring their children have more opportunities. “My children will not face the same problems that I faced,” the father said.

The family fled from the lower Darrang district, which receives heavy rain and natural flooding. But rising temperatures with climate change have made monsoons erratic, with most of the season’s rain falling within days, followed by dry spells. The district is among the most vulnerable to climate change in India, according to a New Delhi-based think tank.

Floods and droughts often occur simultaneously, said Anjal Prakash, director of research at the Bharti Institute for Public Policy in India. Natural water systems in the Himalayan region that people have relied on for millennia are now “broken,” he said.

In the past decade, Prakash said, the number of climate migrants in India has been on the rise. And over the next 30 years, 143 million people around the world are likely to be displaced by rising sea levels, drought and unbearable heat, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this year.

India estimates that it has about 139 million migrants, but it is unclear how many had to move due to climate change. By 2050, cities like Bangalore are projected to become the destination of choice for the nearly 40 million people in South Asia forced from their homes by climate change, according to a 2021 World Bank report.

“Especially if you have aspirations for your second generation, you have to move,” Prakash said.

In the suburban area where Jerifa and her family now live, most of the people are from Assam state, many are forced to migrate due to climate change and dream of a better future: there is Shah Jahan, 19, a guard Security who wants to be a YouTuber. man of influence There’s Rasana Begum, a 47-year-old cleaner who hopes her two daughters will become nurses. Her houses were also swept away by the floods.

Pinjira and Jaidul found work with a contractor that provides cleaning staff to the offices of American and Indian tech companies. Jaidul earns $240 a month and his wife about $200, compared to the $60 he earned from farming. Raju’s new private school fees cost a third of his income and the family saves nothing. But for the first time in years, in their new home, a 10-foot-by-12-foot room with a tin roof and sporadic electricity, they feel optimistic about the future.

“I like that I can work here. At home, there was no work for women. … I’m happy,” Pinjira said.

For now, Raju dreams of doing well at his new school. He has benefited from a year-long program run by the Samridhi Trust, a non-profit organization that helps immigrant children return to the education system by teaching them the basics of Kannada, English, Hindi and math. Teachers test students every two months to help them transition to free public schools that teach in Kannada or, in some cases, like Raju’s, in English.

“My favorite subject is math,” the 12-year-old said, adding that his favorite time of day was the bus ride to school. “I love looking out the window and seeing the city and all the big buildings.”

His sister, who wants to be a lawyer one day, learned Kannada faster than he did and chats happily with new classmates at their nearby public school, switching easily between her mother tongue and her adopted language.

His parents work alternate shifts to make sure someone is home in an emergency. “They are young and can get into trouble or get hurt,” Khatun said. “And we don’t know anyone here.”

Your anxiety is not unique. Many parents worry about safety when sending their children to schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods, said Puja, who goes by one name and coordinates the after-school program for the Samridhi Trust.

Children of immigrants often tend to drop out of school, finding classes too difficult. But Raju finds the “discipline” of his school refreshing after a chaotic life in a slum.

His mother misses her family and talks to them on the phone. “Maybe he’ll come back during his vacation,” she said.

Her husband does not want to return to Assam, where floods have killed nine people in his district this year, until the children are in a higher grade. “Maybe in 2024 or 2025,” she said.

Every afternoon, the father waits patiently, scanning the street for Raju’s yellow bus. When he is home, the boy tells him stories about his new school. He says that he now knows how to say “water” in Kannada, but none of his new classmates know what a “real flood” looks like.

Follow Aniruddha Ghosal on Twitter: @aniruddhg1

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