Tuesday, August 17, 2021

75th Independence Day: In Search of True Freedom

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     File Photo PTI /Outlook India

As the clock stroke past midnight on the 14th of August 1947, India gained not just its political independence but also its economic independence from the clutch of foreign rule. The story of India’s successful non-violent struggle has inspired many thoughts and movements across the globe, and it is one achievement that every Indian should feel proud of it. The Prime Minister has in January rightly appealed to people to write about freedom fighters and events associated with India’s independence. It is important that we remember the men and women who have the generous concern and the brave commitment to sacrifice their prime days for our today. 


We have come a long way from those days of channelizing our main resources, thoughts, and energies for the development of the primary sector and eradicating extreme poverty. The transition of India from being an entity composed of different princely states with individual interests to a country that not only stands united today but fought patriotically as one against external aggressions is no mean achievement by any yardstick. Today, our significant advancement in science and technology, defence, literature, medicine, and the economy at large has captured the world’s attention so much so, India today is regarded not just as an economic powerhouse but also a responsible world leader. That India’s ambition to be part of the UN’s permanent seat garnered overwhelming support from many countries is a testament to the fact that we are no longer a country with a begging bowl. It is however prudent to ask Is India's growth inclusive. If India lives in its village, as Gandhiji had said, the progress of the nation should thence be measured by the condition of the villages in India. The question which then arises is- “Are our villages self-sufficient today?”


Renewed focus on Subhash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army is a heartening development, as freedom struggle, in as much as we would love it to be, is not just about Gandhiji and his followers. Also noteworthy is the little yet significant development in the acknowledgement of tribal movements in the North East, long ignored in mainstream narratives of India’s freedom movement; that native writers had to undertake painstaking efforts to rewrite the forgotten stories from scratch notwithstanding, several articles and books have appeared on the subject in recent times. However, taking the opportunity to evaluate the progress we have made so far, and more so the challenges faced, there are some glaring unfortunate developments and the lack of concrete remedial initiatives thereof that is worth contemplating today.


The fact that hundreds of years of exploitation in the hands of the British have finally ceased for good is a momentous occasion worth celebrating in any sense. Sadly though, a country formed on the underlying principle of non-violence has seen domestic violence right from the moment it was unchained. 75 years later, even as our achievements in many fields deserve applause, social freedom is still elusive to us. 


We still have certain sections of our society that have witnessed countless exploitations and discrimination. What will freedom mean to those thousands of families living in the slums of Mumbai and to the hundreds of thousands of Adivasis who are subjected to social stigmas even today? They may be free of exploitation from foreign force but are facing the same hardship if not graver from their countrymen, and there is certainly no guarantee that the latter is milder to tolerate. Social divisions such as -Hindu- Muslim, North-South, and the high caste-low caste exists below our artificial portrayal of a socially unified Indian, which manifested into unfortunate incidents on many occasions. In the words of Dr. B R Ambedkar, ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’


The issue of social disparity is an issue as old as our civilization. The British made good use of it to further their agenda of divide and rule. Seventy-four years after the British left, it remains ever fertile to seeds of discord. It is a collective failure on the part of those running the government thus far and no political party can claim to have no responsibility for it. If the present government has received flake for introducing controversial bills in parliament like the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the Instant Triple Talaq Bill, the governments before have been accused of failing to address social disharmony efficiently, if not ignorant of it altogether. 


While the economic impacts of the unprecedented onslaught of the pandemic are surely felt by many countries and it will be incorrect to measure India’s growth development based on current situations, the prevalence of extreme poverty, loss of livelihood and the aforementioned lack of social freedom is a concern India cannot overlook in its effort to portray the India shining image; this should be a commitment irrespective of which party rules. For India to therefore effectively play a role as a world leader, it has to focus on its domestic issue. We might have comparatively fared better considering our Independence is not even a century old. But seventy-five years surely could have placed us in a far better position than we are at present. 


Independence Day is indeed a day of remembering our freedom fighters and celebrating their achievements. But most vitally, it is a day when we the people of India should celebrate our freedoms. Some of the unfortunate events that have happened post-independence would have left our freedom fighters surely in tears. It will be a befitting tribute to our freedom fighters to ensure that the freedoms they have fought and laid their lives for, are thriving and blooming today in the world’s largest democracy. Happy Independence Day!

Friday, August 6, 2021

Comprehensive settlement needed for N-E disputes

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PC: The Statesman

The 26th of July will go down as a turning point in the history of India’s interstate relations; five policemen lost their lives, and many were injured as a result of police firing between Assam and Mizoram.

Border disputes are not uncommon, but it is the warlike confrontation between police personnel of the same country that is regretful and alarming.

The run-up to the incident and the question of who is responsible is a mystery, the answer to which will vary depending on who is asked.

That Mizoram sticks to the inner line of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873 while Assam clings to the 1933 inner line has been a bone of contention between the two states for quite a while now. A day after the incident, a press release by the Assam Government stated that Mizoram started constructing a road by destroying a forest reserve and set up a police camp in Lailapur, Cachar District, Assam.

The release added that a team of Assam officials had visited the place to request the Mizoram authorities to maintain the status quo but were attacked by miscreants and visibly supported by Mizoram police, who would later open fire at Assam police using automatics and light machine guns thereby killing five Assam police personnel on the spot.

A press statement by the Mizoram Government refuted Assam’s claim by stating, “Around 200 (two hundred) Assam armed Police led by IGP, Assam Police accompanied by DC, Cachar, SP, Cachar, and DFO, Cachar came to Vairengte Auto-rickshaw stand at around 11:30 a.m. today i.e., 26.07.2021.

They forcibly crossed the duty post manned by CRPF personnel stationed there and overran a duty post manned by 1 (one) section of Mizoram police personnel.

The Assam Police also damaged several vehicles that were travelling along the National Highway between Vairengte and Lailapur.” The statement by the Mizoram Home minister further stated that unarmed civilians were assaulted and lathi-charged and tear-gas was used by Assam Police to which Mizoram police responded.

“The Government of Mizoram strongly condemns the unjustified act of the Government of Assam in this intrusion and aggression into the territory of Mizoram,” the statement added.

A day after ordering the checking of all vehicles originating from Mizoram to Assam for possession of illicit drugs, travel advisories were issued by Assam Government on the 30 July.

“The people of Assam are advised not to travel to Mizoram as any threat to the personal safety of people cannot be accepted,” the directive said.

The Mizoram Government on the other hand issued an order stating that during the last 10 years, huge quantities of illicit drugs have been seized in Mizoram which were smuggled from Assam.

It added, “The issue of drugs trafficking can be better solved by better communication between the states and flow of drugs can be better halted by co-ordination between district police on the opposing borders instead of threatening and harassing innocent civilians without any reasons at all.”

“Shri @AmitShah ji…kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now,” tweeted Mr. Zoramthanga, Chief Minister of Mizoram, as he shared a video of what appeared to be an altercation between a group of civilians and police personnel. He also shared footage of a Mizo couple being allegedly harassed and their vehicle vandalised. Assam Chief Minister quickly retorted by tweeting: Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib (Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won’t listen nor stop violence. How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest @AmitShah @PMOIndia”.

A series of tweets from both the CMs continued, each justifying the acts of their police personnel and each accusing the other of violating norms. Thousands of users reacted to the tweets, which further increased the hype on social media so much so that hashtags such as #AssamShotFirst #ShameOnAssam #ShameOnMizoram were trending on Twitter.

Even as the war of words between Assam and Mizoram refused to die down, the Assam Police has summoned the Mizoram SP and six officials.

The notice issued by DSP Kalyan Das was served to Kolasib Deputy Commissioner H Lalthlangliana, SP Vanlalfaka Ralte, Additional SP David JB, Vairengte SDO (Civil) C Lalrempuia, Vairengte SDPO Thartea Hrangchal, and India Reserve Battalion Additional SP Bruce Kibby. The notices asked them to appear before the Dholai police station Investigating Officer on August 2.

Mizoram responded by revealing that an FIR was lodged on 26 July at Vairengte Police Station. The FIR named Sarma IGP Anurag Aggarwal, DIG Cachar Devajyoti Mukherjee, DC Cachar Keerthi Jalli, DFO Cachar Sunnydeo Choudhury, SP Cachar Chandrakant Nimbalkar and OC Dholai police station Sahab Uddin.

They have been ordered to appear at Vairengte Police station in Mizoram. But later, in what could be termed as a huge development for the improvement of relations, both states decided to drop all FIRs registered with regard to the incident of 26 July.

The Assam- Mizoram border dispute has the grave potential of disintegrating the cohesive regional relationship politically, socially, and economically harboured by states for long. Border disputes have emerged between Assam and Meghalaya and Assam and Nagaland. The Mizoram CM has said that the border dispute will not come in the way of the North-east being “one”.

However many are already skeptical of the fate of the North-east as an entity with common interests. The North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), for which BJP and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma shoulder key responsibility is poised to lose its credibility and acceptability in the absence of a lasting solution to the border disputes.

The present border fiasco, if not amicably handled, could see Dr. Sarma lose his standing as a regional leader and be seen only as a state leader. And, unless more pacts such as the one between Assam and Nagaland signed at Dimapur, Nagaland on 31 July, are arrived at, the North-east as a family of eight sisters will not be a happy family.

Considering the contesting claims of the parties and the complexity of the issue, the foremost priority in working out a solution should be the institution of an independent Interstate boundary commission.

After a careful consultative study, the commission should formulate a solution that considers concerns of all stakeholders. One option could be the utilisation of disputed lands by the Union government after compensating both the states.

Alternatively, the option of compensating one state and awarding land to the other or awarding the disputed land to both the states equally could be considered. Whatever be the solution, once worked out and accepted by the states, courts could play the role of guardians and take serious note of any arbitrary acts.

If there is one reason Assam and Mizoram have to resolve the matter, it is because there is no alternative. Two states in the Union cannot target each other violently. It is important for both states to accept that any conflict-resolution measures would involve compromise and sacrifice for the larger good.

The present chestthumping stance of not ceding even an inch of land adopted by both states has to be given up.

The intervention of the Ministry of Home affairs by ordering Central forces to man all areas of disputed land until a lasting and amicable solution is reached should be respected in letter and spirit in the interim.

The Union government should use the opportunity to settle once and for all the boundary disputes between different states in the North-east. There is absolutely no sane reason why Indians should kill themselves when enough precious lives have been sacrificed for the freedom of India and in its defense.

The writer is a freelance contributor and author. He is a former development professional and has served as a consultant in the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Why Manipur Government is right in Monitoring Social Media


      EastMojo (Click here to visit)

The Manipur government’s recent decision to monitor comments and posts on social media is a much welcome move as social media in its unchecked form has the potential to spawn communal hatred in the state causing irreparable damage to the peaceful coexistence among different communities of the state. That Manipur has past incidents of communal conflicts gave a few miscreants the opportunity to flare up more misunderstandings. The state is in such a delicate environment that, a simple quarrel could develop into inter-village and in some cases inter-tribe and inter-community feud. Social media with all its convenience as a platform for connecting people also poses a huge threat of it being misused to invite law and order disturbances.. 

 

Communal contents

A Facebook comment by one user reads, “ Kukis are Myanmar refugees”. Another commented, “They should be kicked back to Myanmar.” Many more such comments could be found. Putting aside the fact that Kukis have a clear history of residing in their ancestral land in which defense they have fought the mighty British, it is beyond all measures of decency to rebuke a community as refugees. 

That Myanmar today is in a state of chaotic governance post the military coup is a matter of concern for all right-thinking individuals; the country has witnessed gross violations of human rights that compelled many Myanmarese nationals to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. It is a humanitarian call to feel for their cause instead of branding them illegal immigrants and mocking their ill-fated conditions. Mizoram has set a tremendous example, worth emulating in that regard. 

The increase in  incriminating communal remarks has fuelled a sense of alienation and the eventual yearning for a separate system of governance. Having said that, no community in the state is neither completely innocent nor free of being victimised on social media. The Meiteis have had their share of similar attacks on social media; many undesirable comments that targeted their religion, beliefs, and culture have been made against them. These recent phenomenons of targeting communities in social media have polluted the minds of the youth in the state and it is these regrettable developments that make it all the more important for the Government to monitor social media content. 

 

Religious Divide 

Apart from the alarming rise of communal tones in social media interactions, there has been several irresponsible comments attacking other religions and faith. That Manipur has been a peaceful place tolerant of different religions, where Hindus celebrate Christmas with their friends from the Hills and where the celebration of Yaoshang(Celebrated as Holi elsewhere) has attracted many people from Hills, is now unfortunately at stake thanks to irresponsible social media posts and comments. The fact that most of the perpetrators are not questioned for their deplorable acts further emboldened them which leads to the spawning of their kinds. Social media instigations could be attributed to the few instances of attacks on places of worship in the state. Since the state has a clear demarcation of religious followers- Hindus and Muslims in the valley and Christians in the Hills, such religious attacks contributed largely to the strengthening of the Hill-Valley divide in the state. 

 

The Concern of Free Speech

While many are appreciative of the Government’s order to monitor social media posts and comments, there are voices that raised concern over its potential to be  misused by the state to silenced voice of dissents. The concern appears to have germinated from recent attacks of journalists and activists over social media posts. Also quoted by a few who are wary of the Government’s order is the Supreme court’s order that struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The recent observation made by the Supreme Court on the arrest of a social activist from Manipur that the “continued detention of the petitioner would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution” is expected to send a strong message to the Government.

 

Way Forward

The question that naturally arises now is how to strike a balance between the need to check social media contents having venomous potential to disrobe the fabric of peaceful coexistence, and shouldering the profound obligation of the state in a democratic country to safeguard ‘the freedom of speech’ rights of its citizens. Any effort that favours one to the disadvantage of the other could have detrimental consequences causing unrest, thereby defeating the whole purpose of its introduction. The thin boundary that decides content classification should be fair, transparent, and uniform so that there is no room for its misuse. Devoid that, clauses like ‘hurting public sentiment’ could be clearly staged against a person by mobilising a few people and indicting him/her social media post irrespective of the content being mild or severe. While there is no doubt the Government is formulating the directive with the best intention, it cannot shy away from its responsibility of being answerable to its citizen, more so to those who have doubts on its initiatives. And what a better way to answer than to show it in action- of promoting and ensuring peaceful coexistence in the state.

(T S Haokip is a freelance writer and author of the book HILLY DREAMS)

Linguistic test and the question of inclusivity

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File Photo/ Outlook India

 

The recruitment notification of Public Sector Banks, Regional Rural Banks and Reserve Bank of India, and other few financial institutions for the post of Junior Associates/ Assistants/Clerks have a clause that mandates the knowledge of local language as an eligibility criterion. When SBI released a notification for the recruitment of its junior associates in 2021, many aspirants in the state of Manipur raised their concerns on the Bank’s requirement of Manipuri language orMeiteilon for all the aspirants in the state. It may be mentioned that Manipur has 32 recognised tribes, belonging to Manipur Naga and Chin-Kuki-Mizo communities, other than the Meiteis. 

 

Manipur’s peculiarities 

Unlike many other states which have common languages, Manipur has different story; while Meiteilon or Manipuri is widely spoken in the valley and a few districts, many people are not well versed with Manipuri. The Board of education and council of higher secondary thence provide an alternative subject in lieu of MIL (Major Indian Language) so as to not force students who are not comfortable with recognised major languages. It is pertinent to note that English language is widely used as the medium of communication in official matters. For states like Nagaland and Meghalaya, English has been recognised as the official language in SBI’s recruitment exam whereas for aspirants belonging to Manipur, there is no provision to choose English language as the official language. The policy stands to exclude the aspirations of many candidates belonging to the Hill tribes as they are not proficient in the prescribed local language. Apart from the challenges faced by aspirants, there is a question of serving people in the hills in Manipuri language. In Churachandpur, the second largest town in Manipur after Imphal, serving the locals in Manipuri/Meiteilon will be more of an inconvenience to the customers as the majority of them are non-Manipuri speakers. Thus English has become a natural choice of option for communication.

 

Being vocal for local language 

The concept of recruiting people with knowledge of local language stems from the idea of empowering the local people by positively discriminating them in job opportunities. Another factor is the consideration for the convenience with which front desk officials would seamlessly serve local customers in local languageWhile the demand by aspirants in Manipur is for the acceptance of the English language as an alternative to the prescribed local language- Manipuri in the eligibility criteria, there is a different demand elsewhere in the country. Many aspirants, especially those in the Southern states have demanded conducting exams in local language in addition to English and Hindi as practiced now. The argument is to not discriminate against those students who have possessed the required educational qualification in local language. The supreme court on the 15th of July 2021 has ordered public Sector banks to halt their recruitment process for clerical grades until further notice. 

 

Petition for fresh notification in Manipur 

Urging concerned authorities to reconsider the criteria of ‘Manipuri language’ in their clerical recruitment, the All Tribal Students Manipur (ATSUM) had written to the State Bank of India. “It is pertinent to note that the Scheduled tribe communities are not proficient with Manipuri/Meitei language and the Meiteis are not well-versed with the Scheduled tribes’ languages. In this regard, the inclusion of only Manipuri/Meitei language in test opted for the official language of the state in the recruitment of Junior Associates/Clerks is discriminatory to many aspirants from the hills,” a statement issued by the student body said. It may be mentioned that the lone Member of Parliament (MP) representing the hills of Manipur had also raised its concern in a letter addressed to the Managing Director of the Bank. SBI in its reply addressed to the MP had clarified that the same practice of mandating Manipuri language for clerical examinations has been followed by other organisations like RBI etc. However, the Bank has decided to put on hold the recruitment process for Manipur until the issue is resolved. “A fresh notification with revised list of languages will be be notified separately,” reads a letter from Chief General Manager (HR) SBI to the outer Manipur MP.

 

 

What now? 

In a country like India where policies should ideally be formulated with the principle of inclusivity, mandating a language that can exclude many aspirants from the scheme of things needs adequate redressal. Government and Public Sectors, especially those in the service sector which have local language eligibility criteria should take into account the peculiarities of Manipur and formulate their recruitment policies accordingly. Also, the demand to conduct recruitment examinations in local language needs thorough consultations and considerations. After all, language should not be a barrier in communication, rendering service, and most importantly in availing job opportunities provided by the government.

 

(The writer is an author and freelance writer.)

 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The politics of turning ancestral lands of indigenous tribes into forest reserved in Manipur

 

        Representational Image/EastMojo

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Amidst the calamitous onslaught of the second wave of Covid-19 in Manipur, where hundreds have died, thousands have been affected by the disease and tens of thousands are struggling to make ends meet due to loss of livelihood, the state government has considered planting trees and landmarking the so-called Kanglatongbi to Kangpokpi Forest “reserved” as an urgency above all things.


Earlier, in 2020, the state government had released an order to declare the Koubru range as a reserved area. In May 2021, Manipur’s Forest, Environment, and Climate Change minister, Awangbou Newmai, asserted that Mount Koubru falls under the Kanglatongbi-Kangpokpi Reserved Forest, which was declared as such in 1968 under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Interestingly, the tribes inhabiting the forest have no knowledge of the said statute, which was formulated before Manipur attained its statehood and before the Hill Area Committee came into existence.


Does all land belong to the state?


While attending the first mass tree plantation at Mangjol village, Kangpokpi District, Manipur chief minister N Biren Sing was quoted saying, “All lands belong to the state government.”

The remark was made to justify the installation of a boundary pillar to mark the Kanglatongbi to Kangpokpi forest area as ‘reserved’. Going by the simple logic that the government belongs to the people, his remarks only strengthen the view that land belongs to people. What the Manipur government failed to acknowledge is the land ownership rights of the Kuki tribes. It is worthwhile then to ask ‘who owned the lands before Manipur was formed, before India gained independence, and before the British came’.


Whose land is it anyway?


The Kukis have a clear history of living freely in their ancestral lands. That they fought the British during the Anglo-Kuki war 1917-1919 in defense of their ancestral land and freedom is well documented and acknowledged worldwide. Ironically, the state government had declared a restricted state holiday in acknowledgement of the centennial commemoration of the Anglo-Kuki war, also known as the Kuki Rising, or the Kuki Rebellion.Till date, there has been no formal agreement between the Kukis and the government after the British left India, with regards to their ancestral land. It is, however, understandable that since the ancestral lands of the Kukis politically fall under India and Myanmar, they will be subjected to the laws of the respective countries. But to disregard their interests and proclaim their ancestral lands without any consideration and consultation whatsoever is authoritarian and does not augur well for a state government in a democratic country that should adopt people-centric approach of governance.


The hidden agenda


The Manipur government had earlier stated environmental concerns as the reason for the need to declare reserved forests in Koubru and Thangjing ranges. Local CSOs have more than once solicited the kind attention of the government to discuss and chalk out an amicable solution to the highly delicate issue. It is not understood as to how the government refused an opportunity such as the co-operation of the local people if its real intention is to resolve environmental issues. Notably, the state government had earlier, in November 2020 through its Art and Culture Department attempted to declare Mt. Koubru and Mt. Thangjing as sacred sites of the Hindus, ignoring the sentiments of other religions, especially the local populace who practiced different religions.


Local Resistance


Ever since the Manipur government made its intention clear of declaring Koubru range as reserved forest in 2020, the local populace has voiced its displeasure. The committee on protection and preservation of Mt. Koubru (COPPK) and Sadar Hills Chief Association (SAHILCA) have fervently appealed to the government to respect the rights and privileges of the forest dwellers.

“Despite our efforts to meet on the issue for the past months, the Chief Minister has turned a blind-eye till today and, considering all the above matters and to show our strong resentment, we unanimously declare to boycott the mass tree plantation and landmarking at Mount Koubru range,” a statement of COPPK said.


Eviction of forest dwellers


Earlier, the government of Manipur is reported to have mulled eviction drives in more than 700 places located within KK Reserved and many other places in different reserved areas, taking the year 1980 as a baseline. The move, if it materializes anytime in the future, will be a perilous step that is ignorant of the presence of unregistered villages before the areas were declared as reserved forest; it will be a misadventure on the part of the government to not acknowledge the fact that the tribesmen did not feel the need to register themselves or their lands.  They were unaware of the land registration process then and have been moving freely in their ancestral land. Prohibiting their occupations and ordering them to vacate their lands  by citing the chronology of the registration of their habitat will be a clear violation of the ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.’


The Road Ahead


The government of Manipur needs to be reminded that they represent both the hill and valley. It must respect the constitutional safeguards of the hill tribes enshrined by the Constitution and the various acts. The continued attempts to demarcate the lands of indigenous tribes into reserved land or forest will only alienate the already deprived and marginalised tribes in the state.


To ensure inclusive development, it should also review its policy of instituting all infrastructure of importance in the valley and reserving the hills to cater to its environmental concerns and obligations. While India is contemplating an inclusive idea that is considerate to the concerns of  SCs and STs, the recent move of the Manipur government has deeply affected the faith and trust of the Hill tribes in the system.

The government will have to rethink its policies and approach to prove people wrong about the infamous notion it enjoys – of being biased, harsh, and inconsiderate towards the hill tribes. 


(TS Haokip is a freelance writer and author.)


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

To my Father, my idol! ~ A letter from Earth to Heaven

Outlook India  20/06/2021

Representative image/ Unsplash

 

Dear Father, 

 

It is Father’s Day once again. While many are busy, finding gifts for their fathers, I ignore the tears rolling down my cheeks and consoled myself that you are in a better place now. It is hard to accept the fact that I could not wish you personally on a day like today. There are thousands of things I want to tell you; I am writing a few lines for you today, expressing my thoughts, which I so dearly wanted to convey for long, as follows;

 

Loving my mother

As a young boy, I used to feel uneasy and at times ashamed of how you would openly display your love and affection for my mother. Later, I realised your unwavering love for her was more than about her ; you have been religiously following the saying, ‘if you love your children, love their mother.’ How I now wish to see you hug my mother and kiss her again. I can promise you, I will not be ashamed but be rather ecstatic. My mother was your first true love and your last. Your unconditional love towards my mother taught me that a good husband is the hallmark of a good father. 

 

Colossal Sacrifices

It is only natural for parents in general and fathers, in particular, to make sacrifices for their children. But, as I have said on your funeral day, ‘All fathers love their children but none like you.’ How can I forget you walking miles and saving the taxi fare to buy me my favourite magazine with it? There will be countless sacrifices you must have made for us, many of which would be when we were too young to remember; the sleepless nights and tiresome days you have endured to bring us up are only a few I could fathom now after I became a father myself. You have never bought for yourself a decent dress, while you’d even resort to borrowing, if required, to buy us one. You cannot imagine how I so wanted to buy you the best clothes now, Dad. The belief that you are now in a place where you will be wearing the most beautiful and attractive dress, is the only reason I could afford to smile, though in tears. You perfectly exemplified how a father is willing to sacrifice anything in the world for the love of their children. 

 

Managing work-life balance

Your mantra of ‘Work is worship’ was difficult to comprehend at times, then; for many days you’d leave us and travel far and wide. I remember raising my voice on a few occasions complaining why you could not be with family like everyone else even on Christmas. I was too na├»ve to acknowledge and appreciate the precious times you have spent with us. Now that I have a job on my own, I could clearly understand how work sometimes compels us to sacrifices family times. The irony is that one needs to be sincere at work to make ends meet and also spare adequate time for the family to avoid relationship gaps. You must have wished with all your heart to be with us all the time, but for work. Sometimes when I feel stressed and frustrated about my job, I’d remember you and exhort myself to be dedicated in my work. You were a master in managing work-life balance and remarkably shouldered the challenging responsibilities of a father and the sole breadwinner in the family. 

 

Wonderful Teacher

Your words of, ‘Unless you understand what is verb and adverb, prepare to fast. You will not be provided even a cup of water,’ when I was a little child, still lingers in my ear. Education was your topmost priority apart from our health. That commitment and belief, in aptly  regarding education as the prime factor that would shape our future is the only reason why I could write this story today in an esteemed media-house such as this. And whatever I am today, in being able to put food on the table in my own humble way, is largely due to the importance you paid to my education. As a father of two now, I struggled often to even teach them ABC; when I play being harsh, my conscience told me to be soft and when I treated them softly, a voice in the back of my mind told me I should have been firmer in my approach. I usually took the easy route of washing my hands off and throwing the responsibility to someone else. Nevertheless, I will make sure not to shy away from teaching my children the importance of education and the valuable life lessons you have taught me. You showed me how a good father needs to be a good teacher, relentlessly aspiring for the all-round development of his children. You were, and you still are my best teacher. 

 

Spiritual Guide 

The story of Job, of a man who despite his intolerable sufferings steadfastly held on to God, has been your favourite story you often professed and endeavoured to emulate yourself. On many occasions, I have witnessed your calm and composed nature even in the face of grave situations, a trait which could only be possessed by those having their faith and hope firmly rooted in God. When you were in your death bed, I had earnestly prayed to God to heal you. And when that didn’t happen, my faith was crushed and shattered. Then I realised how you would have wanted me to know you were eternally healed and wished that I reminded myself of the story of Job. Despite my shortcomings, I now truly believe in the power of the divine spirit and truly accept that God does consider what is best for us; this understanding has played a pivotal role in accepting and coping the challenges life offers. You were my spiritual guru. 

 

The above messages are not exhaustive but only a select few of the many thoughts I did not have the opportunity to express when you were here on earth. You must have known by now my inability to live-up to the high standards you have set as a father; I am not half as good as you. On this Father’s Day though, I can promise you that the privilege of being blessed with a father like you will not go in vain; may God help me! Thank you for being my father, Hepa! #HappyFathersDay

 

 

Yours Loving Son,

T S Haokip 

(@Thangboi as you’d lovingly call me)

 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Foes or Friends of the hill people?

Outlook India    

          Representational Pic. (Source: Outlook India)

‘The commander of 44 Assam Rifles Banglabung shot me,’ said Mr. Mangboilal Lhouvum of Chalwa village, Kangpokpi District, Manipur in a feeble voice even as he endured the excruciating pains of bullet wounds in his abdomen. ‘Tell us the name of the commander who shot you,’ yelled a person, and he replied, ‘Alok.. Major Alok shot me.’ These last words of the latest victim to an alleged fake encounter perpetrated by the so-called ‘Friends of the hill people’ were video-recorded while he was taken to Kangpokpi Hospital. The father of four and a daily wage earner, who was allegedly shot by the Major of 44 AR E Coy on the 4th of June 2021, succumbed to his wounds before they could even reach the Hospital. 

 

There have been numerous incidents of fake encounters in Manipur involving  both- the state and central security forces. In fact, families of more than 1500 victims of fake encounters have formed an organisation- Extra-judicial Execution Victims Families Association (EEVFAM). For more than a decade now, EEVFAM has been fighting for justice by demanding fresh inquiries, punishment of the guilty security personnel, and compensation to the victims’ families. Situations however improved in recent years, post the signing of SoO with various rebel groups. At a time when the Hill is slowly progressing towards normalcy, an incident such as this reincarnates fear in the minds of the public and mistrust of the security forces. 

 

Incidentally, a year ago another innocent man Mr. Thangboi Lhouvum from Kangpokpi District had lost his life soon after he was handed over to the police in ‘black and blue’ condition by the 38 Assam Rifles. He too was branded a member of the Kuki Revolutionary Army, an allegation the KRA had outrightly denied. A pertinent question that naturally arises now is- if the time has finally come to relook the draconian colonial law- AFSPA. The logic behind the removal of the law from the valleys and the application of it in the hills when most of the hill-based militants are under SoO throws an uncomfortable question; is the silence and timidity of the hill people their biggest mistake that rendered them, scapegoats? 

 

 The clarification made by PIB (Defence Wing) circulated widely in print and social media that Mr. Mangboilal Lhouvum was killed in an encounter in self-defense  is baffling beyond comprehension. Even if the innocent man is presumed as a member of the Kuki Revolutionary Army as alleged, for argument’s sake, why was an operation conducted when there is a suspension of operation? Is there any complaint or intelligence input of any threat to civilians or the security forces? How authentic is the allegation of the victim as member of a militant organisation when the said organisation clarified that all the names of the cadres are with the Government and there is no relationship whatsoever with the deceased? Why was the victim left on his own after being shot if it actually was an operation as claimed by PIB? These are some uncomfortable questions credible answers to which the PIB (Defence wing) and Assam Rifle would find it hard to manufacture.

 

In the past instances, alleged fake encounters committed involved or were assumed to involve mainly the non-officer ranked soldiers. That gives no justification for their detestable acts but rather a lamentable feeling of abhorrence for the lack of requisite behavioural training for the erring personnel. An Officer Training Academy (OTA) or an Indian Military academy (IMA) passed out officer, however junior and inexperienced he might be, is expected at the least to possess a basic understanding of human rights, especially the right to life of an innocent person. Such an audacious act of shooting an innocent civilian at point-blank by an officer in broad daylight reveals two things; either the officer is mentally unstable or he is  inadequately trained to the level that he has no respect for the lives of innocent people. In any case, the man with no gentlemanly trait of any kind is unfit to represent the Indian Army as an officer. He is a disgrace to the men in uniform, the likes of whom are responsible for the decline in public’s trust in the security forces; the cowardice act such as this overshadowed all the initiatives taken by the security forces to bridge the gap of trust with the local people.

 

The Chalwa incident cannot be a chapter that is casually closed with the payment of financial compensation to the victim’s family; the memorandum of understanding between AR, GoM and CSOs was effected mainly due to the laudable efforts of CSOs to smother public anger that could culminate into a serious law and order situation.

The incident should not be swept under the carpet as just another case of fake encounter devoid of disciplinary actions being awarded to the erring official; the concerned authority should initiate a high-level inquiry into the whole episode and introspect on their overall strategy and design of their activities in the region. Repetition of such incidents has the breakneck capability to create another Kashmir in Manipur.

 

If the Assam Rifles truly desires to establish friendship with the Hill people, the emergence of a man like Major Alok should cease and desist from their ranks and files; apart from serious introspection, it will take an effort more humane than planting trees, cleaning roads, and holding medical camps. What is required of them is to ensure the security of the civilians and not unleash fear amongst them; above all, not to shoot innocent civilians.

 

(The writer is a freelance writer and author. )

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Financial Inclusion vital for poverty reduction

The Statesman (Click here to visit)  30/6/2021

T S Haokip


    


Financial inclusion is presumed by many as an endeavour that provides people, especially those in the hitherto un-banked region, a bank account. However, that mere possession of a Bank account cannot bring wonders, in addition to the fact that the same is incomplete to define the intended meaning of financial inclusion. What is critical is the facilities endowed to the individuals having a bank account. The Direct Cash Transfers have considerably controlled the leakage of funds meant for targeted beneficiaries- poor.   Also, the poor can have access to insurance products with nominal premiums through their Bank accounts. Not to forget is the saving habits that could also be inculcated, encouraged, and improved. Most importantly, financial inclusion will have its impact when credit facilities to the poor have seen a considerable improvement both in quantity and quality. 

 

In one of my field visits to a tribal village in Andhra Pradesh, when I was interning with SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural poverty) in 2010,  I had spoken to a woman, as part of my survey on the performance of SHGs, whose family came out of poverty. The woman said, "My husband worked in a factory but after his health deteriorated he could not continue his work.” She expressed her helplessness to feed her three children with the meagre wage she’d earn. “Then I shared my problems with members of our SHG. As advised, I'd apply for the loan to our SHG and though there were other members who required the money, my case was considered and we were chosen to receive the loan, the amount of which comprises of the corpus fund of our group and finance by Bank. We bought an autorickshaw for my husband and now we have come out of the poverty line,” she added with visible signs of relief in her expression. “So, it was financial assistance that helped you,” I asked to confirm. She agreed and further elaborated that most poor people irrespective of their livelihoods will need it to start their journey of crossing the poverty line.

 

The success story of the Pudupu Sangams or the Women SHGs in AP has been the role model behind the National Rural Livelihood Mission. Under this mission, nationwide efforts have been undertaken by the Ministry of Rural Development to build, manage and empower women Self Help Groups. Though the women groups in AP have enough corpus to lend to their members, the SHGs in other states depend on financial institutions like Banks, MFs, and NBFCs to finance their projects. Banks, especially Public Sector Banks have played a pivotal role in financing SHGs thus far. The crux is to financially assist SHG members who would invest the money in income generating assets that would provide them a hand holding support to come out of the poverty line. 

 

Apart from financing SHGs, Banks have played a commendable role in funding the financial requirements of Agriculture and allied activities. Designated as a priority sector for the Banks, there is a stipulated percentage of the Annual Net Bank Credit  (ANBC) which is allotted to Agriculture and allied activities. Notwithstanding the inability of farmers to repay the loans during bad seasons and the politics involved with farm loan waiver, there are thousands of success stories of farm loans. 

 

The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan yojana, which earned the Government of India (Department of financial services) a Guinness world record for the maximum number of accounts opened in a week, has raised many debates on its effectiveness in poverty reduction. While some are of the opinion that the mere opening of an account do not have any worthy contribution to the betterment of the poor, others feel that the erstwhile financially illiterate people have become financially literate by not only familiarising themselves with the basic norms of banking but by also practicing it. Those in favour argued that saving habits have been inculcated and people became aware of financial products like credits/loans for farmers etc. What is arguably one of the best benefits of the poor owning a bank account, apart from availing credit, is its complementary assistance for the Direct Benefits transfer scheme to be successfully implemented and thereby avoiding the leakage of crores of rupees intended for the farmers in earlier instances.

 

It is no secret that the poor are entrapped by money lenders with exorbitant rates of interest charged on their borrowed sums. For people who depended on the outcome of annual crops and seasonal employments, pressing requirements like medical and food expenses and occasional expenditure requirements for marriages and functions compelled the poor to reach out to the money lenders. The improvement in financing from Banks has considerably reduced the headache of the poor. There is still scope for improvements to bridge the gap between the poor and Banks as far as availing credits are concerned. While the concern of the poor people is the cumbersome process involving heavy documentations, the Banks on the other hand have their own concerns- the creditworthiness of the poor. Most of the finances that Banks provide are based on the business assumption that its repayment will be made on time. To ensure that the poor do not default, it is important that the credit availed is used for income-generating assets. Thus, a sincere inspection work on the part of the Bankers could help do away with documentation concerns by making the process of credit delivery to the poor more friendly.

 

Are we then to conclude that having a Bank account will transform a poor family's fortune overnight? It is often said that poverty eradication is a multi-dimensional approach and that the poor have the ability and the knowledge to come out of poverty. From the many testimonies of the poor, it is evident that financing is one of the most important component for rural development. It will of course require many other efforts like ensuring basic necessities - good road, electrified house, drinking water, etc. And while we acknowledge the rights of the poor to decide on how best they could develop, one thing is for sure that financial inclusion in its real sense will continue to be an indispensable tool in the fight against poverty.

 

(The writer is a freelance writer and author. He is a former development professional and has served as a consultant in the Ministry of Rural Development, GoI )

 

Reimagining the role of indigenous tribals in restoring ecosystem

 Outlook India      East Mojo  

 As monsoon approaches and with it, rainfall and the fear for floods and landslides, concerns for the environment will momentarily blossom, and deforestation will be cursed once again.  There will be voices and words describing how the practice of Jhum cultivation, a farming method predominantly practiced by most tribes in the North East, has been the main culprit for the degrading ecological state and how stopping the indigenous tribals from practicing ‘Jhum’ will resolve the concern altogether. But what is knowingly or unknowingly ignored is the symbiotic relationship between the tribals and their environment through traditional ethics that stood the test of time.

 

The main motive of adopting shifting cultivation by most hill tribes is to allow the fertility of the land to be restored naturally. This method is in stark contrast to the generally adopted farming practices in the plains, where pesticides and insecticides are widely used. Contrary to what is fervently preached by a few people, shifting cultivation in its original form as practiced by the tribals did not necessitate  the indiscriminate clearing of forest; the lands which have been abandoned ad interim would be all set for re-cultivation every few years. Therefore, a farming household cultivates no more than five different lands, the cultivation of which are shifted systematically. This was anterior to a few people being lured into greedy practices; the result of that cupidity is the rampant practice of cutting down trees and the complete disregard whatsoever for the age-old practices.

 

The unsystematic practice of Jhum with complete disregard for traditional ethics poses a grave threat to restoring the ecosystem of the land. It is one of the main factors of rising deforestation. However, the activities of many cultivators quitting Jhum but misusing pesticides and fertilisers in recent times have a much much disastrous consequence. Its undesirable effects include not just the scarcity of organic foods but also the precarious impact on the environment. As a result of the haphazard use of artificial fertilisers, the soils which absorb the chemicals have the dangerous potential of entering the food chain. The chemicals also contaminate surface water and rendered many streams, which have hitherto been a source of drinking water, poisonous for consumption. The underlying message is that giving up Jhum cultivation per se is not an open-ended solution to address environmental issues. The efforts to root out Jhum cultivation should not be an impetus that drives the practice of more hazardous alternatives.

 

As talks of environmental issues and the banes of deforestation gain momentum, the tribal people could be forgiven for developing a feeling of being exploited minus fairness. Notwithstanding the fact that we continuously emit harmful gases from our factories, transportation mediums, and electricity consumption, it is a common trend to put larger blame on those cutting down trees. The same goes for the general perception of hunting. Of course, hunting and deforestation must stop. But it is important to understand the circumstances of the people, whom we look at with condemnation and held mainly responsible for the worsening state of the environment; they have been giving up their livelihood to attend a cause, for which all of us are responsible. What sacrifices have we made? Understanding the fact that forest-dwellers are the main stakeholders in the effort and involving them is therefore of paramount importance. Our initiatives to combat deforestation and hunting wild animals accordingly should do away with top-down approaches as yet practiced.

 

The environment in general and forest, in particular, meant much more to the tribals; it is deeply rooted in their way of life. The Kuki tribes of North East India, for instance, used bamboo- to build their houses; consumed the shoot as food; model bow and arrow to hunt; make cups, spoons, and other utensils; design pieces of furniture like chair, table, and almirahs. Since bamboo was indispensable to them, each household had a bamboo tree planted in their courtyard and also in the forest. What they used from the forest was well-restored.

 

Reimagining the role of tribals and engaging them in an ‘ecosystem restoration’ mission will thus revive the traditional relationship of the tribals with the environment. The re-established association will also imbibe a sense of belongingness amongst the tribal people in the restorative efforts as compared to the strategy of giving lectures and sermons, thus far adopted, which have further alienated them. The same way environmental issues in the hills and forests concerned us, the scores of activities in plains- towns and cities, contributing to environmental issues should also grab our attention; to restore our ecology is not just about restoring the forest. It involves restoring our lakes, lands, air, soil, etc. While we endeavour to reimagine, recreate and restore our ecosystem, it is important to accept that we all have our roles and responsibilities. As for the tribals, they know best how to restore the forests and they will be the best who can do it best. They just need our hand-holding support and not our finger-wagging orders. 

 

( The writer is a freelance writer and author. He is a former development professional and served as a consultant in the ministry of rural development, GOI.)

 

 

 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Victims of Discrimination

Deccan Herald T S Haokip


     

 

    A YouTuber from Punjab recently remarked that, ‘Arunachal Pradesh ain’t India enough’ and went on to call a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the state of Arunachal Pradesh,“Chinese”The storywent viral and created a social media stormThere could be many such incidents unreported and silently withstood. Racial discrimination against North-Easternpeople in mainland India is nothing new, though new incidents keep occurring. How could one forget Nido Tania, the boy from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death by shopkeepers in a fight sparked by taunts on the hair colour of the Arunachalee boy in Munirka Delhi? Memories of a few North Eastern guys being denied entry in a supermarket in Bangalore allegedly for physically resembling the Chinese and therefore carrier of Covid 19, though they wore masks and showed them their Identity cards are still fresh even after a year of its occurrence. The obvious question that comes to the mind then is, ‘what initiative has been taken to curb the menace?’ or to put in a different perspective, why is no effective step taken by the concerned to eradicate racial discrimination against the Northeasterners? 

 

The  discrimination case involving the YouTuber from Punjab reveals an uncomfortable trend among some miscreants hailing from mainland India to use discriminatory words to humiliate and subjugate their North Eastern counterparts. These discriminatory psyche and misconducts stem from the comfort in the belief that such incidents do not attract any fearful consequences. It is thence commendable on the part of the Arunachal police to pursue the case with utmost seriousness to book the culprit and thereby send a stentorian message to the public. This effort of the AP police in collaboration with the Punjab police should be emulated by other states to give nothing away in cases of discrimination against the North East people if the intent is to sincerely address the issue. Geographical and physical differences should not be allowed to be misused as an opportunity to divide the people of India; discrimination has the dangerous potential of sowing seeds of disunity and could knock for six the integrity of the country. 

 

It is worth remembering that a year ago, an animal activist had called Nagas ‘Chinki’ and was booked by the Nagaland police and brought to Kohima to face trial. The accused did apologised and appeared remorseful and seemed to have learned her lesson. She was later released and it is highly doubtful the person will repeat the same mistake again. But the crux of the matter is if the punishment awarded exemplary enough to discourage others from committing the crime. It is in this aspect the effort of the Arunachal police to nab the YouTuber despite his apology, that deserves adulation. Racial discrimination is too serious a matter to be dismissed with a note of apology. More stringent actions should be awarded to discourage potential discriminators. 

 

At a time when the nation is reeling under severe impact of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unthinkable as to how a feeling of hatred and enmity could be developed against one’s own countrymen at this juncture. We should all hang our heads in shame and introspect. The challenge now is to find a solution to put an end to these humiliating culture for goodNot all victims have the blessing like the MLA of Arunachal Pradesh whose case has the close supervision of Union Minister Shri Kiren Rijiju. That timely intervention of the minister could be the main reason for the swift punitive actions. Should all incidents of crime against North-Eastern Indians be then allocated to ministers for timely action? The Government has taken a commendable step of forming North East helplines to specifically attend to the concerns of North Eastern people in a few metropolitan cities. Considering the rise in crime against NE people in various places, is it time to ponder the possibility of installing NE helplines in all states?

 

Being one personally affected by the unending wave of racial discrimination based on appearances and the type of food chosen to put on my plate, I remember the psychological trauma and anguish so much so I had at one point questioned if NE Indian are considered bonafide citizens of the country at all. Many victims of racial discrimination will harbour the same anguish.Also, racial discrimination spawns regional enmity as is evident in past incidents. Such episode of racial discrimination against Northeasterners has in the past fuelled regional enmity and resulted in the attack on people belonging outside the region and vice versa. It is a dangerous trend detrimental to the idea of unity in diversity

 

 

While the Government is spending its time and energy to thwart off China’s claim of a part of a state in North East India, calling names like ‘Chinese’ to our North Eastern brethren, in addition to it being a crime, is tantamount to promoting China’s propaganda. Ironically, there are sizeable Northeasterners among the Indian Army personnels valiantly manning our borders to avert external aggressions including that of China’sIt is a tragedy that Northeasterners, despite rendering their selfless service to the nation are rebuked and not treated as ‘equals’ by many people.  

 

To rein in the menace of racial discrimination in all sincerity, it is time discussionon the matter is given a centrepiece in our social sphere to spread the awareness of it being a vicious social evil. Endowing paramount importance to the issue is a pressing necessity that merits the collective endeavour of concerned authorities and the general public. The initiative warrants policies and actions devised by taking into account the grave ramifications racial discrimination has, beyond the concerns of North-Eastern Indians. In all the cases involving discrimination of NE people, the victims are not just those directly affected; India as a country that celebrates diversity is the main victim.

 

(The writer is an author and freelance writer based in Mumbai.)

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