23 July 2014

I am from Northeast... but I am Not Mowgli!

By Prantick Majumder

"Does the Rajdhani Express go to Assam?" I thought I had heard something wrong. When the question was repeated, I knew I heard it right. My blood came to a boil. But my conscience got the better of me as I realised that the person may genuinely not know much about Assam. I said instead:

"No, the Rajdhani goes only till New Jalpaiguri. On the Assam-Bengal border, we get off and take a bullock cart!"

So pleased was I with my own terrible joke that I almost rolled on the floor laughing!

I am from the northeast, from Assam, from Guwahati, but I am not Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli who was raised by wolves.

Now a migrant in Delhi, I came in 2008 after landing a job in a reputed media organisation.
I come from a respected and well-known family in Guwahati. My grandfather was a lawyer. My father was a gold medal-winning professor at a Guwahati college. My mother is from a family of businessmen which once traded with Bhutan's king and small Hindu princely areas of Bangladesh.
I was born and brought up in Guwahati, studied in a missionary school with origins in Italy, and finally in a reputed 60-year-old local college. I completed my Master's from a fledgeling but promising central university in Tezpur, a town linked to Lord Krishna.

The question posed to me about Rajdhani came from a Delhiite educated in Mumbai.

Ignorance about the northeast is indeed widespread. Some get stumped when I tell them I travel by air; do planes fly to remote, far-off northeast?

A woman Assamese colleague from Dibrugarh was asked by a Delhiite if rhinoceros roam in her backyard!

Once a man from Nainital asked me if I could "arrange" some "exotic" northeastern woman for him. Needless to say the man has never dared to speak to me again.

My colleagues often pull my leg about how they would help Assam get 'independence' -- provided I hand over all the rhinos, all oil fields, the mighty Brahmaputra, all the tea gardens plus all the timber! I reply by saying that after getting freedom, I will be the charge d'affaires of Assam in Delhi!
Jokes apart, my fellow northeasterners may hate me for what I am going to say now. I am an Assamese. Although my surname sounds Bengali, my original surname was "Majumder Baruah".

How the "Baruah" got dropped is another story.

I have not faced any discrimination through the six years I have been in Delhi. My colleagues give credit for that to my non-Mongoloid looks. I have lived for five years in South Extension in south Delhi where there is a literal flood of people from the northeast. I have seen a few scuffles over the years but none involving a northeasterner.

In fact, my landlord, from Haryana, goes to great lengths to make me feel at home and has helped me on several occasions.

It was indeed a cultural shock when I first arrived in Delhi. I found many people here were vegetarians, a fact difficult to digest for my fish, meat-eating persona. Hence my roommate (also from Assam but a Bengali) and I always choose a house whose owner is not a strict vegetarian.
I have seen some northeasterners lie to the landlords, then flout the house rules by cooking even pork and beef.

I don't drink. Northeasterners unfortunately have a bad reputation in Delhi. Some here think we are all alcohol guzzlers and sleep around. Yes, there are bad apples but they are in a minority.

You need two hands to clap. I think both the northeast community and the so-called Delhiites are to blame for the state of affairs in the capital vis-a-vis people from the northeast.

Many north Indians may lack knowledge about the northeast, but how many from the northeast can claim to know everything about the rest of India?

Then there is music. While the Constitution allows freedom of expression, can people (north Indians included) play loud music late into the night?

Northeasterners should remember that they are migrants in Delhi and are easily identifiable. While playing music is no crime, respect your neighbours.

While people in Delhi or so-called "mainstream India" have little exposure to the northeast, people from the "remote, far-flung" region also need to make adjustments to local realities.

While northeasterners have been hit by crime in Delhi, thousands of people like me are earning their livelihood in peace.

I agree that there are times northeasterners are targeted. But don't Punjabis and south Indians and Biharis also become victims of Delhi's notorious abrasiveness?

People from other regions may find it difficult to make friends among Delhiites. But instead of being cocooned within their own community, they should mingle with other people and educate them about their region.

Growing Attacks on people from Northeast People find Echo in Lok Sabha

People staging a candle light vigil demanding justice in the murder of Shaloni, in New Delhi on Tuesday.

New Delhi, Jul 23
: The issue of growing attacks and sexual assaults on people from the North East in different parts of the country, especially in Delhi, was raised in the Lok Sabha today by a Congress member.

Raising the matter during Zero Hour, Ninong Ering referred to a Manipuri youth being beaten to death here yesterday and several other recent cases and said these incidents amounted to “racial discrimination” which should be put to an end forthwith.

He said the previous government had set up a Committee under former bureaucrat MP Bezbaruah to look into the concerns of people from the North East living in different parts of the country.

This government, Ering said, had submitted its report to the new government and has recommended legal measures to ensure their safety and security from any assault on them. It also suggested that any attack of racial nature should be made a punishable offence.

The Congress member urged the government to take urgent steps to implement the recommendations of this Committee. The issue also had its echo in Rajya Sabha with members demanding immediate steps to curb the menace and a statement from the Home Minister.

Tarun Vijay (BJP) said a Manipuri youth was beaten to death here yesterday and there were several other cases of racial discrimination.

He said there has been a spurt in such incidents and referred to the killing of another youth Nido Tania in January.

It was unfortunate that youths from the region were treated as foreigners in Delhi and were subjected to all sorts of ill-treatment, he said.

Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (AITC) demanded a statement from the Home Minister on the issue. Roy said three persons from the region have been killed here since January and demanded making public recommendations of a Committee on racial discrimination.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said it was a serious matter of “ethnic discrimination” and asked Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah to inform the Home Minister.

Heptullah said “I will convey the sentiments of the entire House to the Home Minister.”
21 July 2014

29-Year-Old Man from Northeast India Beaten to Death in Delhi

29-Year-Old Man from North East Beaten to Death in Delhi
New Delhi, Jul 21 :  A Naga man from Manipur was beaten to death, allegedly by a group of five or six men, in the heart of Delhi late last night.

The police said Shaloni, a man in his late twenties, got into an altercation with the group of men, who had driven up in a white Maruti Alto near a daily needs store in Kotla Mubarakpur.

Shaloni, the police said, was walking with two of his friends - one from Manipur and another from Bihar. When the attack took place, both the friends ran away, the police said, adding they received a call about the quarrel at about 2:30 am.

When the police reached the spot, they found Shaloni had been beaten up. They took the injured man to the trauma centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or AIIMS, where he was declared dead.

Shaloni lived in Delhi's Munirka. A case of murder has been registered. The police have seized a CCTV camera from the area and said they have identified a few suspects.

"It seems like a preplanned and unprovoked attack. Home Ministry will probe into the death," says Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju.

The death in similar circumstances of Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, early this year had led to street protests and a national debate on discrimination against Indians from the North East.

Nido, 20, was beaten with iron rods and sticks by a group of men after he had an altercation with a shopkeeper and others in Lajpat Nagar market, not far from Kotla Mubarakpur, in January.

Politicians across parties had at the time condemned his death and vowed to work with activists and students from the North East to address their recurring concerns of being racially targeted in Delhi and other cities.

Following the incident, the Delhi Police has once again reiterated these helplines:
North East Helpline: Dial 1093 or 100
If you still need consultation, dial DCP North East Special Unit - 9818099070
If still not satisfied, then send your query through SMS/Whatsapp at 9810083486 or email to robinhibu@gmail.com
Night Emergency DCP mobile (SOS) -- 8750870099  and 8750870094
For eight North East Delhi Police  Representatives, visit Facebook - Delhi Police for North East people
Complaint against police: Dial -1064 or 1031
Crime against Women and Children: Dial 1091

Oral Cancer Claims One Life Every Six Hours in India, Northeast Worst Affected

Kolkata, Jul 21 : One person dies every six hours due to oral cancer in the country, signalling an alarming rise in the incidence of the disease, according to a top orthodontist.

The situation could be still graver as many cases of the disease went unreported, Secretary-General of the Indian Dental Association Dr Ashok Dhoble told PTI from Mumbai.

"Cases of the disease and deaths resulting from it in rural areas and among the poorer sections of society are hardly registered," he noted. He pointed out that with the high prevalence of smokers and widespread use of other chewable tobacco products, India has seen a steep growth in the number of oral cancer patients in the past decade. In fact, Dr Dhoble said, oral cancer approximated to 40 per cent of all cancer-related disease in the country with the Northeastern states mostly affected.

"All Northeastern states are badly affected by the disease. The states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are also affected," he said, adding every third person in these states used tobacco-related products. Talking about measures to curb the prevalence of the deadly disease, he said that nothing short of a total ban on the use of tobacco was the only way.

"There is no other way to curb oral cancer... You have to ban tobacco in its every form," Dr Dhoble said, pointing out that it was the nicotine present in the tobacco which made it addictive and difficult to kick the habit. "Our government also understands the problem... But the huge number of people employed with the tobacco industry is the problem... The government has to provide them with an alternative livelihood and then ban tobacco totally," he said.

He said a dentist was the first person to diagnose it since oral cancer was not just limited to teeth, but mouth, tongue and integral part of pharynx and gums as well. The orthodontist explained that oral cancer was 100 per cent curable only if it was reported in the first stage. But once it slips into the second stage, the patient is left with a life span of just five years.

"I will advise people to visit a dentist and not to ignore even if there is a slight problem in the mouth... But above all they have to give up using tobacco in every form. That's the best medicine," Dr Dhoble said. Stressing the need to educate people on the disease, he said that the Indian Dental Association, which will hold the FDI Annual World Dental Congress in Delhi in September, had been conducting awareness camps and counselling people for the last five years.

Learning To Save The Wild

A NEW VIEW Director Rita Banerji
A NEW VIEW Director Rita Banerji ENTRUSTING THE FUTURE To youngsters to protect the wild around them
Special Arrangement ENTRUSTING THE FUTURE To youngsters to protect the wild around them
STARTING YOUNG Children are the hope to save the wildlife around them
Special Arrangement STARTING YOUNG Children are the hope to save the wildlife around them

Filmmakers Rita Banerji and Shilpi Sharma go beyond their film, The Wild Meat Trail, to bring awareness in children of north-east India on wildlife conservation

The camera trails all sorts of creatures being sold in the bustling market in a remote village in Nagaland, North East India. There are limp but colourful exotic birds being heaped on the ground, being plied for meat. There’s a chained slow loris too on sale. Prices are being called, negotiated. A woman selling wild birds says she makes Rs. 15,000 a month selling wild meat compared to selling vegetables off which she makes Rs. 3,000. This, in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots!
The Wild Meat Trail, a film by Delhi-based Rita Banerji and Shilpi Sharma of Dusty Foot Productions delves into this wilderness of north east India, where, she says, “The maximum wildlife we saw was in the markets, not in the forests. We never heard birds in the forest.”
Rita has been filming in NE India since 2002, tracing a pair of orphaned bear cubs that were being rehabilitated into the wild, which led her to the hunting practices in the area. “We have this false notion that traditional hunting is fine, and illegal wildlife trade is the problem…” she said, showing her film, and speaking on ‘Visual media in conservation’ at the recently held WCY2014 conference in Bangalore. Organised by Wildlife Conservation and You, the conference looked at various aspects of conservation, including the impact that wildlife films can have in aiding conservation. Rita has been a wildlife/environment filmmaker for over 15 years now. This film won them a Green Oscar in 2010.
Rita and Shilpi spent more than seven years in the region trying to understand what hunting in the NE was all about, in its current cultural and economic context. “It’s not all black and white. Wild meat hunting and consumption is an integral part of the life of communities in the north east of India. Open wild meat markets exist in different towns and cities across the states. The remoteness of some of these regions means that they don’t even know about the Wildlife Act. Most young boys hunt for leisure or because they are expected to. People in the cities ‘have to’ eat this meat as part of festivals,” says Rita.
Older hunters had knowledge of wildlife, but the younger ones were only driven by money. ‘Why should we stop?’ was the question always raised. But they were willing to, if they were given livelihood, and leisure alternatives. Discussions with community members, village elders, and traditional hunters were held. It was obvious children had to be made future protectors of wild animals around them. “Collaboration is the key, and engaging the community is the only way to bring about change,” says Rita. Together they decided to create a training manual for educating children, and help teachers guide children into the world of nature. A clipping of the film brought in funding for Dusty Foot to complete the film, and then some, to start a wildlife education programme in the region called Under The Canopy.
“In India it’s difficult to talk of wildlife in isolation. It’s also about people. I was drawn to this relationship. Making just a natural history film was impossible. I would have felt empty to just leave it at filmmaking, having spent so much time there,” says Rita.
Next came the Hoolock Gibbon Eco Club in Chizami village in Nagaland. The Club, a collaboration between NEN (North East Network), Dusty Foot, and Go Wild Workshops, started in 2010 with about 20 children aged 10 to 14; each year 20 students have joined in. Children learn about their environment through interactive classroom activities, photography, writing, and field-based learning.
Also, if you are a member, the condition is that you can’t eat wild meat! Two boys from Chizami, Alo and Peter, are training as trainers so that they can continue the programme over the years.
“Till then the kids didn’t look at a frog as a frog, but as food!” says Rita. The Club has already managed to generate valuable documentation of birds, butterflies, and moths from the area. Through the efforts of NEN and the Eco Club there has been a dialogue on ‘ban on hunting’ amongst the parents, the village council, and the forest department. The hope is that these children will one day be able to influence decisions on conservation in the village.
Rita talks passionately about how films can change the world, making an example of Shores of Silence – Whale Sharks in India, Mike Pandey’s film on which she too worked, and won the Green Oscar in Wildscreen 2000, went on to put the whale shark in the Wildlife Protection Act of India; its hunting got banned. “Wildlife films have an outreach and education component embedded in them. You can choose to do a film, or go beyond it,” concludes Rita.
11 July 2014

Rejoicing For Seven Sisters

Sinlung Says: We don't know what it is we need to rejoice for....India has been oppressing the Northeast India from time immemorial...

By Sujata Garimella

Seven People from the North Eastern States of India have long suffered isolation from the rest of the country. The Seven Sisters (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura) have been blighted by a triple whammy: geographical remoteness; markedly different physical characteristics and apathetic measures for development and inclusion. Resultantly, there have been mutual problems of acceptance between the people of North East and those on the larger side of the slender Siliguri Corridor (that narrow corridor leading into the North Eastern States).

On one hand these States have faced issues of assimilation from India and on the other hand, China claims that Arunachal Pradesh is theirs – as reveals by the map of China used on the eighth pages of their new passports released around 2012 (that map shows Arunachal Pradesh and part of Ladakh as part of Chinese territory and it also shows Kashmir as a part of Pakistan). The international political power play has made this region one of the most sensitive and volatile areas of the country.
Popular culture first acknowledged the state of these States in Chak De (a wonderful film on National integration, especially the part where the players are being introduced – the registration scene. That was outstanding in its identification of the country-wide acceptance issues between people of various States). After Chak De it is the new advertisement for the upcoming season of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) that makes a very, very strong point about the acceptance issues faces by the people from the seven States.

Between Chak De and the KBC advertisement were two devastatingly shameful incidents with regards to these States. In August 2012 the rumours of threats against people from these States spread like wildfire and there was a huge exodus from the southern States to the North East by the panicked inhabitants whose domicile was in the Seven Sisters. In 2013 a boy from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam,  was beaten to death in Delhi for looking “different”. This incident sparked protest marches and created an outrage in the country. But not quite enough underlining the social fissures in the country. However, this incident led to at least one excellent social experiment video to hold up the mirror and show up a society that doesn’t want to “get involved”. Watch the following video to see who did actually get involved.

After popular culture and some amount of social awareness, political will is turning in favour of the much ignored and under-developed part of our country. Three actions demonstrate the political resolve of the current BJP government towards incorporating and absorbing the seven sisters more completely into the larger family.
  1. The first action is slightly roundabout, but nevertheless crucial. Early in July Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change announced fast track clearance for any defence related projects (including infrastructural projects like building roads) within 100 kilometres of the Chinese border. He additionally rested the power of veto with the five States that share borders with China, viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Uttarakhand. While this announcement is largely defence-related aimed towards strengthening and protecting our borders from a rather avaricious neighbour, it undoubtedly benefits Arunachal Pradesh (and Jammu and Kashmir) in more ways than one. The first benefit is better infrastructure. The second benefit, which is a slightly utopian, but not an impossible outcome is the abolishment of the very controversial Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act (AFSFA).
  2. The second action was the Railway Budget. Seven new trains from the vastly under-connected North East have been announced. This will provide more connectivity for these States. If you consider India as East, West, North, South and North East, the last zone has the poorest railway coverage and connectivityRs. 5,116 has been allocated to north eastern projects (this is 54% higher than in the previous year). These were cheering announcements, indeed.
  3. Quickly following the Railway Budget was the Union (or General Budget). This has really brought reason to cheer for the Seven Sisters. Finance Minister, Arun Jaitely, has allocated Rs 53,706 crores to North east in this fiscal. Acknowledging the isolation of these States, the Finance Minister augmented the Railway budget for this area by Rs. 1,000 crore. Launching a sports university in Manipur, a new 24 x 7 channel for the region and other measures have also been mooted for the region in the Super Budget.
You don’t have to be from North East to appreciate these initiatives by Modi Sarkar. While budgetary decisions like Rs. 200 crore for Sardar Patel’s statute and Rs. 50 crores for building a memorial are unfortunate and of little consequence or benefit to the country, this budget surely deserves cheering for its attention to merge all States into the nation. It surely is high time that no person from the North Eastern States is ever refereed to as “Chinky” again.

Oinam Bembem Devi - The Star of Indian Women Football

Imphal, Jul 11 : The northeast has over the years produced many talents. One of them is a remarkable 36-year-old from Manipur Oinam Bembem Devi, a football player known for her excellent ball dribbling skills and footwork.

At the tender age of 10 when Oinam Bembem Devi first started playing football, she couldn't have imagined herself playing internationals in a few years' time.

When she turned 15 in 1995, Bembem Devi made her international debut for India. It was the start of the greatest career in Indian women's football.

She represented the Indian women's team thrice in 2003, 2010 and 2012 as the captain and aspires to be a coach after retirement.

"I was not much aware about the sport, but since childhood I was very much interested in playing football. I started playing with my locality children and later I started playing at school. In 1991, I represented my state and that encouraged me a lot to play football. It was then I decided to play football and make it as career. I am dedicated to bring laurels for the state," she said.

Bembem Devi is the first woman from Manipur to have bagged the title of 'Best Footballer' twice. She was awarded by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the year 2001 and 2013.

In 1996, she showed brilliant performance for the Indian women's National team in the Asian Games held at Bangkok.

Known as a prolific goal scorer, she has scored more than 50 international goals so far. Bembem dreams to see the Indian women team play in the World cup.

" In Manipur, our Association has been conducting a number of programs for the development of football like U-12, U-14, and U-16 and grass root level. We also conduct junior tournament so we see how our senior plays and our junior see our play and we guide them and they follow us," she said.

The Manipur women's football team has won the national football tournament 17 out of 20 times, and Bembem is its star player.

Moreh: Pushers, Traders, Soldiers, Spice

By Sudeep Chakravarti

With weapons and narcotics all across—it’s easy to be spoilt in Moreh

Strips of pseudoephedrine dumped in a graveyard in Moreh. Photo: Sudeep Chakravarti/Mint

It’s easy to be spoilt in Moreh. “Beretta? Glock? Llama? Smith and Wesson?” offers one arms procurer. He leans back on a worn sofa in his modest house jammed in a typically crowded ward of this border town in Manipur.

Moreh is marked as India’s key transit point to Myanmar on the ribbon of a planned Asian Highway route—Route 1—linking Southeast Asia with West Asia through India. A Land Customs Station is in the process of being upgraded; it is to be integrated with immigration facilities. A truck park is planned. Perhaps a “mineral park” for Myanmar limestone, copper ore and such.

A regular bus service is to link Manipur’s capital Imphal to fabled Mandalay via Moreh. Products and people from both countries and points beyond will move seamlessly, officially. That’s the hazy future. For now, the underbelly is the belly. Weapons that come in to India. Narcotics of various shades and grades that travel both ways. Imported timber. Red sandalwood from Karnataka priced at Rs.2,500-3,000 a kilo, prized in Myanmar, Thailand, even China.

There are more innocent products: Indian-made pharmaceuticals, fabric for the ubiquitous Myanmarese longyi, juice, chocolate, infant food, tyres for Bajaj autorickshaws—one takes me on a 15-minute ride to Tamu, the nearest town in Myanmar that falls within the radius that Indians are permitted to travel without a visa, from morning till 5pm. In reverse flow arrive LED lamps, blankets, toys, consumer goods, Godzilla brand mosquito repellant, even yongchak beans practically worshipped in Manipur. Official trade data for Moreh with the ministry of development of north eastern region places two-way trade at a little over Rs.4 crore for 2010-11.

Mostly betel nut was imported, cumin seed exported. Mostly agricultural products and medicine are permitted to be traded without application of duty. Unofficial trade figures? Officially incalculable. The duty paid is to government officials, security overseers, and rebel groups. To weapons. The handguns carried by my arms procurer host fire 9mm shells. Llama and Smith and Wesson retail at his arms deli for Rs.1.5 lakh and Rs.1.8 lakh apiece, Beretta and Glock at Rs.2 lakh per piece. Cash only. (Rupees work across the border in northwestern Myanmar.)

The man is one of several weapons procurers in town who feed some Kuki rebels groups, occasionally Naga rebel factions, and an assortment of other Northeastern rebels. (Some rebel groups bypass those like him to directly deal with the source.) He lets me record our conversation and take notes, but requests anonymity. In a place with a population of about 40,000 and tight communities of Kuki tribals, the non-tribal Meitei, the Islamic Meitei Pangal, and Tamil, Sikh and Nepali folk displaced by Myanmar’s decades-old ethnic cleansing, the smallest clue can be a giveaway.

The man claims he would then be open to harassment by—read: additional payoffs to—Manipur’s police, central paramilitaries, and various factions of rebels in Manipur who are at once purchaser and protector. Worse, he might end up dead. I ask him: what about assault rifles? He offers several Kalashnikov copies and variants. AK 47s brought in courtesy of Thai suppliers and from Myanmar’s autonomous Shan state; AK 56 and Type 81s “from China”.

There are ageing American M-15s and M-16s sourced from Thailand. Weapons come used or in “packing”—a term for brand new weapons. Accessories are naturally available: ammunition, sniper scopes, laser guidance, silencers. What else? “Landmines, grenades, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade launchers)…” Earlier, I visited a nearby village to see dumps containing thousands—even tens of thousands—of emptied pseudoephedrine strips. The medicine is extracted and then transported to Myanmar for use in manufacturing methamphetamines: “speed”.

Then I visited a woman who sells a grade of heroin called No. 4. A “shot” costs Rs.100. Among an estimated 150 such sellers in Moreh, she claims to sell 15 grams of heroin in a couple of days to residents and visitors. Her sponsor pockets Rs.18,000 a day. She profits by Rs.2,000 daily. But like her sponsor, she also needs to pay the local police, bureaucracy and rebels. As I talked to her, in an adjacent room, users injected heroin.

It is now evening. Locals promise smoked fish, Myanmar brand beer or the smoother Dali from China—available openly in Moreh, part of a state where prohibition is law. There’s even Blenders Pride whisky the vendor says is sourced from the “army”, to pass on at Rs.750 a bottle. Free trade? You bet.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s forthcoming book is Clear-Hold-Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His previous books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land.

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