Friday, October 12, 2012

PA Sangma and new political party

Three months is a long time in the history of politics in Meghalaya. In a matter of ninety days a person can go from being an MLA to a presidential candidate and finally an ordinary citizen of the country like any of us. In three lunar cycles a founder member of a party can become a person independent and without any party affiliation to the founder of another party. In Meghalaya politics a lot can happen in a short span of time as history is made and unmade but the test of time is whether the event created in that history is going to last and create more histories or otherwise. If the change in the history is going to have a positive impact on the society then perhaps the history in the making will last; if not then the incident will become history the moment it happened.
August 24 is an important date in the history of Meghalaya, because it was the day when a major political party in the state folded its flag and merged en bloc with the new National People’s Party. The incident also saw the former NCP president W Kharlukhi taking over as the President of the Meghalaya unit of the NPP with the 12 former NCP legislators joining the new party with him. It was indeed a historical moment for the state and its people because a new party is born.
Purno A Sangma NPP national president said on the occasion that his new party will build a new India. According to Sangma’, there are altogether 46 seats reserved for tribals in the Parliament and eleven more seats from which tribal candidates always win despite those being general seats. According to Purno’s calculation, if fifty seven tribals come together then the community can have a say in national politics. He also reiterated that the party is going to be a ‘tribal centric’ party but open to all communities. Nobody can dispute the seasoned politician and an optimistic Sangma’s calculation, but the question is – Is Sangma the messiah that the tribal communities in the country have waited for so long? Will his new NPP be able to unite all the 57 tribal MPs in the country? What Sangma does not realize is that if his calculation works the margin of his defeat in the recent presidential elections would not have been so huge. At the moment, 57 is but a number that he hopes his new party will garner but the fact of the matter is that the 57 seats have already been taken by other parties. It is not going to be easy for a new party like NPP to capture those 57 seats. Tribals in the country already belong to different political parties. Take for instance the two seats in Meghalaya, NPP can definitely win one seat; the other seat has always gone with the Congress. To begin with, NPP already started with a small target and as the saying goes, one can only reach as much as one aims to achieve and not beyond. Yes, 57 is a big number in the coalition politics and the 2014 general election is obviously going to give the country a fragmented mandate and the number 57, (small as it may be) can certainly make and unmake kings and queens. But the question that begs an answer is whether the NPP even get half of the 57 it is targeting for the 2014 general elections? 57 is s jinxed number in the Khasi Pnar society. We have a song titled ‘la shet u 57’ (cheated by 57 sung by a bard to mourn his loss of money by buying the archery ticket with No 57). Hope it is not going to be the same with NPP.
Sangma has also boasted that his political career is being guided by strong principles that he holds dear to himself. These principles, he says, has seen him through many ups and downs and through the thick and thin of his political career. But what people fail to understand is what principles Purno is talking about when he allows both the MPs even his own daughter to remain with the NCP? Isn’t true that there is something wrong here? Isn’t it true that Agatha even allowed PA Sangma to use her official residence to run his show in his presidential campaign? I mean are they not complicit in this? One would expect that a principled politician like Sangma would also do well to inculcate and instill good principles in his children. But what the elder Sangma did not say is that he is also a shrewd politician and why he did not advice the two MPs to join the new party. Well, because they will then cease to be MPs under the anti defection law and there are two more years to go until the current parliament term ends. Sangma is wise enough not to risk young Agatha’s fate by asking her to join his new party. It is all about power isn’t it Mr. Sangma?
The merger of NCP state unit with NPP was made at the wrong time. It seems like it all happened too fast even for a seasoned politician like Sangma to have time to think of the consequences that the merger can have. The ill-timed and ill-planed incident has cast a pall of gloom for candidates planning to contest from NCP tickets in the forthcoming elections.. Till then they were canvassing on an NCP ticket and the clock was still their symbol; then all of a sudden they are not NCP candidates anymore. The incident has particularly upset the candidature of prospective candidates in the different constituencies, I know quite a few candidates in Jaintia hills who had earlier planned to contest on an NCP ticket but after the merger they are now in a dilemma. They cannot decide whether to stick with the NCP which is now a leaderless party or join the band wagon and contest on an NPP ticket.
The sour grapes resentment in the NCP camp has made the current leadership go all out to get their old comrades the 12 MLAs disqualified from being members of the legislative assembly under anti defection law, but everybody knows that this is not going to happen. The question is how can a thief catch a thief? The Congress led MUA will not even think of disqualifying the 12 MLAs because if they do so, they will also have to disqualify one of their own. AL Hek was elected from Pynthor Umkhrah on a BJP ticket but had defected to join the Congress without resigning his membership in the house. As for now the 12 new NPP MLAs are safe but what is going to happen to the NCP? Without the Sangmas the NCP will gradually disappear from the political scene of the state and not supporting Purno’s presidential aspiration is one move that the Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar will regret. The Sangmas still have the charisma to take their followers wherever they move; their people also faithfully follow them.
This is the second time in the recent past that PA Sangma has started a new party and it remains to be seen if Sangma’s new venture is going to be another clever political move. This time it is very crucial because unlike the political risks he took earlier, this time he is also taking his politically groomed children with him. Everybody hopes that the move Sangma has made is not for his sake but for the political prospects of his children not that I believe in dynastic politics but the junior Sangmas have a lot to contribute to the state.

Unitarian Church’s 125th Anniversary

After I presented my paper in a seminar on intellectual history at NEHU, during the question-answer session a wise professor of the history department asked me, “Where do Unitarian’s trace their origin? Or what is the origin of the Unitarian Church? As a matter of fact it was not a question I had expected but no doubt an interesting one.
One of my favourite books is also a New York Times best seller titled ‘The history of God,’ by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong a renowned scholar of the history of religions said in her book that her study of religions has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. There is a uniqueness about humans in that they experience the sense of wonder and awe and they demonstrate this in their work of art and religions. In fact Karen observed that humans started using religion and art round about the same time that they developed their faculty to appreciate the beauty and wonder around them. Since then, humans started to use both art and religion as tools to attempt to find meaning and value in life. When humans started to experience this awe they started to worship one God much before they worshipped numerous gods and goddesses.
Armstrong also mentioned that Father Wilhelm Schmidt had suggested in his book ‘The origin of the idea of God,’ that there had been a primitive monotheism before men and women started to worship a number of gods. This God is a supreme deity, creator of heaven and earth and he governs all human affairs. He is also known as high God or Sky God who watches over humans and punishes wrong doers. As time passed this Sky God gave way to the worshipping of many gods and this is seen even among the Pnars of Jaintia Hills. The celebration of Behdienkhlam is one such example. The festival is celebrated for 4 days and three nights when the Creator is believed to descend to the earth to be with human beings.
Gradually people started to personify the unseen force like the wind, the sun, the sea, the stars, thunder etc and gave them human characteristics and worshipped them. In Jaintia hills u Pyrthat (the thunder god) is worshipped along with the gods and goddesses believed to dwell in nature. People started to pay obeisance to the spirit they believe dwells in nature and natural phenomenon like rivers, falls, hills and mountains etc. In the Paleolithic period when agriculture developed people started to realize the importance of fertility of the land they depended on for their livelihood so they began to worship the god of fertility or the mother goddess. Interestingly this goddess is represented by the image of a naked, pregnant woman in Europe, Middle East and India.
Later on, in the Judeo-Christian context the call to worship one God began with the Patriarch Abraham worshipping one God he calls El Shaddai. He was followed by Moses who liberated his people from Egypt with the help of the one God he called Yahweh and Moses insisted that God can only be called by one name and that is Yahweh.
Later, Jesus Christ came with his teaching to love God and to love one’s neighbours. These are the two most important commandments he said. He also preached of a loving God who he called Father in heaven, hence the Unitarian considers Jesus as the greatest of the teachers who taught people to worship one God.
History has it that three hundred and twenty years after Jesus died, the early Christians were divided in their beliefs as they were separated in the places where they were located from Egypt to Syria and Asia Minor. They had no common doctrine. Evidences are available that different churches even used different gospels, till the book was canonized. A section of the church under the leadership of a young presbyter of Alexandria by the name of Arius led a movement of a group of the early Christians who believed that Jesus is not of the same substance with God. Arius’ question which bishop Alexander realized he cannot ignore is ‘how can Jesus be God in the same way as God the Father?’ Arius did not deny the divinity of Christ but insisted that the Father was greater than He. Armstrong mentioned in her book that the idea was put to music and the issue was discussed like the people would discuss football today. It was also informed that the controversy reached such a height that emperor Constantine himself had to intervene and summoned a synod in Nicaea only to realize that the churches do not have an official position on the issue raised by Arius and more importantly even Origen held a similar doctrine. The prominent member of the group who were of the view contrary to that of Arius was Athanasius. History also has it that on the May 22, 325 AD, when the bishops gathered at Nicaea majority of the bishops held a view midway between that of Athanasius and Arius. But the debate was finally closed with Athanasius able to get the support of the emperor and only Arius and two of his companions refused to sign the creed. The creed which says: ‘We believe in one God… and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God… and we believe in the Holy Spirit.’ Though the creed signed and adopted in Nicaea but it is not the Nicene Creed per-se. The Nicene Creed was only adopted in the year 381 at the Council in Constantinople.
In Europe Unitarians also trace their origin to Michael Servetus (1510-53) who wrote the book Errors of the Trinity in the year 1531. Servetus was burned at the stakes in Geneva ironically by the reformers in Geneva in the year 1553. It was a preacher in Transylvania which is now part of Romania who first used the word ‘Unitaria’ to describe the people who rejected Trinity and believed in one God. In the year 1566 Francis David preached against the doctrine of Trinity and was able to convince the king of Transylvania, John Sigismund to adopt Unitarianism. John Sigismund was also the first king to adopt a kind of religious toleration when he proclaimed the law allowing freedom of religious beliefs in his country in the year 1568 which is known as ‘Diet of Torda’. To cut the long history short, Unitarian churches then began to emerge in many countries like England, USA etc.
In India the first Unitarian Church was started by a low caste Tamil Hindu Moodelliar Vellagha who on becoming Unitarian changed his name to William Robert. He came in contact with the British Unitarian in the year 1816 but it was in December 19, 1813 that he started the Unitarian Christian Church in Madras. In Khasi Jaintia Hills and Mikir hills (now Karbi Anglong District of Assam) a Khasi person by the name of Hajom Kissor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri and three of his followers, ka Hirbon Lakadong, u Kat Shylla and u Mar Sutnga founded the Unitarian faith in Jowai on September 18, 1887. The story of H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri’s tryst with Unitarianism is also similar to the experiences that his predecessors like Arius and William Roberts experienced. H.K.Singh was not comfortable with his beliefs and this made him question the Trinity. His personal understanding is that there is only one God, whom Jesus called father in heaven and who the Khasi Pnar called U Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw. He later came into contact with Unitarianism and decided that he had found his spiritual home and committed himself to the propagation of Unitarianism in the region.
H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri believed that monotheism was a marriage of the Father in Heaven whom Jesus worshipped and later taught his disciples to pray to (in the Lord’s prayer) and the Creator God of the Khasi Pnar. He even went a step further and called God our father and mother. The history of Unitarian church is therefore the story of humans experiencing the one God which differs from one culture to another and the one God which humans have worshipped since the dawn of human existence.

Crash course in animal behaviour

I always envy people who live in the village; their lives seem simple, easy and at peace with everything around them and not difficult and complex as life in the towns and the cities. In fact it was out of this love for country life that I decided as a young boy on the course of my future life and chose the profession I love so much. I opted to be a minister in a church, because it involved visiting the churches in the different villages. I enjoy the pleasant breeze in the green open fields. I also love to watch the clear pristine waters that flow from the rivulets to the roaring river down below. For me the drive down the calm and traffic-less narrow road in the countryside is a spiritual exercise in itself. It is an opportunity to enjoy nature in all its grandeur, a hassle free drive where I can park anywhere I like and be overwhelmed by the splendoor of the green environment around.
Of all my visits to many villages in these beautiful Khasi Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, this one visit was the most memorable. Ksehrynchang is another beautiful village on the important road which connects Jowai in Meghalaya with Khainduli and Hamren in the state of Assam. I used to shuttle to and from Jowai to Ksehrynchang every now and then to perform my pastoral duties. It so happened that on one particular visit to the village I had to stay overnight to complete my pastoral duty the next day. I arrived in the evening just before dark and the night was indeed a magnificent moonless and cloudless night. I spent some time out of doors in the cold dry night sitting on a bamboo stool to enjoy the darkness which was illuminated by the light from the stars in the sky. The soft light from the starry sky dimly lit the nature around me. Even though it was mid December, the needle-leaves on the pine trees still looked fresh and green, the pristine water of the Mynriang river sparkled while it flowed on its course to join the Myntang river. When I looked around the open outfields surrounded by hills they looked so beautiful, everything was black and white, and I took beautiful black and white snap shots of the wonderful night with my mind’s eye.
I thought village life is simple and that I know almost everything that I need to know about living in the countryside. I was woken up by the mooing of a mother cow calling its calf which had somehow deserted her mother during the day. It was the onset of the post harvest season in the area and by tradition, after harvest farmers are allowed to let their animals loose in a tradition called “Dat-rai” in Jaintia hills and “pynlait-lan” in the Khasi hills. During this time of the year animals are allowed to roam freely without anyone tending to them. It is the only time of the year when the cowherds and goat- herds are given a holiday. The animals (cattle and goats in particular) will be shepherded back in spring before the sowing season.
The next morning was cold and crispy. I hesitatingly unchained my sleeping bag and got out up of bed and walked out of my host’s home, raised my hands and stretched them high to greet the rising sun. While standing on the portico of the house, I looked for a place nearby with patches of wood in it. I noticed a small hill nearby with plenty of standing pine trees and walked towards the hill to answer to nature’s call. On reaching the hill I noticed a herd of cows grazing in the frosty morning. I walked on the path and a young bull threatened me, lowering his head as if to hit me down. I shouted at the bull, which from the way it was blowing air from its nose, seemed to be in rage. I shouted at it again and we somehow avoided confronting each other. I continued to walk and went to finish my chore. I walked the same path again to return to the house where I was put up for the night. Not suspecting anything from the noble herds of animals, I heard the cows mowing but it meant nothing to me. I kept walking my way through the stranded herd of cows. Then all of a sudden a young bull which had threatened me earlier attacked me from the back and hit me on my right abdomen. I fell on the ground with my head still high becoming an easy target for another attack by the raging bull.
The second attack hit me on my right face near my right eye; the attack was so powerful that with a big thud I saw darkness and lost consciousness. Even after I fell on the ground, the furious bull was not finished with me; it went on hitting me and made me conscious again. While hitting me, it also made an angry call, which was answered by the mother cow nearby. The cow too joined forces with the bull to merciless attack me and fix me on the pine tree nearby. It was only by Gods grace that Khlanhiwot and Beitlang who accompanied me on the trip were close by. They, being villagers, understood the unusual call of the cows, went to see what happened and when they saw me being hit time and again mercilessly by the two cows, Khlan tried to shoo the cow away; but the cow paid no heed. He then took a long stick and started hitting the attacking cow to save me from the animals. Finally the bull and cow finally left me alone with bruises and pain all over my body. Khlan and Beitlang helped me on my feet and walked me down to the house. They told me I was lucky that it was the young bull which attacked me, because its horns are still too small to do any serious damage. When I reached the house I told them innocently that I always assumed that the cows are harmless animals. Then I asked them why it attacked me. They said it was because I was too close to the mother cow which had a baby calf. I was advised not to walk near the mother cow anymore. Thank goodness, my ribs are intact and I only had bruises on my face, but it would have been different if it had been an adult bull with full grown horns that attacked me.
Of course I also learned another lesson, but I learned the lesson the hard way. I call the incident a crash course on cow behaviour not because it is short but because it came crashing on me all of a sudden. I also learned another lesson and that is never to assume that village life is simple. It is in fact very complex and includes among other things, to know and predict the behavior of animals and the life cycle of different plants.

Money – name of the game during election

There you have it, this is from the horse’s mouth and a statement from no less than the President of the Congress party who said that he was offered a bribe of 10 to 20 crore (or 1 million to two million) rupees by aspiring candidates who are desperate to contest on a Congress party ticket from a certain constituency in the ensuing election. It is therefore no longer just media report or columnists’ comments which allege that huge amounts of money change hands during elections. Although the MPCC President retracted his statement the next day, blaming the media for misquoting him or quoting him out of context, everybody knows that the President was caught on the wrong foot. When he realized his mistake he blamed others for it. He will have a lot of convincing to do, to get people agree that the blame lies entirely with the media.
The statement made by MPCC President (subsequently denied) has only exposed the rot that is not only in the Congress but in all the political parties and the entire electoral system that we have. But the question is why now? Why the two individuals from the Jaintia hills district were singled out? Surely many candidates too must have offered the party money to be allotted a party ticket even in the past. There must be a reason why the President chose to make the statement now. The important point of discussion is not what the President of the MPCC has allegedly stated but what he didn’t say. Is the Congress party fed up with the money bags from the Jaintia hills? Have the two business tycoons who are still very much with the Congress gradually lost their influence in the party? Both the individuals have been with the Congress through trials and tribulations and one of them was even caught with huge amounts of money during the last bye election to the Umroi constituency. The Umroi bye-election was a turning point not only for a Government employed technocrat to jump into politics and win the election to the Lok Sabha, but it was also a turning point for Ngaitlang Dhar a businessman with no education, to decide to take the plunge into state politics. Much water has flowed down the river since then and coal mining lobby, seems be gradually losing its grip on the string of power in the state, and the question is, have they been replaced by the cement lobby now?
The other important point must be seen on a positive light and the question is, can we say that the Congress is also fed up with candidates with less or no formal education? The two individuals named in the report are rich businessmen but with little or no education, one especially with no formal education whatsoever and the other has barely completed his lower primary school. The other question is whether the Congress is trying to nip in the bud the dynastic politics that the two are trying to start? Nehlang is vacating Rymbai for his nephew Justine Lyngdoh and Ngaitlang Dhar is the elder brother of the present MLA who is contesting from Nartiang constituency in the 2013 election. The development has only proved what was mentioned in this column a few months ago that Jaintia hills will have more than 7 MLAs after the next election; we already have 3 names from Ribhoi District Nehlang, Ngeitlang and now Barnabas Nangbah. They are all from (the undivided) Jaintia hills. Whoever plays this game has his cards very close to his chest and if he has his way, then Meghalaya will be under his thumb. But it is for the people to decide. Then again with money playing a major role in the election, one doubts if the next election is going bring any change for the state.
As long as elections are decided by the amount of money the candidate can spend, what change can really one expect? The election rules of the Election Commission have no meaning at all; they only operate after the announcement of the election. It is meaningless because the rules operate in a very limited period of less than a month whereas candidates have already started spending money one year or even earlier before the election. Candidates not only spend money to buy party tickets, they also make sure they have the best orator in the area to canvas for them and headmen (especially in the villages) are being taken care of much before the election. Hence the election rules which permit a candidate to spend only 5 lakhs in the election is a farce. A lot of money has already changed hands by the time the election code of conduct is made operational. Money has been spent in providing schemes for the villages, NGOs and even churches make hay while the sun shines to get as much benefit from the MLA as possible. This comes in the form of schemes for the church run schools, providing chairs, cooking utensils for the women groups, music and PA system for the church and even grants for construction of the church buildings (yes this happen in a secular state) and even roads connecting to the churches before the synod .
The blame for the increasing influence of money power during the election is because of the MLA and MP Local Area Development Schemes. Almost every MLA or MP keeps it till the eleventh hour to distribute their respective Local Area Development Schemes. This is a clever ploy to influence people and the ulterior motive is to use the MLA-LADS to buy votes for the MLA for his re-election. The scheme is used but for MLAs’ own selfish gain. The scheme (which is a tax payers’ money) is not being used as it was literarily meant to be which is for local area development. Because MLAs use the MLA-LADS with ulterior motives and at the last minute, the opposing candidates too have no other options but to compete with the MLAs in distributing freebies. The candidates too are seen involved in distributing utensils, plastics chairs etc. to the people, NGOs, Youths clubs and even churches and thereby starts the cycle of corruption even before they become politicians. One is surprised to see that even former student leaders who are now in the election fray for the first time providing heavy machines for tilling play grounds for the village. The question is where did the money come from?
The MLA-LADS/MP-LADS is squarely to be blamed for the deteriorating kind of election that we have in which money dictates and decides which candidate wins. Because of the MLA scheme people are not discussing what change the MLA has brought to the constituency or what new policy has he helped frame for the betterment of the state as a whole, but people are now talking about how much money the MLA gave for ‘our locality’, ‘our Youth Clubs’ and church related activities. Voters are no longer debating about the development that the MLA is able to bring to the constituency, but money is the sole criteria of deciding how good or how bad the candidates is.
Until and unless the Local Area Development Scheme is done away with, this will continue and we will still have elections where money power will play a major role in the elections. MLA scheme must be done away with because it is unfair to the opposing candidates. The sitting MLA already has an upper hand against the opposing candidates and it does not allow a level playing field for all the candidates.
In conclusion we must thank the president of the MPCC for opening the can of worms that is the election process in the state. One really finds it difficult to calculate and contemplate how much it really costs to be a candidate to contest an election? If one has to shell out 10 to 20 crore just for the party ticket; then your guess is as good as mine on how much it costs to contest an election. The state will therefore never have young, bright and educated candidates contesting the election because a lot of money is at stake and, serious candidates will not find the prospect of being MLA attractive since ultimately they will not be gauged by development and the policies they help bring about but solely by the money they spend.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Higher education – an expensive proposition

We have very recently celebrated the 65th Independence Day of our country; the day we attained freedom from foreign yolk. But the question is- are we really free? And if I may borrow Dr Mukul Sangma’s statement from his recent speech at a seminar to commemorate the 150th death anniversary of u Kiang Nangbah, “Does the democracy we practice really make us free?’ Are we, and in particular the poor really free in the current state of affairs in the state?
The state higher education in Meghalaya is still very poor. We are yet to have a state- owned technical institute and have only one medical school. Hence young people have no other option but to pursue engineering and medical education outside the state. I am not saying that we should discourage students from studying outside, but let us consider how this impacts on the economy of the state?
In a year the state can hardly afford to sponsor 40 medical seats from the government quota which means that many students whose parents can afford to pay huge capitation fees and exorbitant monthly or annual fees send their kids to study in private institutes. This is good for the state because if we depend only on the government sponsored quota we will never be able to attain an acceptable doctor people ratio in the state. In the years to come, we will have more doctors and hopefully the state will not have the problem of getting doctors willing to work in the rural areas. But this comes at a price. Private medical education is unaffordable for many. Only the rich can afford it. The minimum cost of a complete MBBS course is approximately half a crore which includes Rs 22 to 25 lakh capitation fee and Rs 4-5 laks per year annual fees for five years. A private dental study would cost the parents 2.5 to 3 lakh capitation fees and Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh annual fees. This is information I personally collected from some of the institutes and agencies in the business of providing admission for students from Meghalaya to the rest of the country.
Then there are those who study medicine in the foreign countries like China, Nepal, Philippines, Russia etc and I am sorry I don’t have information on these but the fact of the matter is people from Meghalaya spend crores of rupees to educate their kids outside the state. A simple understanding of the economics of it will tell us that if the state has its own medical institutes much of this money will remain within the state. Besides Meghalaya will also attract students outside to these institutes which in turn will help the economy of the state.
Obviously private medical education is beyond the reach of poor parents and with the kind of capitation and monthly fees the private institutes charge the education loan provided by the various banks will be of no use. The banks will finally find the kids of poor parents not credit worthy. So the poor students have nowhere to go. To add to the problem, the only medical institute in the state is not of any help either. In spite of the allegations in the media against the way the entrance test to the Institute was conducted, yet the North East Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) chose not to make any clarification. Letters to the editor questioning the result of the entrance tests were published time and again, yet the Institute for reasons best known to those in charge chose to dodge the question.
When no clarification is forthcoming from the Institute, the public in general are in a dilemma and are compelled to accept the saying “silent means consent” – that the charges of nepotism against the Institute are true. And the staffs of the medical school still have the gumption to demand that the government reserve two seats from the state quota for the children of the teaching fraternity of the institute. Where is equality? Does it mean that children of the staff in the Institute are preordained to be doctors? Isn’t there a common entrance test where the children of farmers, carpenters, daily labourers and perhaps even single mothers take to get admission to the Institute? If the children of the staff of the Institute with all the advantages and the kind of upbringing they have cannot compete with the children of the poorer parents then they don’t deserve to study medicine and I don’t see why the government should succumb to their demand. The doctors should be ashamed of themselves to even raise this issue with the government, because it implies that their kids can’t even compete with children of the poorer section of the society.
With regards to the entrance test, NEIGRIHMS should ensure transparency and conduct the test in a free, fair and just manner. If the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s common medical entrance test does not materialize by the next year, the Institute should at least use OMR to conduct the entrance test and make the OMR answer sheets of every candidate available online.
September is approaching and the Directorate of Health Services is yet to publish the list of candidates selected for studying medicine and allied services. One wonders why. What takes the Department so long to publish the list? These are signs that make people question our democratic system.
Meghalaya is yet to have its own engineering institute too, so students who wish to pursue engineering studies have to go outside the state and private studies of any engineering trade is a very expensive. So where is the opportunity for the young, poor students? The central government has sanctioned a Regional Engineering College and was proposed to set that up at Sohra, but the state government is taking its sweet time to even start the project.
I support the MHRD’s plan to conduct a common entrance test for admission to all the medical colleges and engineering institutes in the country. This will provide a level playing field for students irrespective of the differences that they may have. Although candidates from rural areas will still have the disadvantage of not having had the best education opportunity, but a common entrance test for both medical and engineering studies in the country is the only viable alternative in the present scenario.
In Meghalaya, the process by which some departments selected students for pursuing technical studies from government quota also leaves ample room for suspicion that there is foul play by the heads of the departments. The case in point is the department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary. The director did not take proper attendance of the selected students. Those on the waiting list who reported as instructed in the notification were not asked to sign any attendance sheet and the director is the only one who keeps the attendance by a mere tick on the notification. There is no transparency in the process hence there is ample space for manipulation by the man in charge. Every department selects students for undergoing studies based on their performance in the class 12 science board examinations, but the directorate of AH & Veterinary is also the only department which conducts its own entrance test for students who wish to study veterinary in Mizoram. The question is whether the Department has the wherewithal that the various boards have, to conduct the test? Or is it because the Directorate does not trust the results of the various boards of examinations? The Directorate of Health and the Directorate of Higher and Technical Education selected students for studying medicine and allied services and engineering based on their performance in the Board examination so why does the Directorate of AH & Vety have to conduct a special test for this? I think the government should see that the Directorate does away with the entrance test because the Department will not do justice to the candidates. This will also minimize chances of manipulation and prevent favouritism and nepotism by those in power.
It is the bounden duty of the Government to see that citizens of the state irrespective of their caste, creed, economic status or religion are given equal opportunity to pursue higher studies. The Government which is the custodian of the Constitution should see to it that the poor are treated in a just and fair manner and equal opportunity for higher education is made available to them.

Northeast lessons from the exodus

While the homeward bound exodus of north-easterners was at its peak and workers from the region and the students particular headed home out of fear of the backlash against what was going on in Assam, we decided to do the opposite (although not quite a reverse exodus) and travel to Gujarat for my daughter’s admission in one of the cities in that state. The decision to travel was a cause of worry for our relatives in spite of the fact that Gujarat is in the west and there was no report of any threat or intimidation against the north easterners in that state. But that did not stop our near and dear ones from trying to speak sense to us and help us realize that for our own good we should postpone the trip. Although the problem originated only in the southern part of the country we were advised to postpone our trip till the problem subsided. But we stuck to our plans and travelled to Ahmedabad but before that I did my own little research by meeting ex-students from Gujarat and people who had lived and worked there. Everyone encouraged me to go ahead with my plan and assured me that Gujaratis are good people. I called people who live in Gujarat and asked if there is any threat to visitors from the east and the answer was in the negative so we continued with the journey.
The dust has finally settled and all fingers are now pointed at the internet; social media network sites were blamed for the exodus of the people of north eastern origin from this area. It is true the internet has given us freedom beyond our imagination, but it is only natural that there will be people who will abuse their freedom and use it to serve their own vested interests. But whatever may have happened censorship is not the answer to the problem. In fact no matter how much efforts the government puts in trying to censor the net, anti social elements will always find a way to skirt around and accomplish their evil designs.
The freedom that the internet allows sometime causes embarrassment too when one posts wrong information. During the recent 2012 Olympics, Amitabh Bacchan tweeted to appreciate Mary Kom’s achievement. The problem is that Bachhan did not know that Mary Kom is from Manipur so he said she is from Assam. The tweet was shared on facebook and facebookers were astounded by senior Bachhan’s ignorance of the geography of the country.
If censorship is not the answer what is to be done to make sure that false propaganda and disinformation does not finds it ways to the internet? If we are to learn any lessons from the recent imbroglio it is this that NOT all information shared or posted on the internet are true. There are unscrupulous elements on the prowl in the internet too and we must be careful with that kind of information. At the individual level, the mantra for all the internet users is to be very careful and exercise absolute self restraint before commenting, sharing or even liking the posts. Users should not get carried over by emotion, for the very reason that devious elements are targeting users’ emotion to drive home their point. Internet users should be very cautious in dealing with the content of a webpage, a blog, a tweet and even a facebook post. The recent exodus of north-easterners was obviously caused by people with evil intention who used pictures with mischievous content to play with people’s emotion. Internet users should be sensible and ignore page or pages with malicious contents, and to think twice before acting on such internet content.
Some say that people are like flies; they thrive on filth. It is the wrong post or bad pages which always have the strongest effects on people. Spiteful posts, offensive videos, posts or blogs always go viral the moment they are put on the internet. But kind and good content does not always get the same kind of attention. The recent exodus is again the best example. The pictures of people carrying their luggage on the railway platform went viral while a photo of a young Muslim in his Islamic attire (probably on the same platform) holding a placard which says “Please do not leave” has only a few shares. In short, the problem escalated because people were not able to separate facts from rumours. When we have a platform like internet which allows us unlimited freedom to share our thoughts, photographs and even opinions, it is our responsibility to exercise absolute restraint. Internet gives us the freedom of thoughts and expressions that the generation before us did not have, but we must use it with utmost responsibility.
The government too instead of censoring the net should in fact try to make its presence in the cyber space more robust by strengthening its cyber intelligence. If the cyber intelligence is active, the government would have been able to prevent the exodus by checking the websites or facebook which carried these hateful messages. The answer is to increase and strengthen intelligence presence in the net and not censor. This will enable the government to check and monitor odious content in the net and prevent any untoward incidents.
But beyond the cloud there is always a silver lining. The incident of the mass exodus of young north-easterners was reported in almost every newspaper worth its salt. The story was carried by every print and electronic media in the country and even abroad. The outcome of the mass movement of people has indirectly found mention even in the White House briefing when India was asked to be cautious on how it deals with the issue of censoring the net. All of sudden the region found mention in the media and there is a rush to learn more and understand about the region. On August 21, the Ahmedabad Mirror came up with a brilliant idea of publishing a quiz on the north east, which challenged its readers on how much they know about the region. There were write -ups in several newspaper about the region and the people who live in it and in many cases by the people from the northeast.
A story of the London Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom’s consideration to settle in Bangalore which says “Think Northeast: Promoting Sports could bridge the gap between the region and the rest of India” was part of the August 24 editorial of the Times of India Ahmedabad edition. Who would ever think that Mary Kom’s mere consideration to settle in Bangalore would find space in the TOI’s Ahmedabad edition?
An optimistic view of things would help us learn than complain and curse against what had happened. Every ying has its yang too; the good and the bad of it. First it brought to light the in-fighting within the Congress party when the views of the President differed from that of the Government; the party and the government spoke in two different voices on a single issue. But the most important thing is for the people of the region to learn from what had happened. We need to be more cautious in dealing with the content in the internet and to be able to separate the shaft from the rice. We need to be more mature in our treatment of internet content and act responsibly in whatever we do and to refrain from hiding ourselves behind a fake identity; we should in fact avoid having to do anything on the internet with a person who uses a pseudonym or fake identity. Freedom is personal so it should also start and end with each and every individual’s exercise of his/her freedom with responsibility.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Protecting Myntdu before it’s too late

Jowai town and Myntdu are two separate entities interconnected to one another and the stories of the town and its people are intertwined with the story of the river Myntdu. What Myntdu is to Jowai, the Thames is to London; the two are inseparable one from the other. Myntdu’s relationship with Jowai is unique because it flows in an almost circular motion around Jowai town. Though a large part of the river is polluted and the river has become a dead river, only a small portion in the upstream of river Myntdu from its place of origin in Mihmyntdu till the periphery of the town, is still free from pollution caused by acid mine drainage (AMD)- a discharge from both abandoned and active coal mines. But the question is how long will it be before Myntdu becomes the next wah Umkhrah? Though there are no mining activities in the town and the Jaintia Fishing and Environment Society was able to convince miners in the Chyrmang, ?ongnoh and even Mustem village not to release mine seepage to the river Myntdu, the threat to the river is from the activities of the people who live in the town.
It is sheer coincidence that in my two recent trips to Shillong, I happened to share a taxi with the same person and what is unique about this gentleman is the moment the taxi crosses Myntdu, he would move his hand in a gesture of prayer as the car crosses the bridge. A large chunk of Jowai’s population still worships Myntdu as a deity which protects the town and its people from enemies and evil spirit. In fact, the river is as it is because of the sacred relation the town dwellers have with the river, but this too is gradually diminishing as people began to neglect the shared stories they have with the river and the gap in the relationship is only getting wider. For people who don’t know or care about these stories, Myntdu is but a mere river where they dispose their household seepage and dump their garbage in.
Myntu is not only a deity ka tawiar ka takan or the guardian angel of the town; it is the life line of the people which feeds the two vast stretches of paddy fields ka pynthor wah and ka pynthor nein and till now Myntdu is the only source of drinking water for the town’s folk. Like any town and city, Jowai too is growing by leaps and bounds; new townships have developed in the outskirts of the town and this development is going to have a drastic impact on the Myntdu which flows around these satellite townships. Sadly, the entire town does not have a proper drainage system hence all the liquid waste are discharged into the Myntdu. The town does not have a proper solid waste management either; hence the same is also dumped into the river.
Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council is a failed institution. The council is yet to implement the rule forbidding people from constructing houses right on the banks of the river. Because of that people have started constructing houses on the river in the Chah-tngid and Myntdu bridge area. And the worst part is that the council has distributed the council land in the Riatsasim area to the kith and kin of the MDCs. This particular land had once been designated as an orchid sanctuary by the former CEM, JHADC, JD Pohrmen. This land also serves as a catchment area of the river Myntdu, but now the forest has been cleared and very soon new houses will come up right on the banks of the river and we have only the JHADC to blame. If this trend continues, it will not be too long before Myntdu becomes like Wah Umkhrah.
The man at the helm of affairs in the Clean Wah Umkhrah campaign told me recently that the MLA of Jowai categorically stated that Myntdu will never go the Umkhrah way and that he had done his bit to ensure that Myntdu does not suffer the same fate that has befallen Wah Umkhrah. But the only thing that Dr RC Laloo has done so far to protect the river is to get the department of Soil and Water conservation construct a check dam at Syntu Ksiar. The two other check dams upstream were constructed at the initiative of the Jaintia Fishing and Environment Society which was sponsored by the JHADC when Moonlight Pariat was the CEM and another was sponsored by Rotary club of Jowai. I had the opportunity to be part of the discussion when the idea of constructing the first check dam to protect Myntdu was conceived. Of all the places, the idea was conceived when this writer was travelling in SK Lato’s car with W Pynkyntein Secretary of the JFES then known as Jaintia Fishing Association. When the idea of constructing the check dam as one of the means to protect Wah Myntdu was thought of, Lato a Rotarian suggested that JFA come up with a planned estimate so that he could raise funds for the project since he was due to attend the international Rotary meet shortly. That was how the first check dam over the river Myntdu came up.
These check dams or even more of these check dams will be of a little help to protect Myntdu, unless the government and the people work together to protect the river. The government needs to do more to save the river from becoming an eyesore for the people and a dead river in the future. The task to protect Myntdu is also an opportunity for Dr RC Laloo to prove to the people of Jowai that it is worth electing a PhD as their MLA. Dr Laloo has been an MLA for 20 years and now he is a frequent flyer to London. He must have therefore seen how the Thames and London co-exist. One therefore hopes that Laloo comes up with a blue-print to save the Wah Myntdu. Otherwise what is the point of having a PhD MLA if he cannot even foresee the future of the town in twenty years time? Laloo has no doubt initiated the constructing of new internal roads in Jowai which help ease traffic congestion in Iawmusiang, but I don’t think the people of Jowai constituency elected a very educated MLA simply to initiate construction of new roads and distributing MLA schemes. If the job of an MLA is merely to distribute MLA schemes then what is the point of electing a highly qualified person as an MLA, a graduate or a mere matriculate can do the same work.
And for the entire Khasi Pnar society, the challenge before us is to change our attitude towards the rivers and Mother Nature. To do that we need to rediscover our stories, the tales that link us with the rivers and the nature around us like those of Myntdu and Jowai. It reminds me of a journey to Kolkata and while the train crosses the Brahmaputra Bridge, my wife’s aunt dropped a piece of coin on the river, it didn’t strike me then that the small act has to do with the story that connects us with the nature. My wife belongs to the Passah Clan and the Passah believe that their ancestress (ka ?awbei/Seiñ jeit) was ka Beipun Bor Kupli and their ancestor grandfather was u Papun Yale, the coin was dropped to pay obeisance to the Brahmaputra to which the river Kupli flows. I later learnt that a member of the Passah clan has to perform ka siang or offering before crossing the river Kupli, the offering consists of one unpeeled betel nut and three or five betel leaves (pan leaf) without lime. This is one story that I would tell my kids to help them discover the profound links we have with the nature and hopefully it will help them respect the rivers and Kupli in particular. I want them to know the story of the Passah clan and I hope they will be proud to know that they are the descendants of ka Beipun Bor Kupli- they are the children of the mighty river. There are many such stories that demonstrate the profound relationship the people have with nature and all we have to do is to rediscover these stories.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Heritage sites in Jaintia Hills

Jaintia Hills is one of the three original districts of the State of Meghalaya when it was carved out of the erstwhile composite State of Assam in the year 1972. The District has some incredible heritage sites and some unique flora and fauna distinct only to this part of the country. Apart from the flora and fauna, Jaintia Hills also has many historical monuments and of course a rich culture, from traditions to food and from dress to pottery.
The people of Lynrai village are the keepers of a unique Pottery tradition as it is commonly known “Khiew Ranei” in Khasi and “Kchu Lyrnai” in Pnar. The pots for baking Putharo ( a steamed rice bread) are made in Lyrnai only and nowhere else. Lyrnai is a small hamlet of about 6 km from Ummulong village which is on the NH 44. It is the only place where people are still involved in making pottery. Lyrnai pots are not only used for baking Putharo but there are also pots of different shapes and sizes used for other purposes too. Some of the pots made in Lyrnai have religious significance; these pots are still being used by the Doloi of Nartiang to perform some rituals. Another type of pot made at Lyrnai is also used by the people in the traditional religion for the purpose of keeping a piece of the severed umbilical cord that connects the newborn baby with its mother.
Nartiang is famous for its Dolmen and Menhirs and also for its monolith park which is the only place where one could see the largest collection of monoliths in the entire state of Meghalaya. The tallest monolith in the whole of the Khasi Jaintia hills can be found in the monolith park of Nartiang. Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom also has monuments made by the people of that era which includes mookhrah, etc. There are two temples in Nartiang one is a Durga temple and the other in a Shiva temple. In the Shiva temple there are old canons used by the Jaintia kings in the past. There are also two lakes in Nartiang dug by Sajar Nangli, Umtisong and Myngkoi tok and another of Sajar Nangli’s well preserved and protected lake is the Thadlaskein lake.
Few kilometers from Jowai on the Jowai-Dawki road or rather Jowai- Muktapur road, is the famous stone bridge and a collection of dolmen and menhirs at Thlumuwi. The bridge connects the erstwhile Jaintia King’s winter and summer capital and the monoliths served as a “Kor shongthait” (resting place) for the people to rest and relax before they continue on their arduous journey.
Before reaching Jarain there is a lake which is now called the Pitcher plant Lake. That is because Amlarem, the seat of the Amlarem development block is famous for another unique natural heritage of the district- the Pitcher plant. The Pitcher plant Park is on the left of the Jowai Amlarem road and it is situated in a place called Myrkein. It may be mentioned that apart from Balpakram National park; this unique insect eating plant can be found in different parts of Jaintia Hills like in Chyrmang-Yongnoh near Jowai, Myndihati, Wahiajer in Khliehriat Sub-Division, but Jarain-Amlarem area is the only place where is it found in abundance and the park is easily accessible. In Amlarem there is also the famous water-fall the Krang Shuri falls and adjacent to it there is the Umiaknieh stone bridge. The Umianieh stone bridge also has some sculpture or carving on stone in some part of the bridge.
Syndai is a small village on the Southern slope of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh but this tiny hamlet has in its possession a massive collection of heritage both natural and manmade. In the natural heritage category we have the famous Syndai cave, which is not only one of the most beautiful caves but it is also a tourist friendly cave. Apart from the natural cave in the village, there is also the famous Royal Path that connects the two capitals of the ancient Jaintia Kingdom. In front of the Syndai cave there’s a ruined temple partly destroyed by time and weather and also by the banyan tree which grew over the temple. Near the temple there is a small stone path that leads down to the wah (river) Umpubon and few minutes’ walk from the temple, is a stone sculpture. It is carved on one lose rock. The sculpture is that of Ganapati or Ganesh, the elephant god of the Hindu pantheon. The path from the Pubon leads down to the Wah Umpubon. Here also one can see a few sculptures, and the most prominent is that of the elephant under the river water.
A few minutes walks to the left of Wah Umpubon (after crossing the Jowai-Amlare-Muktapur road) one can see the magnificent bathing ghat. Rupasor is a bathing tub carved on one very huge rock. It is a 10-meter square shaped tub and its depth is 4 meters. The rocky bathing tub was well carved with steps that lead to the pool. To the left of the pool an elephant head was sculpted on the same rock, but sad to say the trunk of the elephant is broken. On the entry point to the pool, there is another sculpture of the sun and the moon on the rock. From the pool a walk on the steps down the path that leads to the plains of Bangladesh. There is a stone bridge of a better architectural work and there is another stone bridge near the Wah Umpubon.
Nongtalang also has a cave but perhaps not fit for amateur cavers. The village also has quite a few monoliths in and around the village. Most of these monolith have religious significance. Nongtalang is the only place where the tradition of erecting monoliths is still practiced. War Jaintia is also famous for its living root-bridges. A living root bridge is formed when two Ficus elastica or Ficus Indicus trees (dieng jri in local parlance) are planted on each side of the river, and once the tree starts growing humans manipulate the roots of the trees to connect to each other to span across the river. In Nongtalang village there is one bridge over the river Amrngiang on the way from Nongtalang to Amlympiang, another is on the river Amladiar on the Amtyrngui River and there are two more root bridges one over Amdap Sohpiang and another over the Amdoh stream.
In Padu village there are three living-root bridges very close to village which is again less than 10 kilometers away from Amalrem. All the three living-root bridges in the village are on the Amdep creek. There are two living-root bridges in Kudeng rim a village near Sohkha village. One of the two bridges in Kudeng Rim village is on the river Amlamar and another is on the river Amkshar. There is one living-root bridge in Darang village on the river Amsohmi and another two in the Khonglah village one over the Amsohkhi rivulet and another over the Amlunong stream.
This is perhaps the first of the two write-ups I plan on the natural and man-made sights which have a heritage value in Jaintia hills. In the subsequent article I will also write on the sacred forests in Jaintia hills.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Media spotlight on Northeast

In the last few weeks the North Eastern region of the country has received the media attention that the people of the region had wished for so long but for the fact that the media glare is for all the wrong reasons. The people of the North East have blamed the national media for neglecting the region, and the common refrain is that many important stories from the here go unreported. There were also those who suggested that perhaps we need to buy space in the national press for stories from the North East to appear in the national media like we do for advertisements. But in the last few weeks the northeast received more than its fair share of media attention.
The first story that captured the limelight was the coal mine tragedy in Nengkol near Baghmara in Garo Hills, in which precious lives were lost and the fate of the 15 miners is uncertain. The situation has put the state government and the mining department in particular in an awkward position; it only goes to show how ill-prepared the government is to meet such eventualities The incident also brings to the fore the farce about local governments in the state where the nokmas or the headmen are said to be all in all in the area of their jurisdiction. Yet in this case they failed to do anything to rescue the miners. The delay in reporting the unfortunate incident and the effort to cover-up can only happen when the nokma or the headman is involved in the incident. And because the government is yet to have a mining policy in place everything went haywire. The saving grace for the government of Meghalaya came from the unfortunate incident of molestation of a girl in Guwahati. This incident pushed the mining disaster to the backburner. The media spotlights shifted its focus to Guwahati.
The incident exposes how ill-prepared the state is in case of such eventualities but more importantly of the sheer absence of any rule of law in the mining areas of the state. There were also reports that the roads caved-in because of mining activities underneath them. Then there were reports of mining in the heritage sites where caves are destroyed, trees are cut and forest was cleared for mining, and yet for reasons best known to the Mining Department, the policy is still being kept in abeyance. One hopes that this will be a wakeup call for the minister in charge of mining and hopefully make him realize that the state cannot afford to delay the implementation of the proposed state mining policy any further.
The two incidents in Assam which captured the spotlights are the molestation case and the assaults on the lady MLA. Both incidents are cases of moral policing. The MLA was assaulted because she allegedly committed adultery and married a Muslim. I don’t see why people should have a problem with the personal life of an individual, if she is not happy with the marriage; what right do the goons have to assault her, how she lives her life is her choice. If she converts to another religion again that is not only her constitutional right but also a basic a human right. From the legal point of view the problem is if she enters into a marriage without divorcing her previous husband. But again there is the law of the land to deal with such issues. The matter is a private affairs of the couple so how does it concern the thugs who assaulted her and the new man her life? But the incident that has shocked the nation was the molestation of the young girl in the heart of the city of Guwahati. I remember while watching the un-pixilated youtube video, the first word that came to me was barbaric and that was what I posted on the Facebook. The young men who attacked the girl look like wolves to me; I can’t think of them as human beings. Who gave them the right to touch a woman? Who gave them the right to mercilessly assault and abuse a hapless girl? No one has the right to even assault a relative. How can anyone treat a human being like a toy? For one who has a daughter of a similar age I feel like this is happening to her. I can feel the pain and the anguish of the parents of the girl, but the big question is what does it say about our society? If this is happening is Guwahati it can happen in Shillong, Tura or Jowai. What kind of young men do we have in the society today? This is a big question that the society at large needs to address. It is also a question for every parent. Are we not to blame when such incident happens?
Such incidents shows that there is something wrong with the way we bring up our boys. It also confirms that the same archaic attitude which exist in every religion that the girls or women are subordinate to men, hence men folk have the right to do moral policing on the fairer sex, is still alive. Yes, some would say that the woman are to be blamed too, they attract undue attention to themselves when they act and dress strangely and do not conform to the traditional lifestyle. But are we not living in a free country where each citizen is entitled to live one’s life according to the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution? As long as the person does not infringe on the rights of another citizen, I don’t see why one’s way of life should be a problem for any individual or the society at large. When I think of those who justify what befalls a woman and blame the way women dress for all the crimes committed against women, I say thank goodness there are no beaches in the northeast otherwise there will be a rape case every second (because then women will all dress in bikini) and police will indeed have to be like ATMs, to borrow from the police officers phrase.
I have to be careful with my comments on the role of the video journalist who recorded the incident knowing that many journalists are in the job without any formal training. I can only put myself in the journalist’s shoes and think what would I do if it was me in his place. If I were in the video journalist shoes, I would immediately call the police (before I even start rolling the camera) because a crime has been committed. In the meantime I would record the video footage or the photograph of the incident which is my duty. And I don’t think I need a 30- minute footage for my story, so after recording the incident for few minutes I would stop, intervene and try to stop the goons from molesting the girl.
Then there is the question of identifying the girl. It is wrong to disclose the identity of the girl, first, because she is still a juvenile and second she is a victim and by naming her we do more harm than good. It reminds me of a similar incident in Shillong where the identity of boys who were caught smoking in the toilet was not protected, the private channel did not even pixilate the faces of the boys to protect their identity.
The last story on the national media was the attempt to kill a female journalist in Arunachal Pradesh. The incident also brings to light the fact that journalists are treading on a dangerous track. I therefore salute all the women who have taken journalism as their profession. Yes, you can say that this is for the other half of humanity.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Elections 2013: Tickets up for sale

Allegations that political parties are allotting tickets to candidates based on their winnability factor are gaining ground. But what is also learnt is that political partesi are assessing the winnability factor by the amount of money a candidate has to splash around during the elections. And now that politics is fast becoming a lucrative profession, businessmen and women of every hue are making a beeline to join politics in hordes. No wonder political parties both regional and national prefer to allot party tickets to these mercenaries with fat bank balances because money undoubtedly is one major winnability factor. There were allegations in the past that rich candidates were allotted ticket because they were also expected to contribute to the party’s election kitty. But one thing is certain – if there are two contenders for the party ticket – one a well qualified candidate and another a semi literate but with a big bank balance – the ticket will go to the latter because the one with educational qualification cannot win elections but money can.
If we think that poor people who make a long queue in front of the candidates’ houses during elections are the only ones who get monetary benefits during election, then we are far off the mark. In fact, those who make a beeline for the candidates’ houses are simply demanding money for their immediate needs like hospital bills, children’s education, young people for picnics and excursions etc and the candidates may, at best also have to serve them tea and rice. This is just a fraction of the money that candidates spend during election. A person I know told me recently that she had been advised to undergo a surgical operation but she could not afford it. She was then introduced by an acquaintance of hers to a candidate for the ensuing election and now she is ready to go under the scalpel – courtesy the candidate. There are also NGOs taking undue advantage of the election to benefit their organization. But we will be appalled to know that big money changes hands between a candidates and the many layers of supporters that he has. In other words, a candidate has to spend more money to gain supporters particularly those who are in leadership positions in their respective areas.
A serious contender in Jaintia hills began his electioneering two years ago. This young candidate and a first time MLA, who started electioneering much before any other candidates did have been able to remove all potential candidates from his constituency two years before the election is expected to happen. He was able to make the current and the only non-congress MLA to move from the present constituency lock stock and barrel and seek re-election from another constituency in the district. The current MLA from the constituency was forced to look for a greener pastures and the tycoon MLA was also able to convince the previous MLA and a possible strong contender against him to shift base to another constituency in another district. Both the candidates voluntarily moved to another constituency to enable this young business tycoon have a cake walk next February and there is all likelihood that this candidate might return uncontested too. But the big question is – how was he able to convince the two contenders to make way and allow him to have a smooth sailing next election?
When a candidate is asked to make way for another candidate so that he has an easy win, in Pnar they call it ‘chah pynchong’ or ‘he was asked to sit’. And yes your guess is as good as mine; the candidate or the potential candidate, who was asked to sit or withdraw his candidature on behalf of the other, would not do so unless he benefited from the deal. There is again a saying in Pnar about such events. They call it ‘ka bai pynchong’ or the price one asks for withdrawing one’s candidature. The trend is now increasing. There are candidates who announce their candidature for the next election only to withdraw later when the deal is struck and the price is settled with the opposing candidate. It is another way of earning easy money for people with popularity. This is one way how money exchanges hands during elections and of course the candidates are not for sale, but candidature is and it involves big money.
The recent deals that the Congress MDC from Jirang and a strong contender for the Congress party ticket entered with the MP to make way for his friend to contest from Jirang constituency bears a striking resemblance to the many cases of candidates who were urged to withdraw (chah pynchong) in favour of another candidate. The deal the two Congressmen struck which was reported in the media leave ample room for speculation that there is more to it than meets the eyes and everybody knows that the MDC would not withdraw his candidature unless he benefited from the deal and only the MP, MDC, and the potential Congress candidate from Jirang Constituency who also claims to be a descendant of Kiang Nangbah will know.
This column had predicted that Jaintia Hills would have more than 7 MLAs. In other words, more than 7 MLAs of Jaintia origin will win the next election. Jirang was not on the list then. The list includes a business tycoon from Jaintia hills with no formal education contesting from Umroi, the previous MLA of Nartiang who has to shift base to Nongkrem to make way for the high and the mighty, possibly a JHADC MDC from Sohryngkham. The present MLA from Rymbai is expected to contest from Umsning. These are the candidates from Jaintia expected to contest the 2013 elections from East Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi District with the backing of money bags from the district. Most of these candidates will contest the election come what may, because they know that money is the only winning factor in the election; and that they have in plenty.
Huge amounts of money are also spent on buying canvassers and leaders in the villages and regions of the constituency. To improve their winning chances the common strategy adopted by many candidates during elections is to make sure they have the support of the local MDC of the area and also as many Rangbah Shnong as possible on their side. The MDCs too have their own price; they make sure that the expenditure they incur during the campaign is replenished after elections and some even charge a hefty fee for their support and to canvass for the candidate. The candidate also makes sure that the Rangbah Shnong or the leader in the village is pumped with enough money to cover expenditures like serving tea, rice for the villagers and even to buy their votes.
Sad to say but we are not going to see any change with regards to the use of money power in the coming election. Money will play a major role and it will influence the election results of every constituency particularly those in the rural areas. In fact if there is any change it will be for the worse. More money is going to change hands during the elections. In some cases the process has already started. Even fresh candidates have to arrange excavators for making village playgrounds, roads etc. Candidates also require money to donate to NGOs and to distribute to voters to pay hospital bills, children’s education and etc. Candidates are also being invited to grace all kinds of functions. They have to offer money at every event invited.
So money does indeed make the election world go round despite what the Election Commission of India rules!

Meghalaya miners: Rescue operations called off

Guwahati, July 13, 2012
Operations to rescue 15 miners trapped in a water-filled Meghalaya coalmine since July 6 afternoon were called off on Friday as slushy conditions were beyond the scope of the rescuers. Failure of magnetic life detectors to locate any heartbeat was also a factor.

A 31-member team of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) had reached the mine at Rongsa Awe village Wednesday night. The team called off the mission after 14 hours of search.
“The NDRF submitted a report saying they found no trappers. They also said the chances of their survival in highly acidic water were very thin,” South Garo Hills district deputy commissioner in-charge RP Marak said.
“Because of incessant rainfall, the mine access was slushy. Our canine squad, capable of sniffing up to 50-60ft did not find sings of life beneath. Neither did our magnetic life detectors register any heartbeat. That area needs excavators and earthmovers to get to the trapped miners,” NDRF commandant AK Singh told HT.
Singh added the rescue mission could have borne fruit had they received information immediately. “The incident happened on Friday, and it wasn’t until Monday or Tuesday that mine operators informed the local authorities. This is too long a time.”
Mines in Meghalaya are owned by the tribal communities. Though mining laws are applicable, the government seldom interferes. Multi-layered systems of governance – traditional village durbars, jurisdiction of king-like chieftains and district councils – with overlapping jurisdiction also add to the confusion.
“Rat-hole mines are not only dangerous for miners; they are a threat to the environment. Mine owners, enjoying patronage from the power lobby, are least bothered if abandoned mines are sealed to prevent disasters. And because of unscientific mining, we have ended up with dead rivers with no aquatic life forms left,” green activist HH Mohrmen said from Jaintia Hills district headquarters Jowai.
Meanwhile, the local police arrested the mine owner – he is also the headman of the village – a foreman and a head labourer on Thursday for causing death due to negligence. Mine operator Gurdeep Singh had been arrested earlier this week.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Behdieñkhlam prayer for bountiful harvest and to rid off evils

Very often Behdieiñkhlam is being defined by merely describing the literary meaning of the name of the festival, the term beh-dieñ-khlam comprises of three words ‘Beh’ literarily means to chase or to rid off and ‘dieñ’ means wood or log and ‘khlam’ means plague, epidemic or pestilence. So Behdieñkhlam literarily means the festival to rid off or get rid of the plague but that is not what Behdieñkhlam is all about.
Very few people know that altogether there are 6 Behdieñkhlam festival celebrated by the Pnars throughout the year, the first behdieñkhlam was celebrated by the raij Chyrmang, then followed by the raij Jowai, Tuber, Ialong, Mukhla and raij Muthlong. Rupaia Lamarr lecturer of Kiang Nangbah Government College has aptly described the festival when he said: “Behdieñkhlam is an agrarian festival which is a testimony to an advanced culture of wetland cultivation as against Jhum cultivation practiced by other indigenous communities.” Lamarr also said “It is also during the festival that family members and relatives experience the joy of homecoming. It is a time to be at home with Mother Nature and dance on its lap, its soil and its water, Behdieñkhlam also expresses the relationship between man and god, man and nature and man with fellow men.” He also added that “at the community level Behdieiñkhlam is a joint effort to drive away evil and diseases, the prayers and sacrifices offered to god are for the health, the economy and the society.”
K.C. Rymbai Daloi of the elaka Jowai recently has confirmed to this writer that the festival indeed has a fine connection with the agricultural activities of the people. The main part of the festival was the council of the 4 high priest of the four raijs, the raij Jowai, raij Tuber, raij Chyrmang and Ialong. Rymbai also said that every part of the rituals performed throughout the year in preparation of Behdieñkhlam intricately link with agriculture. The significant of Thoh Langdoh is after the ritual is performed then people can start planting cucumber, pumpkins, beans and various types vegetables and it is only after another ceremony ka Chat thoh that farmers can start tilling their paddy fields.

The various Behdieiñkhlam klam festivals celebrate by different raij also signifies the many important events of rice cultivation. The first raij to celebrate Behdieñkhlam is the raij Chyrmang and it indicates that time for tilling the paddy fields has started. The Jowai Behdieñkhlam signifies the season after the seeds was been placed on the lap of mother nature and the raij Tuber’s Behdieiñkhlam coincides with the time that farmers has done with weeding the weeds from the fields, the raij Ialong celebrates its Behdieiñkhlam when the rice plant starts to flowers and the celebration of the raij Mukhla’s festival suggest the advent of the harvest season.

So Behdieiñkhlam is not merely about the plague but it testify to the fact that the Pnar of Jaintia were the first tribe in the region to develop their farming from Jhum cultivation to a more developed farming practices, while their counterpart like the War Jaintia, the Karbis and even the Biates still practice Jhum cultivation till as recent as the early nineties. 

The three days and four nights Annual Behdieiñkhlam festival of the Pnars always starts with the tradition of offering food to the ancestors in a tradition call “Ka Siang ka Pha” or “Ka Siang ka Phur.” Of course preparation for the annual Behdieñkhlam festival was started many months back but the immediate rituals and sacrifices that precedes the designated days of the festival are the ‘kñia khang’ performed on Muchai; the first day after the market day of the week and ‘kñia pyrthad’ sacrifice to the thunder god on the Mulong the seventh day of the same week. But the festival officially begins on the sixth day (Pynsiñ) of the eight days a week traditional calendar of the Jaintias.
The feast of offering food to the death is a mark of veneration and gratitude to the ancestors the forbearer of the clan and the tradition. In the Khasi Pnar concept of the afterlife, departed souls reside with the Creator and eat bettlenuts in the courtyard of his abode. The spirit of the death (ki syngngia ki saret) every year, decent down to the Earth to partake in the feast provided by the descendant still alive in the world to propitiate the departed souls. Ka Siang ka pha is celebrated by every clan except when there is sickness in the family or if death has just occurred in the family. The family which had just met with bereavement, do not perform the offerings because the annual ‘ka siang ka pha’ has already been offered to the departed souls as part of the last rite of a person. It begins with family informing the children of their maternal uncles or their brothers (khon kha) about the preparation for the offerings to the ancestors. The ‘khon kha’ offers money (pyn-nam) as a token of respect, love and affection to their paternal family. This also has a connection with one of the cardinal principle of the Khasi-Pnar known as (ka tip kur tip kha,) respect for one’s family of both mother’s and father’s side. Not all clan perform their offering to the death on Pynsiñ, there are also clan which perform ‘ka siang ka pha’ on Muchai the last day of the festival.
In the traditional calendar “Mulong,” is the day before the market day “musiang,” the market day in Jowai is also the second day of the fest. By the end of the day all the Dieñkkhlam, all 9 round neatly carved logs were kept at their allotted place in the Iawmusiang area. The 9 Dieñkkhlams cut from huge trees were prepared and carried to their respective place at Iawmusiang by the 7 localities namely Tpep-pale, Dulong, Panaliar, Lumiongkjam, Iongpiah Loompyrdi Iongpiah, Loomkyrwiang and Chilliang Raij being the khon Raij was by tradition given the responsible to prepare and bring two round log called ‘Khnong blai’ and ‘Symbood khnong’.
The third day of the holy week is “Musiang” it is also the last day of the week and on this particular day all the Dieñkhlam and the Khnong are carried from the heart of Jowai town to the respective localities. Apart from the 7 dieñkhlam and two khnong; hundreds of 15 to 19 feet trees called ‘ki Dieñkhlam khian (small Dieñkhlam) were cut by the followers of the Niamtre. 2 or 3 of these tiny Dieñkhlam were kept in the frontage or patio of every house of the followers of the Niamtre. The tiny Dieñkhlam are used when the community dancer come to bless the house and use it to beat the rooftop of the house symbolizing ridding away the plaque and evil spirit from the house and pray to the almighty God to bless the family. By tradition every tree cut during Behdieñkhlam was done so with proper prayer and asking for exoneration from the Mother Nature (Bei ram-aw) and the Ryngkaw the basa, the gods; the guardian angels of the area.
Muchai is the last day of the Behdieñkhlam festival of the Jowai Raij and it is also the first day of the eight days a week traditional calendar. The day started in the wee hour of the morning with the tradition of ‘kyntiñ khnong’ at the Priestess official house. The programme was followed by the Ka Bam tyngkong led by the Daloi at the clan-house of the first four settlers of Jowai town. But the main part of the festival was the coming together of all the khon (children) ka Niamtre at the sacred Aitnar, a pond in which the last significant part of the festival was performed. The ‘ia knieh khnong’ traditions at the sacred pool is whence men compete to set foot on the ‘khnong’ symbolized cleansing of the souls and blessing for good health. 
The climax of the day is the arrival of the colourful Rots brought by the many dongs of the Jowai town to be displayed at the Aitnar, and all the beautiful Rots are then rid-off as part of the offering. 
Dat Lawakor, the last part of the Behdieñkhlam is about the farming community in the Jowai Raij, asking God to indicate which of the two valleys around Jowai, the Pynthor neiñ or the Pynthor wah will yield a good harvest this year. It is a football played using a wooden ball with no goals bars. The only rule of the game is that the team which can carry the ball to the designated end wins and the particular direction will reap better harvest that year.