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By the Brahmaputra (October – December 2018)

By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 44)
C-NES Newsletter
(For the Quarter October – December 2018)

C-NES- Boll Project: The Assamese Sikhs: Negotiating Transitions

Heinrich Böll Stiftung in collaboration with C-NES and Majha House, a Punjab based research group initiated a project titled “The Assamese Sikhs: Negotiating Transitions” which undertook research on the identity of ‘Assamese/Asomiya Sikhs’– who migrated from Punjab to Assam and Meghalaya over centuries. The report of the study was released on 27th November 2018 at the Kanaklal Baruah auditorium of Assam State Museum, Guwahati. The report found that the Assamese Sikh community which traces its origin to the 17th century still remains an unknown community outside the state.

The Panel saw spirited discussions led by Manjit Singh, Sikh litterateur and leader from Assam, and also included presentations by Ms. Niyati Singh, the project Coordinator and on Skype by Ms. Simran Kaur, the researcher in Punjab. Majha House is a newly formed Trust in Amritsar for creative arts, research and literature.

Managing Trustee C-NES, Sanjoy Hazarika made the opening remarks and provided a background to the report on what he called “efforts to build bridges between the North East and North West”. A similar presentation was made in Amritsar on November 18 to many Sikh scholars, cultural leaders and senior leaders of the city.
Manjit Singh critiqued the report for bringing the Shillong Sikhs into the project saying that was a ‘different history’. He also had a concern about the phrase ‘Assamese Sikhs’, saying it could be the Sikhs of Assam. He gave a detailed history of the Sikhs in the state saying they were ‘Sikhs and Assamese’ not Punjabi. His remarks were met with a good response from the audience.

In the question and answer session, Hazarika outlined the rationale for including the issue of Mazhabi Sikhs in Shillong. The ensuing discussions were vigorous and saw differences emerge about the status of different Sikh groups in the state. Members of the audience included local Sikh leaders, media academics and CSOs.

Manik Boruah, Associate Programme Manager of C-NES introduced the programme while Chok Tsering of HBS explained the goals of the German foundation and its association with various projects in the North East.

C-NES hosts Myanmar ethnic delegation

A delegation of ethnic groups from Myanmar, including political leaders, scholars and negotiators, hosted overall by the C-NES, visited three states of North East India- Mizoram, Manipur and Assam on a week long journey in December 2018 to understand historic efforts, existing challenges and constitutional innovations which have been developed for ethnic representation and equality. The team was hosted in Mizoram by Mizoram University and in Imphal by the Burma Studies Centre at Manipur University.

The 34-member group,which saw representation from states in Myanmar with cultural and historic connections to the North-east such as Shan, Kachin and Chin, was on a study tour of the three states to assess what was applicable from constitutional and people-led innovations here. On their part, they have long been grappling with securing peace and ethnic equality in their country after 70 years of conflict and civil war. While the peace process has accelerated after Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2015, it still faces major hurdles. The overall tour and various programmes were packed; these included intense interactions with scholars, civil society leaders and policy practitioners. All the visiting groups have been part of Myanmar’s national peace dialogue and were representing the State Constitution Coordination Body (SCCB) of several states (Karen, Kachin, Mon, Shan. Chin, Rakhine) and the Tenasserim region which are mandated with drawing up autonomous constitutions for these areas. These would aim to provide, as one SCCB said, “equality for all”.

A senior range of figures addressed and had energetic conversations with the visitors including former Union Home Secretary GK Pillai, Chief Minister N. Biren of Manipur, the Governor of Mizoram as well as Himanghsu Sekhar Das, Assam State Information Commissioner, Nilay Dutta, senior lawyer and Advocate General for Arunachal Pradesh, as well as Debojit Thaosen, former Chief Elected Member of the Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council. They provided a window into the complex world of policy marking, dealing with difficult governance issues and enabling greater say for local communities and political groups in the wielding of political and economic power. Others who shared experiences in Guwahati included Gautam Mukhopadyaya, former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, Patricia Mukhim, editor, Shillong Times and human rights activist, as well as Dhurba Hazarika, former chairman of the Assam Public Services Commission.

The Myanmar delegation included M Khawn, a member of Parliament from the Kachin state, Dr. Sai Oo, of the Pyidaungsu Institute, Nimrod of the Karen National Union, the oldest ethnic opposition group in Myanmar. Ms. Khawn, the MP, shared the difficulties faced by many Kachins who are caught in the conflict with the Myanmar army and that one third of the population were currently internally displaced and living in camps.

The delegation showed great interest in the working of financial flows across the Centre-State relations, especially the Finance Commission process, the design and conduct of the Sixth Schedule and its successes and failures, the power of judicial systems and the constitutional provisions which addressed issues of ethnic minorities, especially tribes, and the control and use of natural resources. One of the issues which engaged them especially was the appointment and functioning of public service commissions, how government staff were recruited in the states and the challenges of corruption and good governance. Another was the protection of cultural and linguistic identities of small groups in states which were dominated by larger ethnic majorities.

Pillai underlined the Constitutional division of powers between the Centre and the states, a Union of States, – the central list, the state list and a concurrent list – and of the need to build trust and confidence through a process of “shared federalism”. Ambassador Mukhopadhyaya underlined how Myanmar was not a “neighbor in our every day imagination and existence” while advocate Nilay Dutta urged the visitors to think of developing a constitutional process which were both flexible in crucial areas (but “less flexible than the Indian experience”) and firm in those which needed to be protected. “There needs to be constitutional sobriety”.

Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee, C-NES and Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, spoke at various sessions on the need to assert freedom of expression, protect human rights and ensure transparency through Right to Information as well as deal with impunity and arbitrariness. He appreciated the support of the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs in making the study tour possible in a very short time.“The transformation of the region is a work in progress, it has faced many setbacks and seen some changes for the better but much still remains to be done,” said Hazarika. He cited several key challenges before both regions: the need to ensure better control over finances and natural resources, the removal of draconian laws imposed by central governments and ensure “accountability of police”, competent systems and transparency.

The chief coordinator of the SCCB delegation, Victor Biak Lian, outlined the stages of intense negotiations between the various armed and political groups, including a national ceasefire agreement and national dialogue, aiming for a comprehensive agreement in the next years. “There is ethnic-based dialogue, political-based dialogue, region-based dialogue and national dialogue”.The SCCB said “this is just the beginning” of exchanges, that intense learning and study tours should continue. Its leaders said they were keen to return and visit other parts of the North-east in 2019 and expand and deepen the dialogue for mutual benefit.

C-NES participates at TISS CSR Conclave

The TISS AESDII Eastern Conclave for Building CSR Partnerships is a platform for knowledge creation and dissemination and a forum to catalyse multi-stakeholder collaborations echoing the spirit of cooperation enshrined as Goal 17 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The regional Conclaves for Building CSR Partnerships have already been held at Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi in partnership with Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru Central University, National Securities Depository Ltd, The Better India, O.P. Jindal Global University and the United Nations Global Compact.  The Eastern Conclave supported by UNICEF and the Indian Institute of Technology (Guwahati) was held at IIT Guwahati campus on the 4th, 5th and 6th December 2018. The Conclave for Building CSR Partnerships was power-packed with panel discussions, Master classes from industry experts and a dash of inter-disciplinary perspectives with sessions from IIT Guwahati.

C-NES Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami participated at the conclave as a panelist on the session on “Why CSR, What CSR, How CSR”. She spoke about how CSR as a concept has undergone a huge change since it was initiated and her experiences working on CSR support for C-NES over the years – the challenges and opportunities. The session Was moderated by Rohan Sarma (Head, TISS AESDII) Her co panelists were Prabir Banerjea (Co- Founder,Balipara Foundation)Ananya Goswami (Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF India) Guwahati Campus) Dr. Sanjay Barbora (Dean – School of Social Sciences and Humanities , TISS Guwahati Campus) Dhiraj Kakati (Managing Trustee, Amalgamated Plantations Pvt. Limited Foundation) and K.N. Hazarika (Former CMD, North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd.)

From the Field:

Visiting team at Barpeta Unit 1

A joint team comprising of members from Niti Aayog represented by Consultant Priyanka Singh, Akash Boral from Tata Trust, Kamal Bhattacharjee from Piramal Foundation and Pulak Patgiri from DSWO Barpeta visited a boat clinic cam conducted by the Barpeta Boat Clinic Unit 1 on 27th September 2018. The team sets out at 9.00am from the district headquarters and reached the boat at around  10 am. The visitors appreciated the work done by the clinic for the vulnerable sections of society. They attended the health camp  at Bahir Belengi. The team first started with an awareness session on Family Planning, the community worker initiated session after which the district rogramme officer Saikat Shukla spoke  on Family Planning after which was the  general checkup camp.

Street Play on mental health

In October 2018, members from Mandia Block PHC comprising of the BPM,BEE and  the health educator  participated at the boat clinic awareness meeting at Fulora char. The Team conducted five awareness sessions. The photograph shows DPO Barpeta Boat Clinic Unit II Swapna Das, giving awareness on sanitation and personal hygiene with emphasis on usage and disposal of sanitary napkins for adolescent girls of Kopahtoli char.

Successful family planning initiative

Momida Khatun the 23 year old family planning beneficiary.

On 31 August 2018 the Barpeta Unit II team visited the Rowmari char village to conduct a health camp. A family planning beneficiary was present. The health team has been counseling her on family planning since 2012 when she was first pregnant. She was motivated and showed keen interest on family planning. After delivery her child was given all vaccinations on time by the team and for five years she adopted family planning (IUCD) method. Momida Khatun the beneficiary is 23 years old and went to school upto class five and her husband studied upto class ten. Now she is pregnant as the couple wants another child.

On 31 August 2018 the Barpeta Unit II team visited the Rowmari char village to conduct a health camp. A family planning beneficiary was present. The health team has been counseling her on family planning since 2012 when she was first pregnant. She was motivated and showed keen interest on family planning. After delivery her child was given all vaccinations on time by the team and for five years she adopted family planning (IUCD) method. Momida Khatun the beneficiary is 23 years old and went to school upto class five and her husband studied upto class ten. Now she is pregnant as the couple wants another child.

The DPO told her about the need for adequate rest and nutrition during pregnancy and asked her about the 5 year gap she been able to maintain between pregnancies which not many from her community have been able to keep. She said that when she came to boat clinic the first time for her  1st ANC checkup she was told about the benefits of a small family. She returned home that day and discussed with her husband and they both decided to have no more than two children and maintain a gap of five years between the two issues. Her five year old son Md.Mohibul Islam goes to a nursery at his maternal uncle’s home at Chandmama as there is no such school in this island. After the second delivery the couples have decided to accept permanent sterilization methods.

MR vaccination by Dhubri Boat Clinic I

The Dhubri Unit I Boat Clinic team along with the rest of the units actively participated in the MR vaccination program from 7th September, 2018 in the various schools of the river island villages. The Dhubri unit-I organized the camps at five schools along with the regular  health camps. Four  Ashas, three Angadwadi Workers and four Volunteers were involved in the camp. The photographs below show the vaccination camps in schools and participation of school children.

MR Camp, Jorhat

Awareness on breastfeeding..

The World breastfeeding week in August is actively observed in all the 15 Boat Clinic Units where the Medical Officers, ANMs and DPO gives awareness to new mothers and pregnant women. Here a new mother is given awareness on breastfeeding during home visit along with sessions on breast feeding awareness conducted by the Jorhat Boat Clinic team.

Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) Prevention: A report

Iodine Deficiency Disorder Prevention and Control Week is observed from 21st to 31st October 2018. Iodine deficiency is most common in developing countries where people may lack access to enough healthy food but it can also affect people in developed countries who lack an adequate diet or whose bodies do not correctly process iodine.

Like all other Boat Clinic Units, Dhemaji Boat clinic conducted awareness programmes on IDD as art of the iodine deficiency preventive week in the Sengajaan Gowalla, Sirangshri, Koilawali, Ramsingh, Buriya and Koibatra island villages.

DPO Kakoli Gogoi, Medical Officer Dr Moniprom Neog and Dr Kishore Das, CW Bhupen Taid spoke about iodine deficiency,  its symptoms, side effects and how it can be prevented and controlled.There were a lot of queries from the inhabitants who had gathered for the sessions.

by Kakoli Gogoi
DPO, Dhemaji Boat Clinic

IDD awareness at Jorhat

The Jorhat Boat Clinic conducted IDD awareness camps at Bhekeli 1, Missamora 2, Dokut Kumolia sapori, Sengelisuti sapori, Gopal chuk sapori, Kerker sapori, Baruah chuk, Kachikata and Rajabari sapori. In each session the ANMs, Community workers and DPO spoke about the importance of Iodine in our body. The villagers were taught how to identify iodized salt packets in the local markets who have understood the importance of iodine in the body and having started using iodized salt – a good sign of community health.


Tinsukia Boat Clinic beneficiries at camp in September  2018 .

Brahmaputra Community Radio Station

An orientation workshop was organized by Radio Brahmaputra for community mobilizers and front line workers (AWW) on current understanding on Early Childhood Development (ECD) and relationship with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Discussions on various community learning tools and on the community perspective on ECD was done. A complementary feeding recipe book was initiated by Radio Brahmaputra. 

Please send your comments and questions to Bhaswati Goswami –

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