OF DAMS AND PEOPLE

I still remember jumping out of joy as a kid when I use to join my friends and family for picnic parties to Gerukhamukh. A beautiful landscape and a scenic village only about 70 kilometers from my place. Subansiri river, one of the major tributaries of the Mighty Brahmaputra flows through the place which adds more to its beauty. We use to never tire going to the place and it was always the first choice while choosing for places to go for picnics on the beginning of every new year. But now those are the days of the past and are just fond memories.

Today, construction of a Massive 2000 MW hydroelectric projects continues in that place, thus threatening the livelihood of over thousand families on Both sides, Arunachal and Assam. There have been reports that it could create disastrous effects but the government pays no heed to it and has in fact given it an environment clearance to NHPC which of course is a farce. The expert committee has also said that such a huge dam and that too with the design with which it is continuing now is not feasible. And in addition to this, more constructions of dams in Arunachal and China can have devastating effects on the people of Assam and Northeast India.

Perennial floods, which already existed and added on the so called Developmental projects (read dams ) have added to the agonies of the people of Assam. These factors have impacted so much that it has totally changed the culture and also the livelihood pattern of the people residing there. Agriculture today no more provides for subsistence, and people have taken the routes that lead to the city. They have taken to cities like kerela, mumbai, delhi and other places in lookout for work where they work as manual labourer and earn for a living. The women who always wove only in their leisure time and just to clothe herself and her family members is forced to take it up as an occupation and sell it in bare minimum prices.

The student organizations and other civil society organizations have been vehemently opposing this ‘developmental initiatives’ of the government. The organizations which have been till yet have been involved mostly in ethno-nationalistic movements have today turned tables and have focused more on opposing the dams forgetting there ethnic differences as continuance of this dams would mean the survival of the people residing at stake. They have retorted to democratic means like economic blockade, dharnas, rallies etc. Due to this, they also have to face the wrath of the government and the agents of capitalism. Such opposition is seen as a security threat and more and more forces are deployed by the State. Such is the extent that it also invites criticism from the people from other parts of India who sees all this movements and initiatives-as opposing development and label the people of north east as those who always oppose Development and also blames them as “the people of North-east do not want to develop and get into the mainstream and criticize Indian government for no reason”. I myself have heard this line thrown to me almost a million times, when I try and explain to the people of the so called ‘mainstream’. Here I see the perspective lacking, they see the people of the north-east through their stereotypical lens and see this movements for survival and life of dignity as obstructionist attitude. When the state retort to violence to curb these movements, I just want to question, “Can insurgency be far Behind???

Mr. Pegu Goes to Dhaka

I was selected to be a part of Fredkorpset internship program which allowed me to travel to Dhaka and stay there for about 10 months. Regardless to mention here that I already lost out two months because of visa problems. Getting a visa to Bangladesh is a tough thing to do, especially for an Indian citizen.

Finally after two months, the moment arrived and I could not help but be happy. This of course came after tireless efforts from various quarters and a lot of paperwork. My friends have always been kidding and pulling my leg, “what the heck made you decide to go to Bangladesh out of all the places in the world”? I of course, wanted to reply to almost all of it but decided to keep mum. They also would say, “If you get bored just go to the border and cross-over to Assam, your state”. I just smiled. Immigration, mostly illegal, from Bangladesh has been a major problem for my state. It is estimated that every year thousands and thousands cross-over to Assam. The result, also is major atrocities committed on the immigrants too. There have been various reports in Assam where the so called educationists and theorists etc. most of the time cites poverty, poor economy, lack of job opportunities and Over population as the major reasons for the growth of the immigration menace for the people of Assam. I was also somewhere excited that I would be going in person and spending enough time in Bangladesh to understand the reasons behind the immigration for myself.

But of course, some amount of nervousness was natural. But I was contented that I could manage to speak enough of Bengali to survive me in Dhaka and also could understand almost the whole of the language. Thus, finally on the 4th of July, I took the Jet Airways flight for Dhaka. There were only a few female passengers in the flight, most of them Air hostesses. The person sitting next to me was a patient and had a pipe still inserted to his Nose and had stitches in his neck. After a journey of about 3 hours I finally reached the Dhaka airport. A small but beautiful airport. Oh I forgot to mention, the view from above just before the landing was amazing. Most of it was covered with greenery and water with patches of land in between which formed the habitation of the people. I was told that the geography of Bangladesh is interesting as new patches of land keeps forming every year.

The airport experience of course was very interesting and amusing too. After the immigration check, which took me almost more than half an hour, I moved towards my luggage belt only to find that the luggage has still not arrived. Thus, I decided to go towards money exchange counters. The exchange counters were attached to each other forming a long line and had hands waving at people to come and get currency exchanged. That of course, was interesting as I had never seen something like that. Business instincts I guess (I had heard that the Bengali people have excellent business capacities). I browsed through the rates various banks were offering and decided to go for Janata bank. After I had changed the currency, I asked for a slip to which the person politely denied and said, we don’t offer receipts. I was just wondering how do they keep check of how much they have changed for the entire day. The Notes also of course, were very old. When inquired if they would work, the person , already irritated with me by now, literally shouted at me that there would be no problem with them and started waving to the other passengers.

After finishing with the currency exchange, I went to the luggage belt which was still not there. I had to wait for almost an hour to get my luggage. The person who had come to receive me had become concerned about me. The office was only about half an hour journey from the airport, most of it stuck in traffic. I Had heard a lot about notorious traffic in Dhaka, I could finally see it for myself.

Hospitality comes naturally to the people of Dhaka. Sometimes I end up wondering if they are actually so hospitable or they are just acting. Two days in Dhaka and I am enjoying it till yet. All I can say that whatever be the experience, I am looking forward to it.

photo courtesy google

Marriage by order

My Sister did it, Image courtesy: google

So did my elder brother.

And the end result is that I can’t do it.

What I am talking about is ‘eloping with the loved one’. My eldest sister eloped with her boyfriend with the pretext of going to the market for shopping. The guy (my brother-in-law) belongs to totally different cultural community. We belong to MISING tribe and he belongs to the Ahom community. Now they are very happy with each other and are looking forward to having a nice life ahead.

My elder brother surprised us with the news of his marriage when he was just 17. It completely shook our world, the result of course was, he had to leave the family and had to fetch for himself and his wife. Now they are doing well and are again happy together and their only daughter is living with my parents pursuing her schooling.

I do admit that each of my siblings marriage brought some kind of turmoil to our family life but what is the major achievement is that both my brother and sister not only married their partner of their choice but also could do well in their respective marriages and are today very happy. My parents have also turned around and are happy with the marriages today.

But when it comes to me it is a strict No –NO. Now the result is that, I cannot go for it. I mean, I can’t elope and marry or either think of a cross-cultural marriage. I had gone back home to enjoy bihu but it turned out to be exhausting experience with everyone bombarding me with lines about me marrying from the community. ‘You are our only hope’ says my mother, “I am tired of what your elder siblings have done; now I want to sit back and enjoy your marriage without any commotion and confusion”. My uncle warns “I shall be forced to break all ties with you, if you marry from outside the community”. I was like why the hell do I have to suffer for the ‘misdeeds’ of my elder siblings. I had always secretly dreamt of eloping with my girlfriend who of course belongs to a totally different community. First of all, a cross-cultural marriage and second we (me and my girlfriend) elope— wohoo what freedom!!!

What an experience it must be!!

I don’t know if I can put this in the category of Gramscian theory of hegemony or Freurian theory of hierarchical and oppressive relationship between the parents and son. And also if my parent’s emotional blackmail or my uncle’s stern warning etc shall be able deter me or not shall be seen in later times, but it of course startled me. What made the community which was very proud of its tradition of eloption go totally against it? In fact the two eternal lovers of the community “Panoi-Jongki” (equivalent to ‘Romeo-Juliet’ in English and ‘Heer-Ranjha’ in Hindi) eloped and married and their love story is celebrated in the community. And it is not only me. Even my Friends have been complaining of the same problem where they are having a tough time convincing their parents.

It made me think and like always my mom came with the answer. I just asked my mom, why are you so inherently against me marrying a girl from other community? She came with an answer. She replied, “See son, you have gone out and got education and you are already working and why should a girl from a different community enjoy the fruits of your labour”. The answer startled me and also made me laugh. I again asked my mom, “What if I marry a girl who is working, then of course she won’t be enjoying the fruits of my labour?” The result I see is shocking. My mom is in tears and she replies, “Do you want to marry someone whom I cannot even talk to? I kept quiet and moved away.

A considerable number of the youth ( almost 90% of them are men) of my tribe are moving out of their villages and are getting education in the cities and are working. And of course many of them have got married outside the community. So now, the elderly of the society have suddenly realised that all the ‘good eligible guys’ (by good guys, they mean the ones who are working and can provide economic security to their daughters) are marrying outside the community. Thus the result is that all the daughters of the community are marrying within the community and are not getting enough choices of ‘good guys’. So, can I deduce the gender inequality in terms of education is the culprit or is it the protectionism attitude of the community members which has forced my mom and dad to emotionally blackmail me or made my uncle give me stern warnings about avoiding me, if I marry someone from another community.

I am still looking for an answer……..But Still I carry with me the secret urge to marry my girlfriend.

Is India ready to create ‘Her-story’?

History (read His-story) has always been biased towards women as it has always been written from a patriarchal point of view. Feminist thinkers have always advocated that such patriarchal names should be avoided and renamed. Her-story in India has been a story of Neglect and discrimination, evident from the fact that even after sixty three years of its independence; it has not been able to give representation to half of its population. The United Progressive Alliance led government in India has decided to create ‘her-story’ for the first time by introducing the women’s reservation bill where half the population of India gets 33% reservation in the parliament and the state legislative assemblies on the International Women’s’ day. But of course, it is not going to be a smooth ride as there are opposition parties like the RJD and the Samajwadi party who are against the bill. The samajwadi party has in fact termed the bill as Anti-Dalits and Anti-Muslims.

The seeds of this bill were sown long back in 1996 but it had got delayed till yet. What is very exciting to see here is that there is a ‘political will’ for the first time behind the passing of this bill. There, of course has been criticism against the timing of this bill. Many see this as an attempt by the UPA as motive to redirect the attention of the masses towards the bill, away from the sky rocketing inflation that has come in with the new budget.

With Representation like this, there always is the fear of being turned into ‘tokenism’ and also further the interests of the elitist sections of the society. There also have been discussions on how the time is very appropriate to introduce the bill with India having a women president, women speaker of the Lok Sabha and of course Sonia Gandhi gives a boost to the same. But the question here is has this representations been real or are just tokenism? The president of India was brought from nowhere and put on the chair. There, of course is a consensus on how this bill should move beyond tokenism and should serve the interests of the women.

A bill like this definitely needs to be passed but of course certain concerns need to looked into, before terming such an initiative as revolutionary. It has taken fifteen years to bring the requisite political will to pass a bill like this. Should we wait for fifteen more years to represent the interest of the women belonging to Dalits, scheduled tribes and the other backward classes and religious minorities in the Bill? I don’t think so. Thus, this bill might be called revolutionary only if it represents the interests of the same, not a vague bill just looking for 33% women representation with letting the field loose for the benefits to be taken by those already in the political arena. It has been observed in the ‘history of reservation’ that expecting that benefits shall trickle down and reach the last person has been a mere farce till yet.

Representation of Women in the Legislative assemblies and parliament is no charity but the right of women. Thus, it should reflect the rights of all the women irrespective of she being Dalit, ST, OBC or religious minorities or else this Bill might be of no help of half the population of the section it represents and shall do nothing but glorify the image of UPA and India. Will then it be Her-story or else it shall be story of a Few women.

Undue Glorification of tribal culture…a Neo-liberal agenda

It was a year back. My friend had accompanied me to my village. It was festival time in my village and everyone in the village was dressed in their best and also the youth were dancing to the tunes of the drums and folk songs. She was so impressed that she opined “Your culture is so beautiful, wish I was a part of it”. I quietly replied that this beautiful culture has become the reason for our underdevelopment. She did not understand.
The tribal culture has always been glorified by everyone from all angles. Such has been the extent of praise showered to tribal culture that gargantuan steps have been taken to preserve this culture. Culture has become like a litmus test for the tribes today as if to be called a tribe you have to have to beautiful culture, at least one that is recognised as beautiful by the outsiders. The academic intellectuals feel that this beautiful culture, if to be preserved, should be isolated. This cultural isolation has turned out to be the reason behind the underdevelopment of the tribes. Such is the obsession with the beauty that it is given ‘the other’ status and any contact with the so called ‘Mainstream’ is to be avoided. Thus any efforts for creating infrastructure and also carrying out development initiatives in these areas should be necessarily avoided as any contact with the outsider might have the potential of corrupting the ‘pure tribal culture’.
Globalisation has been able to at least improve the economical status of other exploited communities like the Dalits but it has proved to be a curse for the tribals. The tribals today are pushed towards more and more marginalization with their lands being forcefully acquired from them in the name of ‘national development’ as if they are outside the Nation. The government takes a hypocritical stance when it comes to tribal culture and tribal development. On one side, it relates tribals as synonymous with jungle and forests but one the other side it removes all the conventional right of the tribals towards the forests but allows the contractors and other merchants to fell trees indiscriminately.
Culture to be seen simply, is the sum total of how you dress, how you eat and basically the way of living. The tribals, though have been living in forests and had a nomadic existence today want to match steps with the ‘modern civilization’ and wants to break the stereotypical image given to it necessarily because this labelling has served as an impediment to the development of the tribes.
Once I was in my classroom and the teacher was relating how beautiful the tribal culture is and also he was relating how tribes lives in jungle and how they are the best protectors of the forests. I stood up and told him that “the tribes no more wants to be the protectors of forests, they want to come out of the forests, get education and wear the modern dress and move around in cars etc.”
He remained quiet……!!!

Unity is what the tribes need today

In 1950, Jaipal Munda, the ferocious leader of the Tribal groups then, commented that the history of the tribal people have been a history of dispossession and exploitation. But he also put enormous trust on the Nehru government and expected an equal society where the tribes won’t be neglected. But the trust that he had talked about is wrecked and grossly violated.
There are thousands of tribes in India, with each possessing unique culture and traditions. Sometimes this traditions and culture are glorified and the tribes are forced to live the life of deprivation and exploitation. However different and unique be the culture one common thread that cuts across all the tribes is the extreme exploitation whether it be a tribe of Jharkhand or of far flung North east. The land where the tribals’ reside are reservoirs of resources and minerals which have turn out to be a bane for the tribal people, as they are being forced out of their homes to make way for various developmental projects, whether it be dams in Arunachal Pradesh, Mining in Orissa and Jharkhand etc.
The other exploited counterpart-the Dalits have been able to raise their standards economically and also all the Dalits are united under the name of Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the lone crusader for the oppressed. Even after 53 years of his death, he still holds the charm that Millions gather just by the mention of his name. But leaders like Jaipal Munda, Ram Dayal Munda etc. are least heard of by the tribals. The enormous amount of heterogeneity in culture and traditions has also proved to be an impediment to the unity of the tribes. Thus, we can find a few fights against the repressive structures by the tribes, most of them scattered. Many of the fights for dignity and also survival have been termed by the government as anti-state movements and they are suppressed by labelling them as ‘Maoist’ and ‘anti state forces’. For instance, many tribals fighting for their survival in orissa are termed as Maoists and the tribes who are fighting a historical oppression of forced nationhood in North east states of the India are termed as insurgents and more and more forces are sent to those areas to curb these fights with an iron hand. The state has proved to be the gross violator of Human rights in those areas.
Thus, in such a context what the tribes need now is to fight and revert back. But for that, the first essential necessity is the Unity among them. Also, new innovative means of fight needs to be emerged. For instance, the current media conveniently take sides and also overlook the problems of the tribes. Thus writing about the issues of the tribes in the internet and also forming solidarity and unity among them by identifying cross cutting issues can go a long way.