Internal Displacement Among Misings (Assam) need Immediate Attention

On the morning of 19th July, about 700 villagers of Laika and Dodhia villages of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park of Assam entered Tarani reserve forest, armed with bamboo, tarpaulin, axe and bags with the intent of settling there. Those who entered the Tarani Reserve were primarily of the Mising community who were displaced by perennial floods in the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Moreover, the Mising people had been long demanding for resettlement since the 1980s from the Assam govt. The govt. however is yet to fulfill this promise.

Very soon, the local citizens of the neighboring villages gathered in the Tarani Reserve and resisted the attempts of the Mising people to resettle in the reserve. It led to some arguments and the situation soon heated up. Police forces arrived to the venue and could successfully control it from breaking out into a violent clash. A video grab of the incident is attached herewith

Why this issue need immediate attention?

  1. Assam along with Jammu and Kashmir has the highest number of Internally Displaced people in India. Most of them are displaced due to Conflicts and violence. While those impacted by conflict receive ample attention, very little is known about those displaced by Disasters, in this case, Perennial floods.
  2. In fact, those displaced by are resettled, albeit in camps with basic necessities provided for. The situation in the camps can improve a lot, but they at least have the bare minimum of Shelter, which those displaced by floods like the Misings don’t have access too. They have become people of ‘nowhere’
  3. It has to be noted that the Misings are an indigenous group and settled in the plains of Assam, centuries ago. The Misings have never bothered to register their land or get Land pattas, leaving them no official documentation to prove their right to Land or get access to other social security measures. Thus, it leaves most of the Mising people at the mercy of the government.
  4. The Misings till yet had to fighting for ‘Cultural Protection’ and Territorial Autonomy. With perennial floods, the struggle has now shifted to ‘Survival’.
  5. With no modes of survival left, Majority of the Mising youth are now forced to migrate to other Indian cities and work as Daily wage workers, pushing the community into deeper margins of poverty.

Thus, the govt. of Assam has to take immediate cognizance of the issue and make efforts to resettle the Mising community.

Living with Floods-How to solve Assam’s Flood problem

Floods in Assam have almost become like an absolute reality. Every year, without fail, hundreds of villages are submerged, many lives (both human and animal) are lost. This year alone, about 14 lakh people have been affected; about half of whom are in relief camps, while about 80 people have lost their lives till yet.

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NH-15 Breached. Photo Credit-JP Pegu

The floods have also become a major point for politicking and a point of discussion in Assam and sometimes in national media. While people like us, cry over the lack of media reportage of the floods, politicians start playing the blame game. Many take aerial surveys (innumerable numbers of them) to assess the flood situation. Various NGOs, disaster experts, national teams etc. have offered their version of mitigating solutions to the existing flood situation in Assam. However, they seem to have missed the point as floods continue unabated in Assam, after all these years.

Starting point- Understanding Assam and the reason for floods

To come up with a proper solution to the flood problem in Assam, one must start with developing a clear understanding of the topography of Assam. Assam, is located about 79.5m above sea level, with various districts like Sadiya 134m, Dibrugarh 104m, Guwahati 50m, Goalpara 37m, and Dhubri being placed at 28m above mean sea level. Also, Assam receives, an average of 2818mm of rainfall every year. Only Andaman and Nicobar (2967mm) receives more rainfall than Assam in India. Apart from the topography of Assam and annual rainfall received, Assam also receives floods due to reasons like rainfall in Arunachal Pradesh and even in China. Release of water from neighboring countries, especially China, to the Brahmaputra river can also cause floods in Assam.

Brahmaputra carries more water and sediment than any other in India. Moreover, it has the highest force. So, a plan based on controlling it, would have little effect on the flood situation in Assam. Moreover, development should not risk the survival of the people of Assam. It is being feared that with increased construction of dams in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the intensity of floods will further increase to unprecedented levels in the times to come. Adding to the agony is the allotment of marshy low lying lands for construction purposes. Until 20 years ago, a network of 121 rivers lorded over by the Brahmaputra, had more than 4,500 Beels or wetlands, which existed to absorb excess water. But today they no longer exist!

Funds over Management

With every flood, politicians, across parties, cry discrimination over the Assam floods being not declared a natural disaster. Students’ organizations, a potent force in Assam soon join in, failing to realize that it is just a ploy for getting in more funds. They are made to believe that shortage of funds is the reason behind the perennial occurrence of floods. But is it really so? The answer is no. It is the prevalence of rampant corruption, misappropriation of funds which is increasing the disaster every passing year.

Since 2001, more than 11,000 crores of money has been spent in the name of flood control and river management. The river island of Majuli, one of the worst impacted, has alone received a staggering amount of 125 crores till yet. So where does all this money go?

Floods as mentioned above have the biggest source of money and income for Assam. Of course much of it is pocketed by contractors and politicians. The contractors year after year keep building embankments, which actually should not be there in the first place, as it has been proved time and again that embankments are not a sustainable way of managing floods. Another question that arises is, ‘Can a river of Brahmaputra’s might be ever stopped with embankments?’ But still year after year, the government, ‘experts’ are still suggesting for further embankments to be built. The answer is simple, because it would mean ‘high cost’ solution benefiting the contractor nexus around it. Further, various areas are cordoned off in order to protect them from flooding. Large elevated roads, platforms etc. are built to suit the purpose. Strangely, not only are they built with low quality materials but also constructed only around monsoons, which never solves the purpose. Thus, every year stretches of embankments are washed away by floods. But funds continue to be allotted every year in the name of building embankments.

Moreover, in the recent years, International Financial institutions are also seen constantly recommending embankments as a way of solving flood problems. The Asian Development Bank, influenced by positive experiences from Malaysia, through one of its loan, suggested that Geo Tube Embankment be built in Assam. About 146 geo-tubes were laid at Matmara in Majuli, the biggest river island in Assam, amidst fanfare and optimism. Since the original embankment was breached at this site by the Brahmaputra in 2008, geo-tubes were installed to strengthen a five-km-stretch of the weakened dyke. But the river had little regard for the geo-tubes laden 3.5 km stretch (which was the only portion that could be completed) and swept it away the following year. It not only meant loss of materials worth Rs. 100 crores but the consequent damages caused by surging waters were several times over. (reported in Hindu in May 26, 2013)

Living with Floods-Preparedness becomes the Key

Many of the NGOs, during each flood distribute blankets, food packages and clothes in the affected districts. Similar efforts are taken up by concerned citizen groups, which spring up during every flood. While these efforts might help, it does nothing to actually solve the problem.

The National Media often ignores the flood problem in Assam and the little coverage that it gives is also limited to providing statistics of lives lost (both human and livestock). Arguments like ‘tyranny of distance’ and inaccessibility is given to cover up for their lack of will of report on Assam floods. The author had previously busted the myth of the ‘tyranny of distance’ by highlighting the presence of fully functional airports in Guwahati and Dibrugarh cities of Assam. Guwahati is on a flying distance of mere 2.5 hours while Dibrugarh can be reached in 4 hours flying with a 30-min stopover in Guwahati or Bagdogra (West Bengal). All the flood affected districts are within driving districts from the airports. However, with the presence of social media and various reporting done through it, people have an idea of the intensity of the floods in Assam. But, only reporting won’t help much, as long as the coverage does not convert into an outrage forcing the political establishment to look for a permanent solution.

Hence, in such a situation, a management based approach, focusing on living with the floods, and improving the preparedness of the people could go a long away in minimizing the effects of the floods. Mitigating the floods in Assam need a long term programmatic approach, which should combine scientific knowledge with local knowledge systems. For instance, a lot could be learned from riverine communities like the Misings. The Misings have been living with floods since ages and have developed their own innovative techniques to deal with it. Their houses are built over bamboo stilts, which protect them from displacement. Also, every household keep a boat handy for evacuation purposes. Moreover, they built high platforms in each village, both for the livestock and for them to move in during floods. With acute deforestation and rise of market systems, affording a boat has become extremely difficult for a poor household. Thus, distributing boats to affected households could also go a long way in increasing the preparedness. Other efforts that could be taken up are: –

  • Constructing reservoirs to make room for extra water during floods. Very little of the rainfall received in Assam in harvested. So, introducing water harvesting techniques like building reservoirs, ponds etc. could minimize some impact of the floods.
  • No construction or encroachment should be allowed in wetlands or Beels. All the Beels should be refurbished to work as flood cushions
  • Developing early warning systems and increasing the preparedness of the communities through a community based approach
  • Increasing forest cover and afforestation could minimize the rampant landslides and erosion in river catchment areas.
  • Almost all the embankments are more than 25 years old and cannot withstand the force of Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. These embankments should be rejuvenated or constructed again to control some of the force of water.
  • And last but not the least, the government should take up active efforts to control corruption among those responsible for developing flood control plans. The govt. should be more transparent and accountable to the people of Assam and developed a joint approach with the affected communities to tackle the flood problem.

Conclusion

The regularity of the Assam floods since years innumerable, should by now have taught us the dangers of construction in fragile and vulnerable lands. While on the one hand the biggest disadvantage that comes with a ‘Natural Disaster’ is its unpredictability, the case out here is very different. While the intensity of floods differs every year, floods do come every year. And it does not take a scientist’s brain to understand that this ‘natural disaster’ is very much avertable! However, from the given reactions of the people and the way floods have become a part of socio economic life of people and the state, it seems that unless a larger movement towards the issue is not built and all not held accountable, the status of the consistent flooding would remain the same.

(The Author can be contacted at manoranjan.pegu@gmail.com. Views are personal)

THINGS I LEARNED RUNNING MY FIRST MARATHON

About 3 months ago, I was not a runner and could not even run a kilometer without panting. From that to successfully completing my first half marathon and writing about it has been a journey. I was an occasional crossfitter, though. But it also stopped because the gym where I worked out, closed down. But I played soccer regularly, which kept me fit to a certain extent. But running  a marathon was still just a distant dream.

In February, my colleague at Helsinki encouraged me to register for the Helsinki City Run (Half Marathon). After a lot of thinking & weighing my pros and cons, I decided to register for the run. I needed an incentive to start running. And I believed that  preparing for a marathon would give me that needed push.

Come May 13, 2017, I had successfully completed my first Half Marathon. Interestingly, I did better than I expected and finished about 10 mins earlier than the timing I had given myself. In this post, I will highlight a few things which helped me a lot in preparing for the Run.

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Me-after successfully completing the run

Train and Prepare well

You need to train well. If possible, make a plan. I followed a plan of running on every alternate days. Each week, I made sure to run about a minimum 25kms. My plan looked like this

  • Monday-7/8kms
  • Tuesday-Rest Day/
  • Wednesday-7/8kms
  • Thursday-Rest
  • Friday-7/8kms
  • Saturday-Rest
  • Sunday-7/8 kms.

However it is advised to do some muscle exercises during the rest days. Ideally, we should focus on squats, burpees with some push ups and Pull ups. I personally could not do much of the muscle exercises but on the days I did it, I could feel the difference. I compensated it by playing soccer on some of the rest days. Apparently cycling also helps, but I never got to try it.

Eat Well

Watch your diet.  I did not follow a definite diet regime, but ate healthy. I stopped having beer, about a month before the marathon. Also rather than having big meals, I preferred smaller meals, which did not make me feel bloated. It is difficult to go out for a run with a bloated stomach. About an hour before going out for a run, have a banana or so. Bananas are great food for running.

Also watch what and where you are eating. As my job involves constant traveling, its only natural that I eat out a lot. Just two weeks before my run, I visited Kathmandu for work and ordered room service from the hotel I stayed in. I got food poisoning and had an upset tummy for almost 10 days. Those days I had to just sit and wait to get better. I was feeling bad about losing out on training but I needed the rest to get better. I had no other choice.

Don’t push yourself too hard

It’s natural to get excited and push ourselves too hard. Sometimes, we might even be tempted to run everyday and continue to practice even when we are not at the top of our health. But it is not advised to do so. Rest is very important. Our muscles need time to recover from the pressure we give them while running. I had times, when I pushed myself too hard only to be out of training for longer than I anticipated. Taking it slow but steady is more important than pushing ourselves too hard.

In the initial days, you will do a lot of walking along with running. And that’s okay. During the first few days I was walking after every 800 meters almost. But over the course of time, my running stretches increased, and the walking time kept decreasing. I could feel my stamina increase. So, there is no need to rush and take it easy and slow

Warm up-Very Important

Warm ups are very important as they prepare your muscles for what lies ahead. It becomes very tempting for us to immediately start running, in an attempt to put all our energy into it. However, that sudden push often hurt our muscles and may cause us injury. Warms up take some energy out of us, but the effects of it are very encouraging. It enables us to run better and for a longer time. Also it keeps us away from injury.

Adjusting our posture and running comfortably also helps a lot in avoiding injury. A wrong posture can be hard on our joints, knees and our ligaments.

Drink enough

There is no substitute to fueling yourself up. Drink enough of water….!!! There is no substitute of water. But fruit shakes and Nimbu Paani (Fresh lime water) are also great to have. I don’t think it is necessary but I had cut down my coffee intake before the run.

Give yourself a target

Congrats, you have already given yourself a target by choosing to run. And complete it. But the next target that you need to give yourself is of a time, in which you will complete the run. The target has to be a realistic and based on your strengths and weaknesses. I gave myself a target to completing the run in 2.5 hours. This enabled me to pace my run and always keep track of my progress. After every run, I used to evaluate how I did and highlight the areas I needed to do better.

Get some help from technology

Gadgets like fitbit or may be even your phone helps in keeping track of the run. I personally have Fitbit and use it optimally. Fitbit also helps me track my heartbeat, step count and the kms. I used the stopwatch feature to track my run, as it helped me differentiate my workout from the total number of steps taken during the day. Also my heartbeat check feature enabled me to see how hard I was breathing during the run. Ideally, we should not breathe harder than 60% of our total capacity during a run. So, I always tried to keep my heart beat to around 140 per minute as the maximum limit. Sometimes, science helps us a lot in preparing 🙂

Pay attention to your gear

What we wear during the run is very important. Particularly the shoes. Pick a nice pair of shoes, that is light and comfortable but also provides just about enough cushioning. Too much cushioning also is not great. I used Ultra boost Adidas and am satisfied with it. I would definitely love to have a better pair though. Your socks are very important too. During long runs, they can become a hassle too. The socks should allow your feet to have enough movement and breathing.

Another key important gear is your underwear. The underwear should be breathable and most definitely should keep your stuff in place so that you can have a comfortable run (especially for men)

Pay attention to the weather where you are going to run

I was training at +40 degrees and above in Delhi, in sweaty environments. While my race actually was at Helsinki where the current temperature varied from +5 to +13 degrees. It is not advised to try out new attire during the race day, but i had to wear a full running tights as the weather in Helsinki is very cold. It did provide me some discomfort as I had suddenly shifted from comfortable shorts to full tights, but it was important for me to wear those, as otherwise I would have gotten sick after the run, due to less protection. Thus, it is ideal to pay attention to where and when you will run. If you are running in a hotter climate then prepare accordingly.

Do a shake out run

Shake out runs are very important. As I was running in a completely different environment and weather, I reached Helsinki a day earlier and participated in the shake out run organized by the Helsinki city run. The shake out run gave me time to evaluate myself on how to do the actual run. Of course I sucked at it, as it was my first run after a two week long hiatus due to upset tummy and food poisoning. But it was also my first time, when I wore the changed gear that I would wear during the actual run. As Helsinki is in a lower altitude then Delhi and much less polluted, running there was a bit easier. However, the wind speed was much higher than Delhi and it constantly pushed me back, making my speed much lesser. The shake out run enabled me to acclimatize myself to Helsinki which I think was very important and played a big role in me completing the run, the next day

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Runners lining up and doing some warm up exercises

THINGS TO DO AT THE DAY OF THE RUN

What you do on the run day impacts your overall run performance to a great extent. My run was at 4.35 pm in the evening so I decided to prepare myself accordingly. I woke up early and packed all my necessary stuff and kept it aside. I did a double check of whatever things, I would need and packed them neat and clean. I evaluated the time that would be needed to reach the marathon start line and prepared my timeline accordingly.

  1. Have a healthy breakfast- As my run was in the evening, I decided to have healthy and full breakfast. A full breakfast because nutrition is necessary and also there was enough time for the food to get digested.
  2. Light lunch-My lunch was very light as my run would be in about 3 hours. A full lunch would have made me feel bloated.
  3. Drink lots of water- I drank lots of water even it meant me going to the toilet often.
  4. Reach the place half an hour earlier- I reach the marathon startline half an hour earlier. I soaked in the environment, took the positive vibe from fellow runners and did some warm up.
  5. Warm ups are very important, as it gives the muscles the energy to start and give you that push to start the race.
  6. I cleared my bowel by visiting the loo. Before the run, I went to the loo two times to clear out my stomach, so that I can have a comfortable run.
  7. I adjusted my gear, checked my music about 5 mins before the run and then started on a positive vibe.

During the run

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The start line

  • There were energy stops at each 5 kms. At every 5 kms, I checked my pace and adjusted myself.
  • I drank water at each stop, which gave me the necessary fuel to continue.
  • I found a good runner ahead of me and chose to stay with him the entire way. More like the guy was my inspiration.
  • At about 13 kms, tiredness began to kick in. I took it a bit slower, gathered energy back and then continued at the pace again.

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Me almost at the finish line-after having endured the run

  • After the 17kms, I felt like giving up. But my brain took over and I decided that no matter what, I am going to complete and kept running. I did feel tired but I decided to pay less attention to it and continued running anyways. There were about 2 or 3 occasions, I walked a bit too.
  • As I reached close to the finish line, I started getting the energy. The crowd cheering added on to it. And I increased the speed in my final kms and completed the run. The finish line was encouraging.
  • A bit after completing my run, I began to feel cold due to the weather. I immediately changed into my warm clothes.
  • That night, I had a good dinner and slept for a very long time.

That was content sleep 🙂

TRADE UNIONS AND ELECTORAL POLITICS

I work with South Asian Trade Unions. Interesting as it is, it throws up quite a number of challenges. Of many, Trade Unionists being involved in electoral politics, is one of the very important challenges. I personally do not mind Trade Unions or Unionist having a political ideology or for that matter even participating in elections. In fact, I would like it, if one day, trade Unions start defining electoral politics in South Asia. Trade Unions should actively evaluate candidates on the basis of their manifesto, campaign for labor issues to be included and in fact even help labor friendly candidates win elections. That’s the way to bring forth political changes in favor of labor. However, in South Asia it is vice versa.

When working in South Asia or for that matter, in almost all parts of the world, we are thrown with the massive challenge of dealing with Unions affiliated to political parties. For eg:, when we talk about India, AITUC (All India Trade Union Congress) was the sole representative of all working class for a very long time. But come 1947, the INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress) was formed by the Congress Party of India leaders, who did not agree with the left ideology that defined AITUC, thus bringing forth an era of political parties forming trade unions. In fact, according to E.A. Ramaswamy, an eminent Trade Union Scholar in India, ‘the divisions among trade unions in India have nothing to do with workers themselves, but have more to do with what political ideology, the leader subscribes too”. Evidently, most of the worker issues get subsumed under the electoral politics cloud.

We deal with Trade Union projects, as a part of my work. I am responsible for monitoring Trade Union projects, with various Global Union and national trade union partners in South Asia. Come election season, it is difficult to get even a single activity done. Not because the trade Unionists are busy campaigning for worker issues to be included in electoral campaigns, but because most of the leaders turn active campaigners for candidates of their affiliated party. It would be a welcome change, if trade unions get busy running their own political campaigns of evaluation parties based on their labor agendas.  However, that is rarely the case. In fact they become so busy with elections, that their main work of ‘representing the trade union members’ take a back seat.

In south Asia, it has always been the other way around, with political parties defining the role of trade unions and not vice versa. However, there are unions which have realized that it is definitely not the way forward, but these unions have a long way to go. The established trade unions affiliated to political parties are almost antagonistic to the non-affiliated unions and do not let them grow. Often they are discarded as NGOs and not ‘real trade unions’.

With electoral interests, defining the nature of trade union politics, there also emerges another danger. Often Trade unions are seen to have very narrow definitions of Nationalism, which proves to be an obstacle in their growth. Often many unions have accepted even non-labor friendly legislation, because the parties highlighted that it is in ‘Desh ke hit mein’ (in favor of the country). Thus, narrowed version of nationalism takes over the larger workers interest, thus harming the movement itself.

Thus, it would be almost revolutionary if ‘Trade Unions/Unionists paid as much attention to workers issues as they do to elections’. In fact, it would be far more helpful then them being limited to party interests…!!!

Views expressed here are personal and do not highlight the views of any organization or the organization I work for. It also reflects part of my research work that is in progress and thus readers should refrain from quoting it. Thanks-Author

May Day-March Forward and Continue the struggle

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With the consistent growth of Neo-liberal mode of development, attacks against workers is on the rise across the world. Workers are being jailed in countries like Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Turkey and many others for standing up for the rights of fellow comrades.

In India, there has been a systematic attack on workers’ rights, done through codification of laws. The government, by disguising their attempts as ‘simplifying labor laws’ is launching a critical attack on workers right by diluting the laws. The new codes make it easier for employers to violate workers’ rights in India. Quite obviously, the trade unions are not amused and are protesting.

However, the trade unions in India itself are in crossroads. With them not being able to keep pace with the capitalist development process, many find itself confused and are in doldrums. The trade unions density continues to decline. More than 90% of the informal workers are to be organized. It’s a long road for the Trade Unions in India.

Thus, this May it is a time to reflect, learn from mistakes and intensity the struggles. It’s a time to move beyond symbolism and mere glorification of past struggles and truly represent the cause of the workers. It’s a time to move beyond our party affiliations and truly unite for a stronger Trade Union movement. It’s a time to stand united and fight for a better and fairer world.

Brief History of May Day

There was a time when working from ‘Sunrise to Sunset’ was the norm for workers. Workers had to toil hard for 12-16 hours in pitiable conditions. Exploitation was rampant. The Trade Unions, tired of their situation, decided to battle against it and gave the rallying cry for 8-hour work day, at Chicago, held in 1884. The workers were organized under the Banner of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor). At the convention, it was proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.”

Come May 1, 1886, Millions of workers across America joined the struggle. Chicago, which became the centre point of the Struggle saw about 40,000 workers gathering and participating in the strike. More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers. As the police attempted to disperse the protesters on May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown at them, killing seven officers and at least four civilians. Police subsequently rounded up and arrested eight anarchists, all of whom were convicted of conspiracy. A court sentenced seven to death and one to 15 years’ imprisonment. Four were hanged, one committed suicide rather than face the gallows and two had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Those who died are regarded by many on the left, including both socialists and anarchists, as the “Haymarket Martyrs”. The Haymarket affair galvanized the broader labor movement.

In 1889, the Second International, the international organization for workers and socialists, declared that May 1 would from then on be International Workers’ Day.

In the US, however, the eight-hour work day wasn’t recognized until it was turned into law in 1916, after years of strikes, protests and actions in favor of it.

 

Dr. Ranoj Pegu’s decision to join BJP will not help the Mising Autonomy Movement

Recently, the Chief of Mising Autonomous Council Dr. Ranoj Pegu joined the BJP in Assam. Dr. Pegu has till yet been spearheading the campaign of the Mising Community for protection under the sixth schedule. His decision, to me not only highlights an ideological vaccum but also dare I say, an obsessive quest for personal political power, albeit risking the struggle and goals of the community he represents.

To understand the evolution of the political struggle of the Mising community, we have to understand, how the community got into electoral political space in the first place. The Misings, second largest tribe in Assam in terms of population, has been struggling for territorial protection and autonomy under the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution since the early 70s. Earlier the struggle for the same was led by various organizations like Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK), Mising Mimag Kebang (MMK) and Takam Mising Mime Kebang (TMMK). Dr. Pegu, joined the TMPK in the 80s and soon rose into its ranks, and have been leading the struggle ever since. But these organizations could not make much headway due to differences within the community, where other similar fragments emerged. One such example was MADC (Mising Autonomous Deemed Committee), which along with another organization, Mising Bane’ Ke’bang (MBK) accepted a boundary less autonomous council for the community. Several instances of infighting within the organizations, rather weakened the struggle. After much debate and discussions on the mode of struggle, the Misings concluded that they would participate in elections, right from panchayat level to parliamentary elections and try to give impetus to the struggle for autonomy.And the organizations who till then had been leading the democratic peaceful struggle for autonomy would also focus on winning the elections. Dr. Pegu, himself had claimed that, after such a stage, in this case, sixth schedule is achieved by the Misings, these organizations would withdraw from active politics and leave it to the political parties. (Almost like the line of Communist Party of India). The Misings believed that the parliamentary struggle, combined with a democratic peoples movement in the ground would enable them to achieve sixth schedule status. However, it has not been so till yet.

In addition, the decision to join active electoral politics has backfired. It has not only diluted the movement but even harmed the community’s struggle for Autonomy. And Dr. Pegu’s decision to join the BJP, many say, might prove to the last stroke, ending the struggle itself. Participating in elections itself was not a problem, but the inability to delineate it from the existing struggle was. Today, we find all the organizations, including the TMPK, which is essentially a student organization, so merged in election campaigns that they somewhere seem to have forgotten the struggle itself. The decision to join politics also have had the TMPK and its leader form alliances with other parties which have often been against the struggle itself. There has been instances when in Jonai constituency, the AGP had openly highlighted that the struggle for sixth schedule of the Misings would be harmful to the other communities. In fact, the current MP from Lakhimpur Constituency, Mr. Pradan Baruah have won MLA elections from Jonai constituency with this line of campaigning. The organizations who are leading the campaign, I believe should rather have focused on generating awareness about the struggle among the masses and assuring other communities, living in the Mising dominated areas, about complete support, even after a sixth schedule protection would be achieved, if at all. But the open declaration of these organizations, highlighting that their objective in joining active politics was to achieve Sixth Schedule, not only created a situation of animosity against the community but also the other communities making active attempts to harm the autuonomy struggle. Clear evidences of it lies in candidates like Bhubon Pegu and Ronuj Pegu, losing various elections. Moreover, the number of Bandhs, called by various organizations, opposing the Mising autonomy struggle is also on the rise.

Electoral Politics is a number game. So to believe that they would bring forth sixth schedule by contesting elections as ‘independent candidates’ and god forbid winning a few seats, was in itself a bad idea. The Misings, in the initial times, believed that they would form their own parties and participate in elections and capture various seats, at least from the Mising dominated areas, which in turn would help them in achieving autonomy. But, it was soon realized that it was not happen soon, as the Misings, like any other community, had their own electoral interests and did not vote homogeneously to a single party. Thus, came the phase of  forming alliances with other parties in return for support etc. Such attempts enabled them to win a few elections here and there but none of it actually has helped in giving the struggle the decided force that they wanted. (Of course, there has been various Mising candidates, who have contested and won elections, by joining other parties. But they have never been interested in the struggle for sixth schedule itself). Candidates like Ranoj Pegu and Bhuban Pegu etc. of course claim to be an exception. According to them, they are contesting elections,so that they can carry forward the autonomy struggle. Have they been able to do so is of course up for a critical analysis.

The decision to join BJP in that sense is an exception to the existing methods in the parliamentary struggle. But to believe that a party whose objectives are to bring forth a larger Hindu Nation, would support an identity struggle is a very long shot. Moreover, to believe that they would take up active efforts to protect the Mising culture would be asking for too much. And additionally to believe that Dr. Pegu’s would be able to influence the decisions in the Party obsessed with Hindutva nationalism is futile.

And above all, to believe that this decision is to actually give the struggle for autonomy more momentum… I am not sure….!!!

(Opinions expressed here are personal)

SANSKRIT COMPULSORY, TRIBAL LANGUAGES-NOT EVEN OPTIONAL

The Assam government recently decided to make Sanskrit compulsory up to Class VIII in all state run schools. The Assam Cabinet’s decision as expected has received sharp criticism from various student groups and political parties. The student groups have clearly highlighted that Sanskrit being introduced as an ‘optional subject’ would have been better. I believe that an arbitrary decision like this will prove to a big blow to the tribal languages in the state, considering its already ‘vulnerable’ status.

The UNESCO in its Atlas of World Languages in Danger (2011) highlighted that there are more than 187 languages in India which are under severe threat and are categorized in either of the following categories, Vulnerable, Endangered, Definitely Endangered, Severely Endangered or Critically Endangered. A regional analysis of the report clearly highlights that more than 39 languages under the Endangered list is in Northeast. Tribal Languages like Deori, Karbi and Mising (Miri) feature in the Definitely Endangered List while two languages (Tai Nora and Tai Rong) feature in the Critically Endangered List. Even the Bodo language, which is included in the Eight schedule of the Indian Constitution is under the ‘Vulnerable’ list. Under UNESCO; “vulnerable” means ‘not spoken by children outside the home, “definitely endangered means ‘children not speaking the language anymore’, severely endangered means ‘only spoken by the oldest generations’, and “critically endangered” means ‘spoken by only a few members of the oldest generation, often semi-speakers’. So, the Assam government’s decision to make Sanskrit compulsory in schools, rather than making attempts to preserve the tribal languages which are almost at the brink of extinction is nothing but arbitrary.

Moreover, the mandatory nature of the decision also does not consider the 3-language formula for language learning which was introduced by the government of India in 1968. According to the formula, Hindi, English and a modern Indian Language will be studied in States. In the case of Assam, it has been Hindi, English and Assamese. With the introduction of Sanskrit as a compulsory subject, the students will be now forced to study four languages. Such a decision will put further pressure to the tribal students and accentuate the language loss among the tribal communities in Assam.

The tribal communities in Assam have been long struggling for the government to recognize their languages and make attempts to preserve them. The Bodos after a long struggle were able to include their language in the Eight Schedule of the constitution. Communities like Misings, Deoris and Karbis have been long fighting for introduction of their language as optional subject in the school curriculum in Assam. However, not much has progressed till yet. In such a scenario, the introduction of Sanskrit as compulsory subject completely ignores the ongoing popular struggles for language protection in Assam.

The Article 29 (1) of the Indian constitution clearly highlights that ‘Any section of the citizen residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same’. In addition, Article 350 (A) states that ‘the state shall provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary state of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups….!”. The Assam government rather than fulfilling this constitutional obligations, deciding to introduce Sanskrit as compulsory subject, is definitely not a happy news for the linguistic minority groups in the state. Most of the tribal languages are only on paper and even though some of them are taught, they are in a bad shape. For instance, the Assam govt. had agreed to introduce Mising as an optional subject at primary level in certain regions. However, with no books and teachers or funds, the language is not taught anywhere and students chose to opt for other subjects.

Languages are vehicles of our cultures, collective memory and values. They are an essential component of our identities, and a building block of our diversity and living heritage. Schooling, if not the primary, is definitely one the key reasons for loss of language. It comes just second to ‘not being spoken at home or community’. When not taught at schools, the students pick up other non-tribal languages such as English, Assamese and Hindi etc. as they are viewed as more ‘functional’ and ‘powerful’. These languages enable them to get degrees and their job. Moreover, articulation in these languages are given preference over learning its own indigenous language. Thus, it would have been better if the govt. of Assam would have rather focused its efforts on helping these communities preserve their language. Steps like making funds available for research, publications of books, recruiting and training teachers for indigenous languages would have gone a long way.

 

Manoranjan Pegu 

 

Poverty Porn and Development Communication

At the recently concluded Rusty Radiator Award given to the fundraising videos, which uses the worst kind of stereotypes, the Compassion International’s ‘The wait is over’ was a clear winner. The jury while giving the award highlighted that the video promotes deep-rooted perceptions of Western superiority over the South. It reinforces the white savior complex, and depicts that there is nothing the parents can do for their children other than to wait for the sponsor who can save their lives and their future. Details can be found here

Poverty porn, also known as development porn, famine porn, or stereotype porn, has been defined as “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.

While this kind of videos greatly raises sympathy and bring millions of dollars to aid agencies, questions like where do we draw the line?, does the video depict the truth or misrepresents it? Is poverty as simple as it is shown in the videos? and does the means justify the end? are often debated. It has often been an issue of strong debate for me too. As I work for a trade union, I have often had debates with my comrades and caution them to be careful while representing pictures and videos of the South. While many feel that it is good way of raising money and using it to alleviate poverty or empower the people, I personally have some different opinions.

To me, poverty porn, misrepresents truth– It has often been found that the pictures are staged and videos are carefully choreographed with the end goal of raising funds. Those videos  have a carefully selected target audience and seek to achieve an objective i.e. raise funds. Nothing more, nothing less. Seldom do they serve an educational purpose. Like a friend commented, unfortunately people react on biological emotions such as pity, anger, outrage, sympathy etc. such videos serve a good purpose.

While such videos does serve a purpose, it reduces the truth and the subjects in the video to a mere product. In fact, the pain, suffering and the situation of those in the videos, becomes a product. Thus, the goal becomes to sell the product-a product which is intended to create generosity and not true feeling of comradeship. It becomes a ‘feel good factor’ for the wealthy that they are doing something in the world.

Poverty porn culture dis-empower the poor and unnecessarily empowers the rich/wealthy people. Such videos generate in a culture, where a group of ailing people is shown and a call for help is made. Often in those videos it is highlighted that if the rich don’t stand up and help the poor, they will have nowhere else to go. Thus those donating the money/goods are left with an unnecessary sense of power and entitlement. Moreover, it highlight the others as lesser beings, who are not capable of helping themselves and always need outside help to rescue them for their aggrieved situation.

Poverty Porn creates and fortify stereotypes. The pictures and people shown in those well crafted (directed videos) are seen as representative of the entire community by those viewing it. I belong to a tribe in North east, and often NGOs and media in India have depicted us violent, angry, gun carrying people who are against anything that has to do with other parts of India. And many in India, do believe it and ask funny and racist questions to us while we are in other parts of India.

Moreover, it is unethical. Often those in the videos and pictures are not aware of how their pictures will be used. Forget written consent, even verbal consent of people are not taken while their pictures are being used by organizations. While the violations might be higher in term of pictures then videos, it clearly violates all ethics of development communication.

And very importantly it simplifies poverty and does nothing to highlight the structural problems causing poverty in the first place. The aid does cosmetic service to poverty. Often the organizations engaging in such dis-empowering  social work offer band-aid solutions to poverty because they are incapable or unwilling to question and fight against the structures that caused that impoverishment in the first place. For instance, in India, we rarely find an organization openly critiquing the caste system for years of oppression and poverty among the Dalits and tribes. Many Organizations are too shy to blame the government for the oppression of tribes in central. And thus we find most of them in offering the government help in establishing compensation or some livelihood options, rather than dealing in questions of land and forest rights.

We have to realize that those who are depicted in the aid videos are helpless creatures but are empowered people and communities who can fight on their own. Yes, they might need a little help from here and there but they definitely do not need that help which in undignified to their existence. Thus, I end with a quote by Lilla Watson, “If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’

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The views here are personal and is not an attack on any organization directly.-Author

What Patriotism is Not!!!

I went to see the movie ‘Dangal’ along with my wife last night. This, we thought, would be a welcome break as we have been traveling since the last few days. We thought, it would give us a good opportunity to unwind before we go back to our work. But it did not turn out to be as much fun as we expected it would be. The movie itself was great and had nothing much to do with it. It has more to do with a recent judgement, wherein it has been made compulsory for movie theaters to play the national anthem right before the movie. The otherwise very progressive supreme court of India, thought that it would instill a sense of patriotism in the movie goers.

Of course, it has been critiqued from various corners but many loved it. With the current government trying to force down patriotism down the throat of every individual, this judgement is seen as a victory of sorts. The theater where I went for the movie, played the anthem, right after the trailer of a funny movie called Jolly LLB 2. So one moment we were all laughing and in the next we are all forced to stand up to our national anthem. Don’t know about others, but I was not feeling very patriotic. Instead we were feeling angry at the forced nature of patriotism.

Off late, nationalism has got a new lease of life in India. Everyone starting from media, ‘scholars’, institutions etc., have been talking about it. The govt loves and encourages it and in fact even uses it to bring forth ghastly arguments. Recently they justified standing for hours and dying in ATM lines (due to demonetization) by highlighting that same thing is being done by the armed forces in protecting the borders. It confuses Patriotism with Nationalism.Patriotism has to do with immense love for the country. The ability to criticize the hell out of the government, so that the country can get better. It is not jingoism. Nationalistic Jingoism is about considering that our country is superior that every other country and is about the obsessive nature of it. It is about getting blinded in the obsession and considering everything/everyone who criticizes the country, even if it is for the better, unpatriotic.

And in current times, such nationalism continues to be on the rise in India….!!!

THE QUESTION OF TRADE UNION LEADERSHIP IN INDIA

How is it that almost all the leaders of the organized trade union movement in India belong to privileged classes. Interestingly the same lot also belong to the ‘higher castes’ in India.Is it a mere coincidence? or is it by design? Many would say, that is just a coincidence. While those who consider themselves a bit liberal and progressive might acknowledge it as a problem but will also be quick to highlight that it is not by design. Almost all the answers will not be rooted in the structure of caste system in India.

The question of leadership has been long debated and discussed among unions in India. The organized trade union movement have often had leaders coming from political parties itself, many without any concrete trade union experience. During the formation of trade unions in India, the leaders came out from the nationalist movement many of whom were foreign educated and aware of freedom and rights in other parts of the world. They saw trade union organizing as a strong tool to raise workers awareness and give impetus to the nationalist struggle. Soon after independence, the leaders formed political parties and contested elections and those who were part of the parties also continued to be the leaders of the unions too. The tradition continued ….!!!

Even among the left parties, who claim to be progressive, leaders belonging to lower castes and classes are seldom found. Even though we might find a few of them in the mid level leadership, there is almost a complete absence from the central leadership.

However, the new forms of trade unions, those emerging today, devoid of any larger party affiliation, choose to have leaders from among themselves. However, sometimes they do take outside leadership, either in a hope of getting more political power or to get better recognition. But essentially, they are increasingly choosing to move away from outside leadership. Whether these unions will have leaders from lower castes or lesser privileged background are to be seen.

More than often the trade union movement in India has shied away from the caste movement. They have to a great extent denied to recognize the caste identity and give larger importance to the class identity. Interestingly, the movement see the Caste and class as two separate categories and refuses to see the linkages between the two. Thus, tribes and Dalits see the organized labor movement as nothing but an extension of the social stratification and structures existing in the Indian society and rightly so, believes that most of their real issues will not be highlighted by the union movement. The trade union movement have proven till yet have proven them right. There is absolute silence on issues of caste related violence and discrimination from the labor movement. For instance, after Rohith Vemula’s suicide, I radically browsed through websites of the trade unions in India, hoping to see to discussion and support statements for the dalit movement. I was left disappointed. At the most, I saw two of the unions putting out mere condemning statements. However when it come to real action, they did nothing. They neither joined the movement nor raised any strong voices in favor of the movement. Many even highlighted that the focus of the trade unions is not to fight caste struggles but to merely highlight the economic interests of their members. This myopic view of unionism is precisely what continues many Dalits and tribal workers to stay away from trade unions. And they are perhaps right in doing so.