By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 23)
(For the quarter July – September 2013)
By the Brahmaputra
In new and old states, where will the poor live ?In the fresh crisis that is engulfing Assam and other parts of North-east and Eastern India following the Telengana announcement, much angry rhetoric is being spewed. There is also a lot of defensive posturing by groups opposed to the creation of new states, whether in Assam, West Bengal or elsewhere. The Karbi Anglong outburst caught everyone in the State by surprise, leading to tragic deaths and violence. There are bandhs, counter-bandhs and threats of strikes that will be unending. To many of us, it appears that we are either caught in a time warp or that we are heading back in time when these very issues, of demands for statehood or great space, captured both political and media headlines, disrupted life and impacted the fabric of society. I am not going to talk about the rightness or otherwise of the demands being made, for example, to carve up the existing state of Assam into several portions. These are not new demands and they have always been simmering below the surface; all they require is a handy excuse to explode onto the public arena. The Centre’s announcement of a Telengana state did that as is the general knowledge across the country that elections to the Lok Sabha are not far away – they could be held as early as November or so or as scheduled in May 2014. The Centre has failed the people of this region and other parts of the country where demands for separate states have been made: it should have held a series of dialogues with them, taking their issues into consideration, and trying to go the extra mile. Would it have hurt if the Telengana business had been put off by another six months while trying to accommodate similar issues in other states? This failure is costing both the Centre and the States dear, as it will the Congress Party. But, in relation to Assam, there is one point which requires to be stressed: one does not know of any other case but that of Assam where a group demanding the virtual vivisection of the state continues in government and enjoys the privileges of office while supporting agitation in favour of division! The Chief Minister himself has not commented on this contradiction – but isn’t it obvious that there is such a major contradiction: that you continue in government despite doing everything or at least saying everything, including a little demonstration by two MPs outside the Lok Sabha in Delhi, that undercuts the very basis of a coalition government. That foundation is the quality of working in consonance with the other party or parties, of consensual politics and policies. If those politicians wanting a separate state can convince their colleagues in the Congress Party that this is a good idea for the State and the country, then of course they should continue in the government.
Otherwise, they lose the moral authority (most Indians would question the value of such a thing anyway) to hold positions in the Council of Ministers while undercutting the foundation of that very government of which they are part. Which part of this is difficult to comprehend? I.e. either you are with the government or you are against it. So the honorable thing to do would be to leave. But that’s not something which those wanting a division appear to be prepared to do or those wanting a change in the Congress Party leadership.
There are a whole range of questions which arise with demands for new states: the most often asked are about their economic viability, whether they can sustain themselves and not depend on Central doles, of the justification for the huge outflow of Central funds that will go into building both the physical and ‘soft’ infrastructure required to establish these states: new capitals, new appointments, new judiciary, bureaucracies and police to name a few. Those are separate issues to those this column proposes to discuss.
For a moment, let us turn from the political to another basic, fairly mundane issue. There is a basic point here in terms of agitations, whether for new states or old issues. And this is an issue which is rarely discussed in public meetings, television forums, the media as well as discussion groups involving intellectuals, scholars and others. What is the impact of agitations on poverty and the poor, especially continuing poverty? Does it lead to better livelihoods and incomes, does it improve nutrition and mortality levels, does it fill peoples’ stomachs with food or not? One could even argue that agitations do generate work and incomes for a few; but the prices of essential commodities escalate sharply during such times, encouraged by a profiteering band of black marketers and hoarders.
A few statistics about the condition of the lives of ordinary people in Assam should give us grounds for reflection, if not anger and frustration: the number of poor or those who figure under the ‘poverty and hunger indicators’, issued by the UNDP, based on Indian Government statistics, is nearly 38 percent of the population compared to India’s rate of 30 percent. The prevalence of underweight children under five years of age is 36.4 percent of the population of children of that age group; the all-India level is 42.5%. So that is better than the all India average but it should not be a source of comfort. Ours is a small state, barely 2.6 percent of the total population of this mammoth, crowded nation. If in a small state, made smaller by separations which led to smaller states being carved out of it — with the creation of Nagaland in 1963 and Meghalaya in 1970 – our HDI rank is 16 out of 23 (2007-08 figures) and our Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), which assesses the access of women to basic rights and services, is 28 out of 35.
A basic fact linking incomes to agitations or rather the lack of incomes to periods of protests is that ordinary people can’t work during such times; a daily labourer without work means no money at the end of the day and where would he/she buy from if the shops are closed. How long can a family – even if one took the highly controversial and disputed Tendulkar method of calculating the poverty line – buy food stocks in advance to sustain it through long days of closure and lack of work? What are the psychological effects of these prolonged agitations on those who bear the brunt of it – the poor and the vulnerable? How can they get their sick to hospitals if transport doesn’t move, how do they sell their labour or their produce if businesses are shut and markets are closed? What does a 1,000-hour bandh (translated into days, it’s about 42 days) mean for a small family on the edge of poverty and those below that level? How do they, simply put, survive?
I am sure that those who call bandhs think of this. It must be a major concern for them for their families, friends and others known to them may be affected by this very dynamic. The political issue is a separate one: I am not pronouncing here on the correctness or otherwise of the new calls over old demands. What I am concerned about is the ensuring and anchoring of the essential human rights of the poor and the ordinary, the vulnerable and the weak, in whose name – the name of the janata – all agitations and confrontations develop. How can these be assured, by those calling for the battles and by those in power?
Clearly, those demanding their rights through protests are convinced of their cause. So are those opposed to them. Indeed, peaceful demonstrations are an inspired democratic right. But what about those don’t figure in the story, who are caught in between, the ‘silent’ ones? Spare a thought for them and consider how their condition can be improved. For they will continue to inhabit both the old states and the new, the smaller states and the large, and it is their lives which need to be uplifted.
We cannot forget that large parts of the North-east, despite all the tom-tomming of growth and achievements by its different states, are at the economic and social levels of LDCs (Least Developed Countries) like Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. There is a long way to go. That is why the constant of political dialogue must replace confrontation and conflict.
(From his regular column in the Assam Tribune published on 7th August 2013)
Screening at Vienna and London
The screening of “ Where there are no roads” the documentary on the Boat Clinics was held at the Indian Government’s main cultural centre, the Nehru Centre in London on 10th July 2013 to an attentive audience which interacted extensively with the Managing Trustee C-NES and producer of the documentary Sanjoy Hazarika who introduced the film and responded to questions afterwards, especially on how Assam which has India’s worst maternal mortality ratio is improving dramatically these past years .The film portrays the difficulties of taking health care through specialized boats on the Brahmaputra, an initiative of C-NES supported by NRHM(Assam) and how a simple idea and initiative today reaches nearly a million persons in Assam with sustained healthcare.
In Vienna the film was one of the main events at the inaugural programme on July 4 of an international three day conference of over 75 scholars from across Europe, the US and India who are working on issues related to ethnography, anthropology, politics and sociology in the region. Their subjects ranged from hill groups in Northeast India to the crisis of conflict in the Bodo tribal areas, the challenges posed by repressive laws that give special powers to the armed forces as well as displacement and flooding and its impact on ordinary people in the flood plains of the mighty Brahmaputra
Bhupen Hazarika Event in Delhi
C-NES in collaboration with the India International Centre(IIC) New Delhi and Oil India Limited organized ‘Two Brothers’ a celebration of the creative genius of Dr Bhupen Hazarika and his younger brother Jayanta Hazarika on Septemberr 9 at the Multi-purpose Hall of the IIC. Jayanta Hazarika was also a musical colossus of Assam who died tragically young. The programme was hosted by Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika. While showcasing the extraordinary range of their creativity over several decades, the programme, which was being held a day after Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s birthday saw performances by Jayanta Hazarika’s son, Mayukh and his wife Laili with musicians from Delhi, while noted violinist from Mumbai Sunita Bhuyan presented some of the compositions of the versatile brothers. Film maker Kalpana Lajmi, who worked closely with Bhupen Hazarika was in conversation with Sanjoy Hazarika to unveil facets of the life of the restless wanderer, known as the Bard of the Brahmaputra. The event was covered by The Hindu. Link below: http://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/o-bideshi-bandhu/article5131546.ece
Film maker Kalpana Lajmi in conversation with Sanjoy Hazarika
Jayanta Hazarika’s son, Mayukh and his wife Laili Hazarika performing at the event
Noted violinist from Mumbai Sunita Bhuyan presenting some of the compositions of the brothers
A section of the audience at the event
A Regional Workshop and Open forum for Media and CSOs on sustainable Urban Transport system was held at Kolkata’s Rabindranath Tagore Centre, Indian Council for Cultural Relations. New Delhi based CMSR Consultants in association with TERI and International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCI) organized the workshop for Media and CSOs to sensitize various stakeholders on these issues. The present scenario of urban transport across India is categorized by sprawling cities, declining share of public transport and non motorized transport and increased motorization leading to pollution and high road fatalities. Vehicular emissions are one of the most severe environmental problems associated with traffic growth.
Taking part at the workshop C-NES’ Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami briefed about the study conducted by C-NES on increasing vehicular population and pollution and health problems in the region. The survey conducted by C-NES in 2009-2010 in Guwahati and Shillong titled ‘Impact of air pollution in specific areas of Guwahati and Shillong on vulnerable groups (school children, labourers, rickshaw pullers, traffic policemen, petrol station workers and roadside vendors) was funded by the Guwahati based Foundation for Social Transformation (FST). It was released in October, 2011 at the Guwahati Press Club at a press conference. The findings show that the problem of air pollution in capital cities Guwahati and Shillong was worse than what is generally assumed. As northeast’s most rapidly growing cities with a steady rise in pollution, these cities are major business hubs for the entire region. The energy consumption (fossil fuel) has increased tremendously with an increasing number of vehicles. There was a growing need for people to gather information on health effects associated with air pollution. Hence the survey was conducted to evaluate the extent of pressures on health caused by vehicular pollution and to conducts awareness drives with civil society organizations on the impact of vehicular pollution on human health, among others.
Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami speaking at the workshop on sustainable Urban Transport system
A group photograph of the participants
One of Northeast India’s leading journals Eclectic covered the Boat Clinics. The news story
captioned, “Hope Clinic” depicting the life of the Boat Clinic operating in the river Brahmaputra to usher in a revolution in the medical field has been published in the August 2013 issue of the Eclectic Northeast magazine.
An electronic link can be assessed at www.eclecticmag.com
Online magazine Thumbprint organized a Conversation- “Media and Society” on 20th September 2013 at the TISS campus, Guwahati and its editor Teresa Rehman where Bhaswati Goswami shared the challenges of the Boat Clinic Story.The link: thethumbprintmag.com
Also from Thumbprint where the author cites the Boat Clinic example of working with underprivileged communities while he talks about the very recent extremely tragic case of the young couple committing suicide unable to meet the expenses of their infants treatment: www.thethumbprintmag.com
Family Planning initiatives
The Boat Clinic Units in all districts conduct regular awareness sessions on family planning, maternal health and the need to space children. Special family planning awareness camps were conducted by the Goalpara district boat clinic team to make two upcoming laparoscopic sterilization (LS) camps a success. The Lakhipur BPHC organized the first LS camp on 11th of June 2013 in collaboration with Goalpara Boat Clinic unit. 31 LS cases were successfully done out of which 11 were from the chars covered by the Boat Clinic. The second LS camp was conducted by the Agia BPHC in collaboration with Boat Clinic on 29th of the same month where 22 LS cases were done, 7 from the chars covered by the Boat Clinic, Goalpara.
Awareness session on Family Planning at Barpeta districts Aduri river island by the Boat Clinic Barpeta Unit I in June 2013
From the field:
Dr. Rahul Mistry
Medical officer, Dhemaji Boat Clinic Unit
“It was the 30th of August 2013, our team had just covered a health camp and we were going to Lamba Mishing sapori. It was the last day of my camp with the Boat Clinic( as I am leaving for a new assignment) and I was checking up patients with my colleague Dr. Parag Brahma. Suddenly a huge group came with a mother carrying her 2 year old child. The baby had fallen down and there was a deep cut in the head and the child was profusely bleeding. Assisted by nurse Lunashree Hazarika, and community worker Dharani Saikia, we decided to stitch the child’s wound. It was a very difficult but somehow we managed to close the wound , when we got over it was wonderful to see the baby smile and drink some water and biscuits offered by our cook. Next day I called the ASHA of that sapori and she said that the child was fine. I was with my work.”
The injured child and his much relieved mother after he was attended to by the health team
“Last October (2012), while at our routine camp at Apsara sapori,Dhemaji,we were informed by one of the villagers that a woman had burnt herself while cooking. Accompanied by our community worker Puneswar Baruah and other local villagers she could come to the camp. We did the initial dressing and gave her antibiotics. The ASHA was instructed to ask the nurse from the subcentre to give her antibiotics. When we returned to the same village after almost nine months, she came to meet us.She looked healthy and expressed her gratitude to the team and said that she got a second chance to live due to our presence. We do not need fees .Such words are priceless.”
The woman with burn injury returns to the health camp completely healed and healthy.
“When we went to Lamba Mishing sapori in June 2013 for our routine camp, the community worker Puneswar Baruah had received news from the Asha that a 9 month old child had burnt his hand, having put his hand in the kitchen flame. We reached their house at 9:30 am. He was in great pain. We dressed his wound and gave him medicines and told the mother and the local ASHA to do regular dressing. After two months when we visited the village again, he was brought to the camp by the mother and the wound had healed completely. The smile on his face made us very happy.”
Dressing the wound of the injured child
After two months when the team visited the village again, the child’s wound had healed completely.
The documentary “Where there are no roads” was screened in Dhemaji district on 21 st July 2013 at Swastha Bhawan Auditorium.District Immunization Officer Dr. P. Saikia spoke after the screening and appreciated the challenging work of the Boat Clinics. A number of senior district health functionaries who were present or the screening expressed keen interest in the programme and desired to visit the boat clinic. Seen here a section of the audience at the Dhemaji screening
Dhemaji DPO speaking before the audience at the screening
Documentary Screening and Panel discussion at Jorhat
A seminar on “Conflict situation in Assam and its impact on women” was organized in the upper Assam town of Jorhat’s JB College Human Rights Study Cell on 3 September 2013 where C-NES’ documentary on Conflict ”A Measure of Impunity” was screened. Students, teachers, media persons attended the seminar. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and Riturekha Baruah researchers for a C-NES project conducted in 2010‘’Impact of armed conflict on women in Assam and Nagaland’’ supported by the German Boll Foundation. The District Superintendent of Police Dr. Sanjukta Parasor, Anamika Dutta and Dhananjoy Saikia, (victims of arms conflict) were present as members of the panel.
Riturekha Baruah, researcher of the C-NES HBF project introduced the documentary and shared her experiences with the women victims during her field visits. Talking about the project senior researcher Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman pointed out the different types of conflict across Assam, which ranged from insurgent conflict, riots, fratricidal killings and army atrocities during operations. He also mentioned about the need to develop social support system, especially for women, to face such conflict situations, as Northeast India was witnessing various conflicts over past few years. Dr. Sanjukta Parashar emphasized the need for community policing and pointed that the research by CNES-HBF showed that the conflict in Assam is not only about insurgent demands, but also riots, fratricidal and extra-judicial killings.
Dr. Sanjukta Parasor, S.P Jorhat speaking after the documentary screening
A section of the audience at JB College,Jorhat
Girls from the college singing a chorus on the occasion
Riturekha Baruah,District Programme Officer Jorhat speaking after the screening.
Workshop on Nutrition and Food Security
The Assam branch of Save the Children, an internationally active non-governmental organization that promotes children’s rights organized a workshop on September 4,2013 as part of the National Nutrition Week. “Availability of food, access to food and sustainability of food appropriate to the cultural preference along with food safety are the areas which need attention while considering food security for healthy life of children” said Rajan Mohanty, State Programme Manager, Save the Children.
Communications Officer, C-NES Bhaswati Goswami attended the workshop and spoke about C-NES’ role in bringing down the IMR in the state and improving the health of children. The seminar was also attended by Dr Archana Sharma, Professor Dept of Economics and former Director of Women’s Studies Research Centre, Gauhati University spoke on ensuring food security though gender participation. Manisha Choudhury, Programme Coordinator, Save the Children spoke on issues relating to infant and child nutrition.Kunti Bora from the department of social welfare spoke on locally available foods for food security.
Lakhimpur district health officials attended a health camp conducted by the district boat Clinic at Balijan village on 24th July 2013. The health team also organized an awareness session on immunization and family planning. (Standing from right) Dr. Padmeswar Pegu, Joint Director Health Services (JDHS), Dr. Ganesh Saikia, CM&HO(F.W), Lakhimpur and Dr. Abdul Deori ,SDM&HO, Nowboicha BPHC being felicitated with traditional Assamses gamochas( woven hand towels) by the team. On the extreme left is DPO Boat Clinic Tapan Borah talking to the beneficiaries. Camp at Balijan village on 24th July 2013. The health team also organized an awareness session on immunization and family planning.
Family Planning initiatives
A family planning awareness session was conducted by the Barpeta Unit I team under the initiative of the DPO Abdul Halim, Medical Officers Dr Prakash Jammar and Dr Abu Hasan Sarkar at Bahir Bhelengi .Queries relating to family planning were answered .It was a packed hall. Members from the VHSC were also present along with AWWs, TBAs and the ASHA. During the awareness session, pamphlets on important health issues were distributed. The district family planning coordinator stressed on the need to have family planning. Both temporary and permanent methods of family planning including the IUCD procedure were explained to the villagers.
A quiz session on common health and hygiene matters was also organized for the school children. During the quiz, the team found that there were students who were able to answer most questions put before them. Prizes were given to the winners. “The idea behind this light session was to motivate and show the team’s commitment to the villagers’ said DPO Abdul Halim.
DPO Abdul Halim(centre) takes part in the group discussion at the awareness session.
Beneficiaries who were motivated by the Boat Clinic Unit 1, Barpeta to adopt family planning at Bahari MPHC
Events at Jamia :
North East Film Festival
C-NES in collaboration with AJK-Mass Communication Research Centre
Jamia Millia Islamia organized a two day North East Film Festival ‘First Cut’ on 16-17 August, 2013 at Jamia’s Tagore Conference Hall. After an introduction by Prof Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of the Centre and Managing Trustee C-NES and Prof Obaid Siddiqui,Director,AJK-MCRC ,the inaugural remarks were made by Prof S M Sajid, the officiating Vice Chancellor. Documentaries which were screened included Maulee Senapati directed and Sanjoy Hazarika produced “Children of River: The Xihus of Assam”,”A Measure of Impunity”, “Where there are no roads”, Yirmiyan Arthur directed “My Lament, My Plea”, Neikolie Kuotse’s “Revelation” Utpal Borpujari’s “Mayong”,Wanphrang Diengdoh’s “19/87”, Merajur Rehman Baruah’s “The Green Army: Saviour of the Sylvan”,,”The Macabre Dance” and The NineMonths. The screenings were followed by a panel discussion-“Our Films,Their Films” chaired by Prof Siddiqui with Maulee Senapati,SanjoyHazarika,Utpal Borpujari,Yirmiyan Arthur,Neikolie Kuotu and Subhra Gupta as panelists.
From the Frontlines: Reporting and Reflecting on Life and Death inthe North East
The Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research,Jamia Millia Islamia,NewDelhi organized a program -“From the Frontlines: Reporting and Reflecting on Life and Death in the North East” Held at the Tagore Hall on 16th September the event was attended by veteran journalist Subir Bhaumik, Pradip Phanjoubam, Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla,Kishalay hattacharjee,Editor (East), New Generation Media Pvt. Ltd, Esha Roy,Principal Correspondent, The Indian Express, Imphal and chaired by the Director of the centre Prof Sanjoy Hazarika. The panel discussion on AFSPA: The Vanishing” had as panelists Babloo Loitongbam, Director, Human Rights Alert, Imphal,T. Lata Devi (victim’s family)Rosemary Dzuvichu, Professor, Nagaland University, Advisor to the Naga Mothers’ Association, Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh,Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research Ms. Ninglun Hanghal, Delhi Correspondent, The Sangai Express,Kokho Kaisii, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research.
In his address Sanjoy Hazarika, pointed out “that scholars, human rights activists, researchers, government officials, political establishment and metro media itself depended on regional or local media for information about events or issues in North East. However, few understand the personal stress and professional pressure and hazards that reporters and media staffs work under.” Journalists often cover conflict with “low pay and with no insurance” at great risks to their lives, he said. There have been several cases where journalists in the region has been targeted and killed by non-state groups. The audience, which included students from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University and professionals packed the seminar hall.The question and answer session focused on the discriminatory nature of AFSPA, the continuation of Disturbed Areas Act unilaterally by the Centre despite peace and ceasefire in Nagaland, and fake encounters by the state forces to receive gallantry medals and honours.
Brahmaputra Community Radio Station (BCRS)
A narrowcasting programme on Iodine Deficiency Disorder produced by Radio Brahmaputra in Shadri the dialect of the tea tribe community at Mohanbari Tea Estate, District Dibrugarh. C-NES’ BRCS at Maijan, Dibrugarh supported by Unicef is now fully equipped, staffed and expected to broadcast soon will be broadcast in five languages Bhojpuri,Assamese,Mishing, Bodo and Shadri and will thereby reach a large number of tea garden community members on diverse issues extremely relevant to them including health, education and entertainment leading to overall development of the community
Students engrossed and enjoying a programme on Hand Washing specially made for them by Radio Brahmaputra at Dibrugarh districts Seesa Tea Estate L.P. School on 14th Sep, 2013
Interns from Cambridge University
Ameya Tripathi and Grace Fletcher interns from Sidney Sussex College of Cambridge University, spend two weeks in Dibrugarh visiting Brahmaputra Community Radio Station and the boat clinic operation in Dibrugarh district in late August 2013 C-NES. They went on two boat trips, a two-day one around Panitoba block and a four day trip further upstream to Lawal block and saw a wide range of communities – Mishing, Bodo, Bhojpuri and many others, visiting remote villages such as Karmi-shouk in Dibru Saikhowa National Park and larger ones on the saporis like Tengabari. Their project was disrupted by a bandh called by a Motok tribe and they used the Tinsukia boat as Akha, the flagship Dibrugarh boat, was under maintenance.
During their time they had the opportunity to interview patients – young mothers, schoolchildren and others – accredited social healthcare activists, the headteacher of a local school, village elders, a Panchayat member and the boat crew themselves as they learned about the operations of the clinic, some of the challenges and limitations, financial and weather based, and some of the common healthcare problems faced by communities on a range of issues – everything from hypertension, Japanese encephalitis, gastric problems, family planning, and healthcare awareness and education. At the radio station they interviewed the staff and learned about production methods, emergency and disaster planning and procedure, and some of the provisional plans as the radio station prepares to move from narrowcasting to broadcasting.
In spending some time with the welcoming and friendly Dibrugarh boat crew and with the BCRS team the interns learned a lot about some of the enormous challenges faced by the teams in the district and some of the forthcoming plans to improve, including their interaction with local and state government. They would like to thank C-NES for accommodating them on the boats and all of their support for their research.
Ameya (left) and Grace (right) with ANM Damayanti Das onboard the Tinsukia Boat Clinic SB Swaminathan
Curious children looking at the boat Clinic while it is anchored at Dibrugarh district’s remote Karmi Chouk village