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.)




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