By the Brahmaputra (Vol 4)
(For the quarter October – December 2008)
The Media as a spectacle
The media has become a spectacle, supremely confident in its own rightness, justified by high noise levels, and asserting the wrongness of others.
In discussion after discussion, our television anchors take up the space with much hectoring; they bring in discussants who reflect their points of view (remember that a televised discussion or debate is all about how much your views are in sync with his or hers or how loudly you can shout – or out-shout even the anchor).
Is this what Indians think or believe or even want to hear? I doubt it, not from what I know from extensive travels across this country and especially in the Northeast, where conflict zones are multiple. The poll samplings that television channels conduct on such issues (such as “Is the media responsible for changes in policy?”) are laughably limited, lacking any depth. It is better that someone with integrity and knowledge, not to speak of articulation is requested to conduct an assessment of how specific news channels and their stars are viewed. There is a wealth of competent studies here and abroad of how media coverage has reflected on specific issues and it would be useful to refer to them.
In all this point scoring and ratcheting up their so-called TRP ratings, in breathless and unethical ways, trying to outdo the other, there are a few basic things forgotten. Amartya Sen reflected on this in a conversation with a small group in Deli recently when he said a very simple thing: “I am astonished at the way people can go to sleep at night comfortably in a country which has the largest number of hungry children in the world.”
Visit of the Aiyar
Prominent columnist and economist, Swaminathan Aiyar, visited the Upper Assam towns of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia on 27 & 28 December 2008 accompanied by his family. The Aiyars have been intimately connected with C-NES – five ships for the unique Boat Clinic” initiatives” – (to provide basic health service to the marginalized community of the Brahmaputra islands) have been funded by generous donations from them. The ships named Swaminathan, Shahnaz and Rustam have been serving Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Dhubri respectively. Shekhar and Pallavi will be commissioned before the next monsoons in Lakhimpur and Jorhat districts.
The family (Swaminathan, Shahnaz, Shekhar, Fransesca, and Rustam) arrived at the tea town of Dibrugarh on 27 December and drove straight to Maijan ghat where the “Shahnaz,” named after Mrs. Swaminathan was anchored. The Deputy Commissioner of Dibrugarh, Ashutosh Agnihotri came for the inaugural function, which was held in a tent on the banks of the river. The guests included some of C-NES’ strongest supporters over the years, who have been unstinting in their backing.
Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee of C-NES, welcomed the Aiyars and thanked them for donating funds for building the boats. Swaminathan Aiyar responded by saying that the boat clinic programme was a very good example which serves the needy and the poor people.
On 28 December, the Aiyars, Hazarika and the C-NES team reached Guijan ghat of Tinsukia at 0900 hours to visit the SB Swaminathan. The Aiyars performed a small pooja here on the space before the prow and the boat then sailed to an island, Erasuti Garamjan, for a health camp. The Aiyars and the non-medical team visited the village and chatted with village residents on social and economic conditions
After lunch aboard, the participants sailed for one hour to view river dolphins (C-NES is running another successful programme that works on mobilization of river bank villages for the conservation of this highly endangered fresh water mammal). The next day (Dec29) the Aiyars left for different destinations in Assam and Delhi.
An orientation meet was organized by C-NES on December 11, 2008 at Hotel Alankar, Guwahati for new members joining the Boat Clinic Project. This programme is to be upscaled to include five more districts- Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Nalbari and Barpeta from January 2009.
The Managing Trustee, C-NES, Sanjoy Hazarika welcomed the new members to the organization. “Sustained health care is a basic human right which we will be delivering,” he said. Dr J B Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM, present at the meet, appreciated the “missionary zeal” with which the boat clinic members have been working in these remote areas.
Climate Change Media Seminar
A media seminar for journalists on Climate Change Challenge and its relevance for the North-east was organized by C-NES in association with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and the Knight International Fellowships Program, on 21 and 22 November 2008 at the TERI Centre in Guwahati.
The Seminar was attended by over 30 people including 18 journalists, both from the television and print media and journalism students. A Glossary of Climate Change jargons translated into Assamese was presented to the participants on the occasion.
Resource persons included Dulal Goswami, Parimal Bhattacharya and Barin Sarma of Guwahati University, Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati, Sanjoy Hazarika, Columnist, Author and Managing Trustee of C-NES, Arul Louis, former News Editor of the Daily News, New York and Knight Fellow, Sanghamita Kalita, Deputy Global Economics Editor of the Wall Street Journal, New York and O P Pandey, CCF, Department of Forests.
Issues discussed included making scientific jargon easily understood by reporters for popular use, “Science, facts and realities”, “Impact of climate change on the North-east” and “Balancing development and the needs of climate change”.
Mr Hazarika said that the media had a key role to disseminate basic issues of climate change and make this knowledge and information available to the people. This was especially important because the north east was a “Biodiversity hot spot”. The livelihoods of millions of people were connected to the environment. The Knight International Fellow, Mr. Arul Louis spoke of the need to give environment issues a “human face”
The” Climate Change” seminar for the media included a field trip to the TERI watershed area site at Khetri, Kamrup District.
Retreat at Umiam
A two and a half day Retreat for C-NES staff was organized at the picturesque Orchid Resort, at Barapani, Meghalaya overlooking the Umiam Lake from 23- 25 October 2008, 14 Kms. from Shillong, capital of Meghalaya. The lake is a product of a hydro-electric dam built on the Umiam River in the 1960s and is the first such project in this region. Thirty one C-NES staff led by the Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika, gathered at the resort for the event.
Welcoming everyone, Mr. Hazarika said the Retreat would be a period of reflection, and also an opportunity to know each other and understand C-NES’ work better.
There were relaxing breaks in between the sessions and the retreat witnessed keen participation in the quiz session with Hazarika as the Quiz Master, a music session, a trek to the to the hilltop nearby and a lively cricket match with everyone joining in, entertained constantly by Manik Baruah, Enterprise Specialist, C-NES, and his running commentary. A documentary film “A River’s Story- The quest for the Brahmaputra” was also screened, directed by noted film director, Jahnu Baruah with the script written by Sanjoy Hazarika.
A training on food preservation was organized at the community library in Kukurmara, Kamrup district of Assam. Thirteen members from three Self Help Groups (formed by C-NES) took part in the training from October 30 to November 5, 2008 where emphasis was laid on preparing products from indigenous fruits and vegetables which are readily available, cheap and has a market value.
The participants were given training on pickle making, fruit juice, ketchups, jam, chips and cookies. They were also taught labeling, packaging and the basics of food preservation and coloring.
A dairy animal vaccination cum training programme was organized by C-NES in collaboration with the district Veterinary and Animal Husbandry department, Dhemaji at Panbari, Sonarighat and Sengajan village of Dhemaji district from the 13- 15 November 2008.
A total of 2084 cattle were given HS & BQ vaccines to prevent the outbreak of the fatal Hemorrhagic Septicemia and Black Quarter diseases, common in the flood prone areas. The programme also included training farmers on dairy animal management, disease control, artificial insemination and vaccination.
Kukurmara in Kamrup, about 40 km west of Guwahati developed as a tourist spot by C-NES, welcomes tourists to come and view dolphins on the Kulsi, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Amongst the many visitors to the resort this winter, was Sanghamita Kalita, Deputy Global Economics Editor of the Wall Street Journal, New York. This was her impression of the place:
“My family and I had journeyed just an hour outside Guwahati- to Kukurmara, for a morning of dolphin watching. But it felt worlds away from the hectic city our once home away from home had become. A few years ago, my good friend Sanjoy Hazarika, the well-known journalist and expert on the north-east (and Managing Trustee of C-NES) , mentioned saving the dolphins among the many causes he was involved with and told me we had to take my daughter. Last month, the two of us sat in a Guwahati restaurant and he repeated his plea. I had also just happened to see the documentary he produced: “Children of the River – The xihus of Assam. This time, I obeyed. On his advice, I got in touch with Debajit Choudhury, who runs the nonprofit Rural Development Association in Jiakur, a village in Kamrup District.
On a Sunday morning, we arrived at Choudhury’s farm and were given the grand tour. He showed us the circular tanks where fish lay eggs, another for breeding eels, the organic farm and fields of green. After a few minutes, we set off for the bank of the Kulsi River, a southern tributary of the Brahmaputra. We boarded our awaiting boat. Our rower slowed down after asking around and being told that we were nearing a group of dolphins. I was the first to spot one, gleeful and gloating. It became a game for us on the boat. After several minutes (they come up for air anywhere between 30 seconds and several minutes), we began trying to distinguish them. One was a deep black colour, another very spotty. We saw a baby and then dolphins twice its size. We estimated there to be about a half-dozen in our particular spot”.
It was a welcome break for the children of Lahowal and Panitola block in Dibrugarh district of Assam when C-NES in association with UNICEF, organized two educational trips to the oil township of Digboi and historic Sibsagar. This was an experience of a lifetime for these young people- although, never having ventured out of their isolated homes or having travelled in a vehicle, they suffered from motion sickness inside the bus with frequent nausea. The teams were accompanied by two teachers and C-NES’ Education Officer, Juri Gogoi. At Digboi they were taken to the Digboi war centenary museum and shown machineries of this oldest operating refinery in the world. The visit to the beautiful Digboi Park was especially exciting for them.
At Sibsagar the childern prayed at the ancient Shiva Dol( an Ahom built Shiva temple), visited the Borpukhuri( the historic pond), the Rang ghar- (considered the first amphitheatre of Asia, it was used by Ahom royalties to watch elephant fights and other sporting events)and the famous Talatol ghar( the three underground floors of the seven storied royal palace- the Kareng Ghar). Having read about these monuments as part of their syllabus, they were elated to see them for real .On the way back to Dibrugarh, the children visited Bogibil and Dibrugarh University
From the Boat Clinics
At a Dhemaji camp in November, an infant brought for immunization, was left in the care of the health team, while the mother went to pick up the immunization card left behind at home. To pacify the crying child, the Medical Officer, Dr Hafizur Rahman, wanted to know the name of the child. “Doctor Pegu,” was the prompt reply from a neighboring patient. Curious about this unusual name, he asked the reason behind it and was touched when told, that being the first child in their village whose mother was under the health teams supervision for her prenatal check ups, the parents thought it apt to name him such.
After a hectic three hours health session at the Amarpur Char in Tinsukia district on 29 November, the team was about to return back, when a man approached the Boat Clinic with great sense of urgency. He asked for some anti vomiting tablet for his wife, who, he said has been vomiting since morning and had become extremely feeble. The team requested him to have here carried to the boat. The patient soon arrived, weak and dehydrated and was accordingly treated for the next 2-3 hours (two I V drips and three injections given) in the boat till she recovered and was able to walk back home.
Training on Semi- auto Analyzer:
A two day training on using semi -auto analyzers was conducted for the laboratory technicians of Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Tinsukia and Dhubri on 18 November, 2008. The training was provided by a service engineer from RFCL (Ranbaxy Fine Chemicals Limited).
The Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illnesses training for Health and Nutrition Workers from the islands of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Dhemaji district was held at the district training centre of Assam Medical College and Hospital. There were 27 participants including ASHA’s, AWW’s, CW’s, ANM’s and GNM’s who took the eight day training program. Facilitators from Assam Medical College and Hospital, NRHM and District Health Department provided the training.
IMNCI strategy encompasses a range of interventions to prevent and manage five major childhood illnesses i.e. Acute Respiratory Infection, Diarrhea, Measles, Malaria and Malnutrition and the major causes of neonatal mortality – prematurity, infections and sepsis. It explains nutrition including breastfeeding promotion, complementary feeding, micronutrients and focuses on the preventive, promotive and curative aspects.
The major components of this strategy are:
- Strengthening the skills of the health care workers
- Strengthening the health care infrastructure
- Involvement of the community
On 15 Nov, the program was inaugurated by Dr. P.C. Hazarika, Joint Director of Health services, Dibrugarh in the presence of Dr. Tulika Goswami Mahanta. Assoc Professor, Dept of Community Medicines, AMCH and Nodal Officer, IMNCI and a few other doctors and facilitators. The training lasted for eight days and on completion the participants were given certificates from AMCH.
Visit of CRM:
The Common Review Mission (CRM) of NRHM visited the Dibrugarh Boat Clinic on 30 November. The CRM is as part of the Mission Steering Group’s mandate of review and concurrent evaluation. These are annual events and cover thirteen states and includes state briefings and field visits culminating in state reports filed before the Government of India.
The team comprised of Dr. Tarun Seem, Director, MoHFW, Dr. Anil Kumar, CMO, Directorate General of Health services, GoI, Jerry La Forgia of the World Bank, Padmashree (Ms) Neidomoro Angami, Member, MSG, NRHM and Dr. Shyam Ashtckar, Addl Director, MoHFW, GoI accompanied by Dr. J Das, NRHM Assam, the NRHM Dibrugarh team, Dr. PC Hazarika, JDHS, Dr. Tulika Goswami Mahanta, AMCH, and a few dist officials.
“Children of the River” at Twilight Film Festival
The Twilight 2008 Film Festival in New Delhi show cased the film “Children of the River: The Xihus of Assam” a 29 minute documentary film on the highly endangered river dolphins of the Brahmaputra. Organized by Sri Aurobindo Centre every year, with an aim to provide a wide platform to students and young professional filmmakers, the festival from December 11-13 was followed by an exhibition of films at Alliance francaise de delhi. The film directed by Maulee Senapati is produced and scripted by Sanjoy Hazarika.
Appointments and Meetings of Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika:
4-5 October – First Symposium of Understanding Impunity: Failures and Possibilities of Rights to Truth, Justice and Reparation at Chandigarh, organized by – South Asia Forum for Human Rights Limited in collaboration with Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR).
6 October – Participating in a panel discussion for Lok Sabha Television on “Development of the north eastern region of India.”
14 October – Meeting with Steven Solnick, Representative, Ford Foundation.
14 October- Attends launch of Global Hunger Index’08- at National Agriculture Science Centre (NASC), Pusa.
15 October- Meeting with Prof. Mushirul Hasan, VC of Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.
17 October – Meeting of First Academic Council of Sikkim University.
23-25 October – C-NES Retreat at Barapani, Meghalaya.
31 October- Meeting with Japanese correspondent, Naga Sawai at C-NES Office, New Delhi.
1 November- Task Force Meeting at Vigyan Bhawan Annexe, New Delhi.
3 November- Lunch with Toshihiro Kudo, Director ,Southeast Asian Studies ,Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO at India International Centre ( IIC), New Delhi.
3 November- Meeting with Dr. Sayeda Hamid, Member, Planning Commission.
3 November- Meeting with Mani Shankar Ayer, Minister DoNER
10 November -Presentation at CPR on C-NES’ work in the North-east.
12 November- Meeting with AR Nanda, Executive Director- Population Foundation of India.
13 November- Tea with Mr Bhagwati, Indian Ambassador to European Union at IIC.
14 November- Attends Sanskriti Awards, 2008 at IIC.
16 November- Dinner hosted by German Embassy with Minister for Environment,
Natural Conservation and Nuclear safety, Sigmar Gabriel at the Imperial Hotel, New Delhi.
20 November- Meeting officials of UNICEF at their Guwahati Office.
22 November- Meeting with J B Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM.
21, 22 November- Media seminar for journalists on Climate Change Challenge and its relevance for the North-east organized by C-NES, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research(C-NES) and the Knight International Fellowships Program at the TERI Centre in Guwahati
23 November- Meeting with health teams of the three districts- Dibrugarh , Tinsukia and Dhemaji at Dibrugarh.
4 December- Delivers lecture at Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi for Assam Government Officers.
4 December-Lunch at the residence of Irish Ambassador, Ken Thompson.
10 December-Meeting with Dr D R Das, Representative, Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy, Guwahati.
10 December- Meeting with Sudipto Chowdhury, Chief Operating Officer, Airtel,Guwahati.
11 December- C-NES Orientation for DCO’s for the new districts at Guwahati.
12 December- Talk in All India Public Relations Conference at Guwahati.
12 December- Delivers lecture at the RBI lecture series, Guwahati.
14-15 December- Dialogue on “Protection Strategies for the Victims in Situations of Mixed Migration” Kolkata
17-18 December- Equitising Development: Agendas for Poverty Eradication in South Asia, by Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka at IIC, New Delhi.
17 December- Meeting with Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh Grameen Bank at IIC.
18 December- Meeting with Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen.
18 December – Nine by Nine – Invitation at Taj Ambassador, Sujan Singh Park.
27 – 29 December- Visit of Mr. Swaminathan Aiyer to Assam to visit the Boat Clinics- Shahnaz and Swaminathan operating in Dhemaji and Tinsukia respectively.