Financial Literacy and Microfinance Institutions

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Diksha
“We must remember that the purpose of microcredit is to eliminate poverty in the shortest possible period of time” – Mohammed Yunus.

Union Rural Development Minister Jayram Ramesh made a statement in the recent Microfinance India Summit at New Delhi that microfinance has raised more questions that it has answered. Somehow, there is building a consensus that microfinance institutions are not being able to deliver the desired outcomes. Does the government has been able played its desired role to make the microfinance industry as an agent of social transformation or the microfinance institutions have been diverted to hardcore profit making entity? The Andra crisis has taught us that making profit out poverty is not only unethical, it is dangerous too! Hence, where is the way out? Is re-designing of microfinance intervention is need of the hour? If that is, what should be done? What should be incorporated with the present setup? Financial Literacy can be one of the most promising tools to socialize the microfinance interventions.

Last year, “Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)” held an workshop on financial literacy in New Delhi and observed that Financial Literacy is a combination of financial awareness, knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviour necessary necessary to make sound financial decisions and ultimately achieve individual financial well being.

The significance of Financial Literacy is being gaining momentum globally. Most recently, countries like USA, UK, Czech Republic, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and India have come up with detailed strategy for financial literacy. Last year, Credit Card Company VISA has also conducted a survey to know the state of Financial Literacy. The “VISA Global Financial Literacy Barometer Survey” covered 28 countries and India stood at 23rd position. The survey report reveals that only 35% of Indian is financially literate and ignorance is more among the women.

Many organizations in India too have been taking Financial Literacy initiatives. RBI has their “Project Financial Literacy”. This project is being operationalized through films, comics in English as well as in other vernacular languages. They are organizing quiz programs among school student to aware them about the financial ecosystem. SEBI has also initiated the their financial literacy program as a part of the investor education plan. IRDA and PFRDA also have initiated financial literacy programs. Interestingly, private company like Money Wizard has also started an economically viable model of financial literacy.

The present state of Financial Literacy shows that the steps taken by regulatory bodies like RBI, SEBI etc or banks (Financial Literacy and Credit Counselling Programs) are not being able reach the masses. And most importantly, these initiatives are least successful to cater the most vulnerable section of the society. A few months back, RBI has organized quiz among the school students. I got the opportunity to be present in one of such program held at District Library, Guwahati. Most of the students are from the reputed private English medium schools of Guwahati. Question arises, what will be outcome? Will it reach the marginalized section of the society? No doubt same thing is being repeated in the maximum programs of SEBI, IRDA, and PFRDA etc. These programs are not being able to reach the most needy target group. To reach this target group MFI may be the most viable channel.

Microfinance institutions should take the Financial Literacy initiatives not only to benefit the customers, but for their own prosperity too. It is always less risky to lend money to a financially literate customers. The financial literacy among the microfinance clients may minimize the risk of over-lending, ghost loan and NPA. Proper loan utilization is a major challenge in this vertical. Financial Literacy may help the MFI to overcome the challenge. Another major challenge of microfinance operation is credit appraisal. It’s like the challenge faced by a vetenary doctor. If financial literacy can enable the clients to assess their own creditworthiness, it become much easier for the microfinance practioner to provide the credit remedy as like as a physician. Financial Literacy can be a game changer for the MFIs in terms of efficiency and profit maximization. If the clients can be motivated to open bank accounts and disbursement can be done in cashless mode, a number of benefits can be garnered. Cashless disbursement will not only minimize the paper work and TAT (Turn Around Time) but also it can almost zeroed the cash-in-transit risk.

Ujjivan Financial Services Pvt. Ltd. one of the best MFI of country has initiated financial literacy holistically. In the first phase they screened a video film called Sankalp on debt management, ghost loan and credit bureau to their all customers in vernacular languages across the country. In second phase they have started a five module Diksha program. They have targeted to impart financial literacy to more than 10 lakhs clients. After successful completion of the training, they are coordinating with the bank to open the savings bank accounts for the graduated customers. Now, they are using those accounts to do cashless disbursement. The result so far is inspirational.

These developments may give a change re-think on the significance of Financial Literacy to the microfinance institutions, development practioners and policy makers as well.

Inter-caste Marriage and Patriarchal Society

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It was 2004, I was studying in Assam University,Silchar. I was in a rented house at Irongmara. Being a Muslim it was very tough to manage a rented house in the said area. My friend Santu, suggested me to use my nickname ‘Suman’ to get a house, I did so and got the room. The land lady was very affectionate.

Just few days before the Durga Puja, my birthday was celebrated very auspiciously and most interestingly as per the Hindu tradition. I wore Dhuti-Kurta, my room was decorated according to the Hindu mythology. My classmates and friends attended the function and gifted me lots of books, pens and show-pieces etc. They made the day immortal in my memory. My best friend who decorated the room with flowers and colorful balloons, wore a cherry red sharee. My land lady was passing comment “These two will be perfect couple!” We were happy and smiled each other. We became very close to each other during the Durga Puja, Mahalaya’s Prabhat Ferry was something exceptionally delighted to us.

One day suddenly, I came back to Guwahati and never visited Assam University and Irongmara. I lost every connections with my classmates and even with her too. We had never been couple!

Today, after 8 years, this Durga Puja asking me some odd questions. If we were really been couple? Were we been perfect couple or worst one? Would it be possible for me to refrain my self from religious affiliations? Would it be possible to me to honor her religious identity? Or what would our child’s religious inclination? his/her surname? etc etc..

I know, great thinker like Dr. Ambedkar also advocated inter-caste marriage and feast to combat untouchability and castism in India. Many state governments have initiated incentives for inter-caste marriage. After knowing all this how my mind dares to think such negativity??

You may summarily reject my negative thinking or can throw me to the hell of insanity, conservatism and even religious fundamentalism. But you can’t undermine the sufferings a girl.

Again, with due respect and apology to your secular setup, I would like to request you to wetness my imaginary conflict in my mind-

Say, I were in deep love with best friend, we were crazy for each other. We were ready to renounce the world for each other. Friend, family, religion and even society were not any big hurdle to our love. One day we got married as the provision of special marriage Act. Her family boycotted her forever, her society imposed an infinitive ban on her. I took her to our family. Though I was not sure, but my family accepted her! I felt proud (How liberal my family was!). Like a good bride she was learning each and every practices of our family. Knowingly or unknowingly I was ignoring all these process. Some times I thought there is nothing wrong if she acquires all those and sometimes I felt guilty, perhaps she thinks “Our marriage has come to grief because of you”. My mind was dwelling like a pendulum. I was in a great dilemma! Perhaps, Socio-cultural obligation has bounded me severely, I couldn’t stare at her. I do not want to rewind my memory to those romantic days. I feel ashamed, I am forced to think “Have I made a mistake 8 years back?”

Today, after 8 years, when she visits a Puja Mondap along with our little angel, I do not feel happy. I head off towards the complains of my family members. I diktat her not to visit any Puja Pandels, but to enjoy Bakri Eid.

Yes, in my imaginary battle, I was defeated by the norms of patriarchal society, I coudln’t honor her religious identity and most significantly, I couldn’t to give a secular identity to our child.

Thank God, we have never been couple. I wish she is happy as she was 8 years back. At the same time, I salute all those who have saved their love from the aggression of religion and norms of patriarchy society.

Media Discrimination Against the Minority Muslims of Assam

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Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Yes, my younger sister Nisha had never any problem with the minority Muslims. Now, she has become versed to write in her facebook wall “Good Morning to Assamese and Bad Morning to Bangladeshi Miya” (Miya is used as a derogatory term for the minority Muslims, though Miya means respected one) My friend Sameer does not hesitate to give a public call “Aah Oi Ulai Aah” to deport the Bangladeshi Miya. But, just before the violence in western Assam we tried to find a way out to fight the illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty of these people from a single platform. We chalked out a detail plan to make my village a self sufficient one to eradicate labor migration to urban area, install solar lamp and many other ambitious projects. As far as my memory is concerned we never felt to talk about the issue Bangladeshi Miya.

Then, why this dramatic change? Who taught them to hate the innocent minority Muslims of the state. Who amplified the fear and hatred against the these under-privileged poor people of the state. What is the ultimate motive of these hatred? If we look at the history of movement against illegal influx in the state, we found that every time it goes against the minority Muslims of the state. And significantly media played very dirty role in this aspect. Some so called intellectuals become nationalist over-night. They discover innovative ideas to harass the minority Muslims inline with the politicians. Aftermath of the violence in lower Assam one enthusiast executive editor of a so called secular Assamese daily even discovered the theory of ‘Virgin Area’ to protect his motherland! In a television show he suggested to deport the illegal Bangladeshis from the districts like Jorhat immediately. He can’t allow Jorhat to become Dhubri! Doesn’t he alternatively advocated separation of Dhubri from Assam? Every day print and electronic media publicizing the hate propaganda of the politicians, every day they are seeing lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi and trying to create atmosphere for another Assam Agitation. By any means they are trying to persuade the mainstream Assamese people that minorities are the greatest threat to their very existence.

Yes, alarm is ringing for the sleepy Assamese society to wake up and evaluate who are actually facing the threat of existence. Is it mainstream Assamese society or the corrupt politicians and their most obedient media houses? The mainstream Assamese society should not forget the black days Assam Agitation. The Nellie massacre will ashamed the Assamese forever. But what they got? Perhaps nothing more the than the secrete killing! AGP, the offspring of Assam Agitation ruled the state for ten long years, but could not see the lakhs of Bangladeshi, they couldn’t seal the Bangladesh border, they couldn’t update the NRC; for those the fought for six years, lost hundreds of their team mates and the violence killed thousands of innocent people and lakhs were displaced. And the media houses? Their expression carries some pathetic image. It seems that if they do not follow the dictation politicians their family will come to the streets! They can compromise everything to prove their existence. We may take example of G S Road molestation case or mass exodus of NE student and employees from South India. They keep spreading rumor every minutes to nurture the exodus. But they couldn’t find out who managed the special trains to NE, they couldn’t put pressure on the local government to build up confidence among the citizen of NE India, were they intentionally ignoring the dangerous conspiracy behind the exodus. Doubt coins, were they also waiting for a outburst of the anger of about fifty thousand young blood in Assam?

With due sympathy to the victims and condemning the violence by the miscreants on 28th August during Assam Bandh called by AAMSU, it is observed that the minority Muslims of the state were not taking the mainstream Assamese language media easily. The one sided decision to ban AAMSU for three months (Later it minimized to one month) by the media body fueled to maximize the trust deficit between the community and Assamese language print and electronic media. In some minority Muslim dominated areas, even people were thinking to boycott Assamese language media.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark? Why the minorities are becoming sentimental to Assamese language media? Is it justified? Unfortunately, it seems so. It is expected that media should act pro-actively to identify the social evils and put light on the dark side of the society impartially. The media body who imposed ban on AAMSU shown no outrage over the killing of journalist Raihan Nayeem of Dhubri. The media houses in Assam are totally indifferent towards the problems of minority Muslims of the state. The ethnic cleansing in BTAD area got momentum after the statement of L K Advani. Advani may not have the knowledge about Assam and Assamese; but how the media repeated his propaganda like parrot? After the ethnic violence in western Assam thousands of migrated labor from minority dominated area are being harassed by some activists of so called apolitical groups and police as well through out the state. They are forced to flee to their native villages. Shamelessly, the media starts barking that huge numbers of illegal Bangladeshi has disappeared. They publicized thousands of illegal migrants have disappeared from relief camp of Dhubri and went to Bangladesh, though they went back to their native villages. A few days back 61 minority Muslims from Margerita and 79 from Barpeta were detained by some miscreants doubting them illegal Bangladeshi, later it was found through police verification that none of them were Bangladeshi. The media never see the misery of those construction laborers, rickshaw pullers, the thela pullers or the riot victims. Their pen dried to write the story of those poor families, their camera never reaches the darkness of illiteracy, malnutrition or child labor. But they can easily calculate the population growth of this community sitting in a air conditioned room and roars like a tiger “40 LACs have more than 90% minority Muslim voters!” They never bother about the problems of illiteracy, child marriage, population explosion. Almost one third of the minorities are char dwellers and their literacy rate is less than 20%. More than 40% girls of minority Muslims get married off before attaining maturity, more 50% family’s house hold size between 6 to 11 or more. Nobody is bothered about these facts, nobody is interested to take the challenge to overcome these social obstacles. The most easy way to ignore the problems is just terming them Bangladeshi and the responsibility get over! And most significantly, their knowledge never crosses the border to see the development trajectory of Bangladesh. The development index does not carry any possibility of mass migration to Assam. Bangladeshis socio-economic conditions are far better than the minority Muslims of the state. In 1981, Bangladesh’s average child per mother was 5.10 and in 2011 the number has decreased to 2.15, in 1991 average household size was 5.5 now it is 4.4, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been declined from 6.3 in 1975 to 2.5 and aiming for replacement rate within 2060. Thus Bangladeshis have been able to bring down their decadal population growth at 14% in 2011 from 22% in 1981 not by pushing their people to India. On the other hand percentage of Bangladeshi Hindu is declining sharply. In 1941, Hindus were 28% of total population of Bangladesh, now the figure has been declined to mere 10%. This crucial facts never get focused in the media our state.

Nobody is against the identification and deportation of illegal foreigners staying in the state after 25th March’1971 irrespective of religion through a legal mechanism. More over minority Muslims are more concerned over the issue and importantly it can’t be resolved without cooperating minority Muslims. Hence, media should stop discrimination against minority Muslims and should refrain from fear mongering for a healthy environment to put pressure on the government to find a way out. It is the high time for the biased media personals to introspect and and retrospect the socio-cultural fabric of Assam. Their propaganda will not work in Assam otherwise the recent violence would spread whole parts of the state.

The article featured in twocircles.net

Rampant Growth of Fake Financial Institution in Assam and Role of Financial Literacy

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Assam is going through a very tough time. The devastating flood has washed out everything of the farmer of the state. The GS Road molestation case has made the Assamese ashamed and the violence in lower Assam has created a humanitarian crisis. All along this, relentless blow from the fake financial institution has created havoc in the state. The gravity of the issue pulled out the masses to the street and compelled the government to disclose the list of 119 NBFCs operating the state along with fake financial institutions in the state assembly.

The issue of fake financial institution has been grabbing the headline for the last couple of months. It came to light that as many as 29 NBFCs were taking deposit from the customers, violating the RBI norms. Taking the advantage of poor governance and careless attitude of RBI these fake financial institutions collects huge amount and disappears all of a sudden.

It is observed that the victims of these financial frauds are basically poor men and women of the state. Now, question arises, why the government is not being able to protect the hard-earned money of the poor people of the state or why the RBI being the watch dog of the financial sector seems to be blind to these issues and surprisingly why the people do deposit their money to these institutions. The last question, isn’t more thought provoking?

Yes, the poor people of the state are compelled to go to these institutions to meet their need of various financial services. Dr. Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) and known to be the mother of microfinace observed that financial services are to be treated as fundamental need of a human being. But when this fundamental need is not addressed by the state and its concerned agencies, the poor are compelled to knock the door of the fake financial institutions. The rampant growth of fake financial institutions is fuelled by lack of financial inclusion.

Study shows that financial inclusion can bring prosperity and also can work as a powerful weapon to alleviate poverty. But the scenario in the state and in the country as a whole is not encouraging at all. More than 50% people of the country are still outside the ambit of mainstream financial system. These excluded people are the bottom of pyramid. They excluded as the mainstream financial institutions like banks treat them unworthy to bank upon! The situation in Assam and North Eastern states are more pathetic. The data shows that India has 90 un-banked blocks and it is unbelievable that out of these 90 un-banked blocks 80s are in NE states. RBI has introduced policy to compensate revenue loss of the commercial banks for five years to open new branches in the region to minimise the gap. But no result observed so far.
Best way to check the financial fraud is to educate the people about their financials and the eco-system as whole. Till date government has not taken remarkable financial literacy initiative in the state, besides cautious advertisement in the newspapers, which causes negative impact on the target group. They become more conservative as far as financial risks taking are concern. On the other hand RBI regional office’s role in financial literacy is more pathetic. An NBFC named Sunmarg Microfinance Institution had collected lakhs of amount from the people of Assam and now the company is on its way to abscond. The same company was barred to collect deposit from public in West Bengal. So called watch dog RBI’s regional office at Guwahati couldn’t trace out the smell of fraudulent activities of the said company in this region. The FLCC (Financial Literacy and Credit Counselling) programme in the state has become a white elephant. The PSU banks attitude seems to be reluctant as earlier. They seem to be overburdened!

On the contrary, ray of hope is being shown by some private companies in the region. Most recently, Microfinance Company has taken massive financial literacy drive in Assam and North Eastern states. RGVN (Rastriya Grameen Vikas Nidhi) in collaboration with CRISIL has started their financial literacy programme called Pragati in Assam. Dr. Amiya Kumar Sarma, Executive Director of RGVN is optimist that Pragati will make a positive impact on the society. Another leading microfinance institution of the country Ujjivan Financial Services Pvt. Ltd has also taken a huge financial literacy programme in Assam and Meghalaya. They have already educated around 10000 women in Assam and Meghalaya through multimedia training programme called Sankalp in collaboration with Unitus and Lok Foundation. Mr. Samit Ghosh, Managing Director of Ujjivan Financial Services Pvt. Ltd. says that Sankalp has played a tremendous role in the field of financial literacy. He also added that copy of Sankalp has been provided to BRAC to do financial training in Bangladesh. This month Ujjivan has started another financial literacy programme called Diksha through a well trained and well equipped dedicated team in Assam.

The poor people of the state only can be protected from those fake financial institutions by educating them and bringing them under the umbrella of organised financial system. The failure of the mainstream financial institutions to embrace the bottom of the pyramid literally strengthens the need of a specialized limited liability banking model in India too. Such low cost banking models are viable and working fine in countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh etc. But the commitment of our government towards financial inclusion and poverty alleviation seems to be illusive!

BTAD Riot and Bangladeshi Ghost

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“Have I Not reason to lament
What man has made of Man?” Wordsworth

Violence always comes with pain, destruction and disparity towards humanity. Being the land of Sankar and Azan, why she suffers these frequently? Perhaps, I can’t answer but like Wordsworth I find many reasons to lament what my fellow citizens are doing for their vested interest. We have seen that the riots in Assam always serve a political motive. It may be Nellie, Udalguri or the BTAD’s one. This humanitarian crisis brings opportunity to the politicians grossly!

The recent BTAD riot will also bring prosperities to some politicians. The political analysts are commenting that the riot could be controlled if the concern government would have taken appropriate steps in timely and efficient manner. But they didn’t take. One the other hand eminent politician like L.K. Advani didn’t feel necessary to visit the relief camps of minority Muslims in BTAD area rather he summarily termed all of them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. At the same tune ASSU advisor Samujjal Bhattarjee advocating not to rehabilitate the aggrieved minority Muslims until and unless their nationality is proved. Who have lost their everything due to the riot; now need to prove their nationality before leaving the relief camp! Isn’t it a cruel political game? Who knows when these politicians demand to stop supplying basic needs to the relief camps! Why they are so reluctant towards humanity? Yes, they are politically motivated and want to cash on the riots, it’s their nature.

BTAD area is a volcano and its ring of fire has speared to the whole nation. The Muslim fundamentalists across the country and beyond; who never bother about the misery of poor-deprived minority Muslims of Assam and BTAD but the riot connects them into the Muslim brotherhood overnight and start threatening migrated Assamese as well as people from North-East. The misery faced by minority Muslims in Assam is not their concern, but it has opened the door of opportunity to unrest the nation.

Riots in BTAD area have a long history; in 1987 one section of All Bodo Students Union went underground and took up arms . Initially, they started attacking Assamese speaking people. Then in 1993 they targeted minority Muslims and killed at least 50 people and made thousands homeless. The attacked continued in 1994 too against minority Muslims. In 1996, again violence occurred between Bodos and Adivasis. In 2003 BTC accord was signed by Government of India, Government of Assam and Bodo militants. The militants surrendered and formed an interim non-autonomous government under 6th schedule. The BTC accord couldn’t bring peace to the area. In 2008, clash between Bodos and minority Muslims at Udalguri district claimed more than 100 life. And now in 2012 the clash between Bodos and minority Muslims has been increasing the death toll every day.

The chronological study of the riots in BTAD area shows that, the riots in this area are not only between Bodos and minority Muslims but almost all the non-Bodo communities residing are facing riot or riot like situation. And common Bodo peoples, who even do not know the reason of these riots, are also paying the severe consequences for these riot. Some of demands of the Bodo Movement are against the social fabric of Assam and hazardous to natural justice too. First of all the movement took the path of violence and cause severe bloodshed in Assam as a whole. Their demand of a separate state for Bodos is another dangerous planning to destroy the social as well as demographic fabric of Assam.

No doubt, the BTC accord was a miscarriage of state to resolve the problem permanently. For a short term political gain central government under the leadership of the than Dy PM L.K. Advani signed the peace pact sacrificing all most all political rights of majority non-Bodos residing within the BTAD area. It is known form various sources that in BTAD area only 29% are Bodos and remaining 71% are non-Bodos. Under this geo-political and demographic circumstances how the government provide autonomous to a minority tribe under 6th schedule. Isn’t it the violation of constitutional right of the majority communities? Secondly, though the militants surrendered before the state; the state didn’t feel it necessary to taken over the illegal arms and ammunitions from the militants! Now, those arms are being used for rioting, extortion and murder. Thirdly, Bodo separatists are yet not happy with 6th schedule; they still demand a separate state carving 50% of Assam’s geographical area. See, if a extremist group representing about 30% people of 35% geographical area of Assam demands to divide Assam 50/50; what consequences can be expected. Isn’t it indicating that government was not keen to restore peace in the area permanently, but to keep problem alive.

OK, now let’s find out the Bangladeshi in BTAD area as well as in Assam a whole. Meanwhile the BTAD clash, some politically motivated group as well as some media houses are continuously spearding that the clash is not between Bodos and minority Muslims; rather it is fight against the illegal migrants by indigenous Bodo people. Is it really true that illegal Bangladeshi migrants have changed the demography of BTAD area? The census data shows that the population growth rate of Muslims in Kokrajhar during last 40 years is much lower than the national population growth rate of the community during the period. As per the population census 2011, the decadal population growth rate of four districts of BTAD is much lower than the average decadal population growth rate of Assam.

Yes, Population growth is higher among the minority Muslims of Assam. The reason for this population explosion is not to become majority in terms of voter, voter some crucial factors like lack of family planning, lack of education etc. There is a common notion that minority Muslims are reluctant towards family planning. But the study of Justice Sachar Committee reveals that “There is a substantial demand from regulation and for modern consecutives” Assam health minister also admitted that the people from minority community are interested to adopt the family planning schemes but the government is not being able to offer the benefit adequately . On the other hand education being the most efficient agent to check the population explosion is lagging behind in minority Muslims community comparing to mainstream communities of Assam. As per the population census 2011 Sibsagar district recorded 9.37% decadal population growth against the literacy rate of 81.36%; whereas Barpeta district recorded 21.40% decadal population growth against the literacy of 65.03%. Despite the enactment of RTE Act, there are still 371 minority Muslim dominated villages in Assam where there is not even a single primary school . Jorhat has one primary school against 557 people and at the same time Dhubri has one primary school against 1150 people. Teacher-student ratio in Dhubri district is 89:1 and the same ratio in Jorhat district is 8:1. Inevitably, the result of this injustice is reflected in the population census as well. Dhubri recorded 24.40% decadal population growth rate against 59% literacy rate and Jorhat recorded 9.21% decadal population growth against 83.42% literacy rate .

The data shows that Assam’s population growth is not abnormal or hampered by illegal migration comparing to national population growth rate. The population census 2011 shows that Assam recorded lower growth than national average. Some chauvinist groups propagate that after 1971 also there was a high influx. But the data does not support the propaganda. Noted historian Dr. Amalendu Guha observed that there was no such immigration during 1971 to 1991, wherever it may be from Bangladesh, Nepal or Bhutan. Either the influx has stopped or same amount of people has been migrated from Assam to outside. During this period India’s population growth was 54% and Assam recorded 53%. On the other hand influx that had happened during 1951 to 1971 was basically non-Muslims. During that period population growth among Muslims was 81.2% which was lower than the 83.4% growth of non-Muslim. Dr. Guha also observed that the migration of Muslims from East Pakistan started from 1901 and continued till mid 40s. After the independence and subsequent partition these migration stopped and migration of Hindu started .

The hatred against the minority Muslims take pace after the comment of census commissioner Mulan in 1930. More than 80 years has been passed, his speculation proved as wrong but the hatred and fear he had planted in the mind of mainstream Assamese people are still being cultivated by the politicians. This fear and hatred were the driving force of Assam Agitation and subsequently Assam Accord and transformation of state power to the agitators. Being in power AGP couldn’t identify the lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi. The reason of this gross failure may be found in the observation of Dr. Guha. And thus they were not interested to update the NRC. It’s almost 27 years has gone, yet the politicians could not manage time to update the NRC and surprisingly AGP was in power for 10 years. Actually updation of NRC will end this political drama and will enable the minority Muslims to get a decent socio-political status, which is not at all desirable for the politicians. We have seen that the pilot project of NRC updation had started with a lot of anomalies to derail the project. When the minority Muslims demanded to rectify the anomalies and simplify the NRC updation form, police attacked the peace full picketers violating the police manual. Political analysts have observed that the police firing at Barpeta was pre-planned by the political party at power . One the other hand some chauvinist group termed the picketers as illegal Bangladeshi grossly. Each every time, when the minority Muslim faces severe attacks they see the Bangladeshi ghost. The boat capsize at Medhirtary of Dhubri district had mourned the world, but some of the chauvinists welcomed the accident as the victims were minority Muslim or illegal Bangladeshi migrants as they see!

These poor-deprived people have been doing their best for the welfare of Assam. They want to assimilate with the mainstream Assamese society by any cost. They have given up their Nobel winner-well acknowledged mother tongue and adopted Assamese during the crisis of Assamese language, established Assamese medium schools across their area. Produced well acclaimed Assamese literary activists like Ismail Hussain, Khabir Ahmed, Hafiz Ahmed etc. But still they are not recognized as the legitimate son of this soil.

This is high time for mainstream Assamese society to decide to open the door for socio-cultural assimilation to strengthen the greater Assamese society or keep them alive for the politicians to be used as scapegoat.

GS Road Molestation Case and Journalistic Ethics

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Media is expected to be act as the fourth pillar of the democracy and it is being done by many dedicated and courageous journalists too. In the recent past we witnessed a great job done by Indian electronic media to unearth the scams and corruptions cases. It may be CWG scam or 2G scam; media played a vital role to pull out the corruptions to light.

But at the same time, the incident of paid news and yellow journalism are increasing day by day. It will not be enough to say that some of so called journalists are creating news to save their job! And the GS Road molestation case is the result of such frustration.

While watching the video footage of GS Road incident one scene from a Bangladeshi movie comes to my mind. In that movie, the shroud (Kaafan) seller contracts with the villain to kill the villager and the shroud seller pays commission to the villain on each piece of shroud sold to the villagers. Somehow, I get a connection between the scene of that movie and the footage of the GS Road molestation case. Otherwise, how the journalist can dare instigate a mob to do such heinous act of molestation! And most significantly, the editorial team appreciates his effort and aired the story!! The whole story isn’t indicates that the editorial team and the journalist was packed up as like as shroud merchant and the villain of that Bangaldeshi movie.

The GS Road incident is not the first incident in Guwahati. I guess, the story of Mina Begum is not forgotten. Mina Begum was also a victim of so called vigil journalist of electronic media. Her face was forcefully pulled before the camera to take an appropriate shoot. Our police are always insane as well. If administration would have taken strong action against the unethical journalists and police officers, the GS Road incident could be avoided.

But what is the role of civil society? Why we are so reluctant to these issues? Why are becoming so self centric? Are these the effect of globalization?

Today, our youth, our women do gather at bars, pubs etc and abandoned the Naamghars. Some years back, while coming to Guwahati Mahasweta Devi observed that Guwahati got more wine shops than grocery! Her observation indicated- where the Assamese society was going? And now we have reached to this stage! Once, British introduced opium to Assamese society to dominate and establish their rule. No doubt, the recent cultural aggression is another attempt to ruin the Assamese society. If we continued to be indifferent towards our cultures many more Mina and Mousomi’s life will be spoiled.

International Workshop on Inclusive Financial Innovation at XLRI, Jamshedpur

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Last month I got an invitation from Professor HK Pradan of XLRI Jamshedpur to attend the three-day International Workshop on Inclusive Financial Innovation: Making Finance and Insurance Markets Work for the Poor, conducted during March 1-3, 2012 XLRI Jamshedpur and it was a great learning experience in deed.

The international event was graced by eminent personalities from finance domain with focus on financial inclusion, academia, business leaders from the microfinance industry and financial institution, NGO workers and field level practitioners. The event brought them all in single platform to discuss the challenges and issues concerned to financial inclusion.
Father E Abraham, Director of XLRI Jamshedpur argued that credit should be given the status of basic needs like food, cloth, shelter, education etc. He also condemned the coercive collection practice of some MFIs in Andra Pradesh referring the recent article published in Hindu regarding the AP Microfinance crisis.

Dr. David Dror, Chairman of Micro Insurance Academy (MIA) New Delhi while delivering his inaugural presentation stressed on micro health insurance. Dr. Dror argued for a demand driven, community based insurance, where the community assesses their own risk and designs their insurance for a right price. His research and expertise on community based health insurance has opened the doors of opportunity to serve the under privileged in a profitable business way. According to Dr. Dror charity can’t provide a long term permanent solution to any kind of problem.

Basix group of companies were represented by Dr S.S. Tabrez Nasar, Associate Director, BASIX Academy for Livelihoods and Micro Banking Practice and Mihir Sahana, Director Indian Grameen Services. They presented case studies of potato growers of Jharkhand. The innovative livelihood development project was taken by Basix, where farmers were given credit by Basix and potato were bought by Pepsico at a pre determined price. Dr. Nasar said that credit without insurance is one kind of responsibility and stressed on weather insurance. (Basix is the first organization to adopt weather insurance in collaboration of ICICI Lombard)

Another innovative model was presented by Dr. Rangan Varadan, CEO of Microgram. Dr. Varadan said that financial inclusion doesn’t mean merely opening a no frill bank account or providing just credit. Credit is necessary but it is not sufficient, to uplift the poor, an ecosystem is needed, that encourages the customer orientation of products and ownership among of the beneficiaries. He also stated that Microgram has started such model on profit sharing between customers and the investors.

In a penal discussion Dr. Muhammad Masudur Rahaman from Bangladesh Microcredit Regulatory Authority advocated sustainable microfinance. In his note he advocated “financial inclusion for poverty eradication”. He also suggested regulatory reform for Indian microfinance industry to allow MFIs to offer other financial products like savings, insurance and remittance etc to scale up the poverty alleviation initiative. He refers the importance of creating specialized bank like Bangladesh Grameen Bank and wholesale funding agency for microfinance. He criticized the supply driven microfinance approach in India, where demand side (customer orientation) is ignored. Dr. Alok Misra CEO, Micro-Credit Rating International Limited (M-CRIL) supporting Dr. Rahman said that our government is not taking the risk to allow the MFIs to offer savings for merely regulatory comfort. Dr. Misra also predicts that if the MFIs are allowed to take savings, it will build a holistic relationship between customer and MFIs and will also decrease the cost of credit.

Another important outcome of the workshop was call for forming an international research network on inclusive finance like SSRN (Social Science Research Network). Dr. HK Pradan, Professor of Finance and Economics, XLRI Jamshedpur, the mentor and architect of the focused event said that such network will help to share and recognize the innovative ideas among the industry giant, academia, policy maker and field level practitioners to bring out the poor from the misery of poverty cycle.

The valedictory function of the three day international event was addressed by SBI Managing Director, Mr. A Krishna Kumar. He is optimistic regarding the Business Correspondence model for financial inclusion for the maximum out reach.

Barpeta Kirtanghar: The Centre of Neo-vaishnavite Culture of Assam

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Introduction: The term culture includes each and every parts of a society during an era. E. B. Tylor explained culture in such a way “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and other habits and capabilities acquired by man as a member of a society.” The culture is also a continuous process. It has no end, it may take different shape. Edward Sapir says “culture is technically used by ethnologist and culture historian to embody any socially inherited element in the life of a man, material and spiritual. Culture, so defined, is conterminous with man for himself even the lowliest savages live in a social world characterized by a complex network of traditionally conserved habits usages and attitudes”

The Neo-Vaishnaviate cultural development in Assam was not an isolated phenomenon. It was an inevitable part of mainland Indian culture. Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta’s quotation is very much relevant in this connection “Assam is not a haphazard conglomeration of diverse racial and cultural elements but a composite whole arising out of the integration and synthesis of all of them. Indeed, Assam has been a curious melting pot to which have gone the Aryan and the non-Aryan, the tribal and the non-tribal, the indigenous and the exotic-making for a delightful fare with a wonderful mixed flavour. And this Neo-Vaishnaviate cultural movement was spreading from Barepta Kirtan Ghar to every nock and corner of the state.

The great Neo-Vaishnaviate reformer Srimanta Sankardeva spent his most valuable time in the Barepta Kirtan Ghar and cultivated the Ek-Saran-Namdharam. Once Gandhiji visited Barpeta and felt “A great vaishnava revival under Sankardeva in the 16th century has made Assamese people kindly, tolerant and humane. There is no sign anywhere of that form of untouchability which is to be found is South India. Assam is indeed, is fortune for Sankardeva, has five centuries back, given the Assamese people an ideal which is also my ideal of Ram Rajaya”

Barpeta at a Glance:
Barpeta is the head quarter of Barepta District of Assam. Barpeta is renowned in the historical map of Assam as the “Land of Satras”. These satras bear the testimony of the great Assamese reformer, saint, scholar and cultural exponent Srimanta sankardeva and his able disciple Sri Madhabdev, who propagated their new ideals and philosophy for the regeneration of the Assamese cultural life founding Barpeta as a centre of their reformatting activities.

Geography:

Barpeta is located at 26° 19΄N 91° 00΄E / 26.32° 19΄N 91° 0΄E. It has an average elevation of 35 metres (144 ft.) It is 44 KM away from the Manas National Park. Two rivers Chaowlkhowa and Mora Nodi, both of which are tributaries to mighty Brahmaputra run through the town.

Education: Barpeta has a very good academic environment for students. Many great man of Assam was born in Barpeta. Ambikagiri Roychoudhury, Prasanalal Choudhury, Mahendra Mohan Choudhury, Banamali Mishra, Dambharudhar Pathak, Purushattam Das, Dr. Kishori Mohan Pathak are among them. There are a good numbers of educational institutes spreading quality education in Barpeta. The well known institutes are Madhab Choudhury College, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Memorial Medical College, Barpeta Law College, B T College, Barpeta Girls College etc.

Transportation:
Barpeta can be reached by air, train and bus. It about 100 KM from Gipnath Bordoloi Internatioanl Airport, 21 Km from Barpeta Road Railway station and buses and other surface vehicles plies from Guwahati and other part of Assam to Barpeta regularly.

Communication:

Barepta is connected with the service BSNL and other major private players of telecommunication. High speed internet connectivity is available.

Accommodation:
Barpeta provides a good number of sophisticated lodges and hotels. The Assam Tourism department’s Prasanti Lodge, Forest department’s banglows, Barpeta Kirtan Ghar’s Guest House are also available. Private hotels tariffs are moderate.

Food and Beverage:
Barpeta is famous for its local cuisines. There are lots of beels (wetlands) in Barpeta, which are the major inhabitance of various species of fish. It also produces good verities of green vegetables. Chinese, Continental and South Indian dishes are also available in Barpeta. The town has a very unique beverage tradition. For the existence of the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar hot drink is strictly prohibited in the town. This prohibition exists from the time of Britsh era. There is not a single wine shop in the town. All most all kinds of soft drinks are available in the town. Though, tea is the most favorite beverage in the Barpeta town.

Brief History of Barpeta:
Barpeta has a great religious importance. It was Known by various names like Tatikuchi, Poabhita, Mathura, Vindavan, Choukhutisthan, Nabaratana-Sabha, Icchakuchi, Pushpak Vimana, Kamrup and Barpeta. The present district was an integral part of the Koch-Hajo and the Ahom kingdom till British administration took over. From the ancient period, Barpeta witnessed the role of the Barmas (380-654) the Salasthamas (655-985) the Palas (985-1260) the Kaamatas (1260-1509) and the Koches from 1509. During the Kamatas and Koch rule major historical development had taken place. During this period large number of local feudatory-chiefs, known as ‘Bhuyan’ ruled the region. The Bhuyan’s are migrated from eastern part of India like Kanuaj, Gauda, Bengal etc. Later they embraced with Assamese Nation and accepted Neo-vaishnavism under influence of Srimanta Sankardeva.

During the regime of Koch King Naranaraya, Shrimanta Sankardeva and his renowned disciple Srhee Shree Madhabdeva visited the Koch Kingdom at Barnagar (Sorbhog). Subsequently Koch King Narayana took saran (accepted) to vaishnavism. The Koch rule was ended with the annexation by the Mughals. The valiant Ahom fought a number of battles against the invading Mughls. Some well known battles were fought at Jakhlikhana, Bhabanipur, Betkuchi etc. Ahoms were deafeted and the Mughals took over the administration and systemised the entire revenue administration. Kamrupa became a sarkar, which was devided into parganas. Barepeta, Khetri, Bajali, Barnagar, Bashbari and Bijni became parganas. For administrative convenience the paraganas were devided into taluks, lats and villages. Parganas were placed under Barbaruas asnd Choudhiries. Taluk remains under Talukdar. They were assisted by Thakuria, Patwaria, Kakati etc. who kept the revenue accounts. Judges in pargans were called Sikdars, whereas Amin and Kanango were responsible for land survey, assessment and collection of revnue.

With the advent of Shrimanta Sankardeva, this region turned into a religious place dotted with numerous satras and in fact Barpeta town came to be called “Boikunthapuri Dham”. As a part of part of patronage to religious places irrespective religion the Ahom rulers had already provided a large number of land- grants to the satras. Dr. Maheswar Neog has pointed out such land-grant in his work “Prasya Sasanwali”. The grants were irrespective of religion, some Muslim Dargah at Baushi, Bhella, Khetri etc. were provided the grants. The most interesting fact is that these granted were made in copper-plate inscriptions (Tamralipi), which are invaluable sources of history.

As a result of the successive invasion of the Burmese, a wide-speared destruction took place. Later, British army entered into Barpeta to drive off the invaders and restore peace. With the advent of British rule Mouzadari system came into effect. In 1841 Barpeta became a Civil Sub Division and John Batlor became the first administrator. As a part of policy exploitation; the British rule enhanced the rate of land revenue, which also resulted a numbers of peasant unrest in between 1893-94 particularly in Bajali and Sarukhetri area. Large number of arrests was carried out to spoil the attempts of unrest. Raijor Shabha (Peoples Body) was constituted during this period to raise the revolt against the British rule.

During the period of freedom struggle, when whole India was raising its voice against colonial rule; Barpeitas were not behind the screen. Large numbers of people participated in the freedom movement and were jailed. The great Barpeita Madan Chandra Barman and Rauta Koch are the martyrs of freedom struggle, who sacrificed their life during Quit India Movement in 1942. Some of the important Congress leaders who lead the freedom struggle in Barpeta were Ambikagir Raichoudhury, Chandraprava Saikiani, kabiraj Ganshyam Das, Umesh Chandra Brahmachari, Dhaniram Talukdar, Ganesh Lal Choudhury, Golak Pathak, Sonaram Choudhury, Madhusudhan Das, and Dr. Jinaram Das etc. The father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi visited Barpeta in 1934 and so did Pandit Jawaharlal Neheru in 1937. The visit of these two national leaders had a tremendous impact on the raise of national awakening in the minds of the local people.

Srimanta Sankardeva: The Great Vaishnava Reformer:
The great vaishnava saint and reformer Srimanta Sankardeva was born in Alipukhuri of Baradowa in Nagaon in 1449. He destined to play a significant role in preaching to humanity and protecting human religion, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the untouchables.

In Gita, Lord Krishna said to Arjuna “when irreligion prevails, I manifest myself in bodily form age after age for the purpose of protecting the saints and destroying the inauspicious forces to foster religion.” Lord Krishna is the symbol of art, Srimanta Sankardeva’s incarnation is a great one, and he was also a symbol of art. There is no ‘Guru’ in the world who equally magnificent as poet, dramatist, painter and sculptor. The incarnation of Srimanta Sankardeva is a historical wonder. He contributed immensely to the integrity of the human culture.

“Ek-Saran-Namdharma” preached by Srimanta Sankardeva emphasizes on the chanting the name of Lord Krishna through devotional songs accompanied by musical instruments. The worship of Lord Krishna through “Nam Prasanga” leads to the quest for truth and balance between the soul and the body. Hardly has there been a religious ‘guru’ who effectively enjoined a pure honest work culture, social discipline, humanized love and thus cherished religious values accepted by all. The lesson of humanism can be drawn in his literature, drama, music, dance, totoy, chopoy, bhaona and art & culture.

Eminent anthropologist Rajmohan Nath described about the Neo-vaishnaviate movement as “During his (Srimanta Sankardeva’s) journey, he went among other places to Gaya, Kashi, Puri, Brindhaban, Mathura, Kurukeshtra, Upa-Badarikasram, Varakestra, Puskar, Davarka and Rameshwar. He noticed that vaishnavism was the rolling religion that had achieved with a new outlooks and movement, the unification of the people on common basis is though the medium of congregational player accompanied with music.”

In the same way well known critic Dr. Satyendra Nath Sarma interpreted the issue as “The vaishnaive in Assam was not an isolated phenomenon having no connection whatsoever with the current vaishnaive revival that swept over the rest of India during this period.”

The philosophy of his religion is enriched with the essence of vedant Baktism manuthesim, spiritualism and humanism. The main tenants of his religious faith are truthfulness, religious liberty and a benevolent attitude towards one and all. His religion wholly characterized by secularism. The doctrines of all the chief religion are assimilated into the vaishviate faith. There is no casteism in his religion. His disciples were from different ethnic tribes of Assam. The members from all castes and communities, Brahmins to Kaystas became His disciple . These names are worth-illustrating Chandasai; a Muslim, Gobinda; a Garo, Jayantahari;a Bhutia, Srirama; a Kaivarta and Madhabdeva; a potter. Women have equal access to namgharrs and can take part in nama-kirtana. They receive initiation and even hold responsible positions. It is to be noted that Kanaklata, Srimanta Sankardev’s grand daughter in law, became not only the head of a satra, she also appointed twelve satradhikars to organize more satras.

Srimanta Sankardeva was a great scholar and literary genius. His eminent literary creation is the “Kritan Ghosha”, an early Assamese poetical work. In “Gonamala” he had cryptically described manifold qualities of Lord Krishna in a day to impress Koch King Narayanan. It is almost like putting an elephant into an earthen pot, which is indeed the essence of “Bhagawat”. “Srimod Bhagawat”, the incomparable creation of Vyasdev, the great scholar of Indian classical religious literature was translated into the Assamese Language by Srimanta Sankardeva.

The Satra Institution:
Srimanta Sankardeva and his great disciple Madhabdeva explicated monotheism through simple narrative description of the scriptures. The open air theatre “Namghar” of Srimanta Sankardeva is the pilgrims of universal human religion as well as its ethos and manners. Srimanta Sankardeva’s cult based on the glorification of “Rama”, one of the greatest manifestation of “Lord Krishna”, has given the full blessings of wider Indian culture to the people of Assam. In this exaggeration to say that Srimanta Sankardeva’s Borgeets, dramas, literatures and poetic diction have created the Assamese national life. The satras setup by Srimanta Sankardeva has an important rule to play in the religious and spiritual life of the people. They have also got special functions. The “Satras and Namghars” gradually turned into religious and social institution for congregation and prayer. In connection Dr. B K Barua’s observation clear and vivid “The Namghars further serve as panchayat hall where villagers gather to discuss and solve many of their day to day problems. The community centre have been even to play political and judicial role”

The administration of a satra is run by the Satradhikar and assisted by Deka Satradhikar and other office bearers. Some of the important functionaries of a satra are:

i) Satradhikar: The head of Satra
ii) Deka Satradhikar: The deputy of the Satradhikar
iii) Bhagawati: the reciter and expounder of the Bhagawat and also known as Nam Lagowa.
iv) Deori: he is responsible for distributing the mah-prasad, he is wheealso known as Bilonia
v) Bharali: his duties and responsibility is like a store keeper.
vi) Gayan: the singer of devotional song (Borgeet)
vii) Bhayan: the bhayans are responsible to play various instruments like Dol, Khol,

The Satra Management:
The Barpeta Satra is administered in accordance with the modern democratic values. In 1935 Assam Valley Magistrate Mr. K C Shundar passed a scheme for the administration of Barepta Satra, the same was modified by Assam Valley Magistrate H C Stook in 1938. And subsequently it was again modified by Kamrup District Magistrate Mr. Safikul Islam in 1977. The Satra management committee is democratically elected by a large number of voters, which are known as Samuh. Before 1977 only male members of the Samuh were eligible for casting their votes to form the Managing Committee. On 5th of January 1977 the then District Magistrate of Kamrup Mr.Safikul Islam through an order, recognized the 18+ female voters also.

The main officials of the Satra Management Committee:
i) Bhora Satriya: The Bhora Satriya is not only the religious head but also the ex-officio president of the managing committee. In almost all the religious and other works are done only after having the consent of the Bhora Satriya.

Eligibility: To be elected a Bhora Satriya the candidate must be a resident of within the jurisdiction of Barpeta Sub-division. The candidate should have simple, discipline and self controlled life style. He must be member of Samuh.

Duty: Generally the Bhora Satriya presides over the meeting of the Satra Management Committee; he also leads the religious activities of the satra.

ii) Deka Satriya: As like as the Bhora Satriya the candidate for the portfolio of the Deka Satriya requires the same eligible criteria. He is the second highest official in the Satra institution. He is the Vice-President of the Satra Management Committee.

Tenure: The tenure of the both post is life time other the same are not expelled by the Samuh for the charge of physical and mental incompetence or bad character.

The Election of Satra Management Committee: Barepta (Satriya) town is divided into 15 assembly covering 22 hattis to elect 28 members (Excluding Bhora & Deka Satriya). The election process is almost similar with the general election prevailing in our country. According to the latest Satra scheme the female voter can also offer their candidature, but till date no female candidate had filled their nomination so far. The tenure of the Satra Management Committee is three years. The committee performs all sorts of works i.e. religious, cultural, socio-economical etc.

The satradhikar and his representatives, accompanied by some of the satra functionaries, pay periodical visits to the village where followers of the satra live. He stays either in a namghar or in a temporary camp made for the purpose, gives sarana to new entrants to the faith and bhajana to senior disciples. Sarana is a simple ceremony through which new converts are advised to follow four fundamental principles of the faith, known as CHARI-VASTU, namely:
i) Nam: Reciting the names of God
ii) Deva: Surrender to the God
iii) Guru: Acceptance of a preceptor.
iv) Bhakat: Taking delight in the company of religious brotherhood.

Over the centuries satras have been multiplied into some hundreds, the socio-political and other changed have effected this religious-cultural organization also. There have also been difference among the satras as evident from arranges of the four Samhatis or sects. But the differences are peripheral, and the hard-rock of Sankardeav’s dramatic faith of bhakti remains unshaken. No matter to what denomination a satra belongs, its ultimate allegiance is always to Sankardeva and Madhabdeva, the great cementing forces behind satriya culture, which to some extend, have homogenized Assamese society. It is the time the satras shed their differences, if there are any, and organized themselves in a proper way so that they can contribute effectively to the enrichment of Assamese cultural life.

Sankardeva created the satraiya dance to accompany the ankiya nat, which was usually performed in the satrsa. As the dance developed and grew within the satras, the dance was named by the litterateur Maheshwar Neog, who tried to promote it. Though the dance has come out of the confines of the satras to a wider audience, the satras continue to use the dance for ritualistic and other purpose for which it was originally created 500 years ago.

The Satriya Dance:
The core of satriya nritya has usually been mythological stories. This was an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an accessible and enjoyable manner. According to tradition, satriya nritya is performed only by the bhakats (Male monks) in monasteries as a part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals. Today, in addition to this practice satriya dance is also performed on stage by men and women who are not the members of the satras, on themes that are not mythological.

Satriya dance is divided into many genres: i) Apsra Nritya, ii) Behar Nritya, iii) Chali Nritya, iv) Dasavatara Nritya, v) Manchok Nritya, vi) Natua Nritya, vii) Rasa Nritya, viii) Rajaghariya Chali Nritya, ix) Gosai prabesh Nritya, x) Barprabesh Nritya, xi) Jhumura Nritya, xii) Nadu Bhangi Nritya and xiii) Sutradhar Nritya. Like the other seven schools of Indian dance, satriya encompasses the principles required of classical dance form: the treaties of dance and dramaturge, like Natyasastra, Abhinaya Dharpan and Sangeet Rantagar.

The satriya dance is accompanied by musical compositions called Borgeets (composed by Sankardeva and others), which are based on classical ragas. The instruments that accompanied a traditional performance are khols (Drums), taals (Cymbals), and the flute. The violin, harmonium etc have been recent additions to the satriya Nritya. The dresses are usually made of pat, a kind of silk produced in Assam, woven with local motives. The ornaments too are based on local traditional design.

On 15th Nov’2000, under the chairmanship of Dr. Bhupen Hazirika, the Sangeet Natak Academy finally gave the satriya dance its due recognition eighth classical dance forms of India. But only recognition is not sufficient. Its high time to appraise the Satriya Nritya and undertake some institutional support for the preservation and conservation of this unique performing art.

The Doul Utsav:
The Doul Jatra or Deol is a festival of purely religious origin celebrated in Barpeta Kirtan Ghar every year. It synchronizes with Holi festival. It influence over Barpetans is very deep. The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is the main centre of this festival. The Deol festival continues for four days. All regular religious functions of the Kirtan Ghar are undergone before the Doul during this festival. All the visitors are provided with accommodation and daily quotas of ration from the Kirtan Ghar free of cost. The number of visitors normally overflows during the festival; many of them stay in the houses of individuals as guests.

Let’s have a look on day wise schedule:

Day I:
The first day of the Deol festival is called Gondh. In the evening of the first day Mahaprabhu Kalia Thakur (Lord Sri Krishna) prepares to visit the place of Ghunucha. So His follower (the people of Barepta) collects a lot of reeds and makes a bonfire in front of Kirtan Ghar. After ritualistic tributes are paid to Mahaprabhu Kalia Thakur is carried with beat of drums, cymbals, mridangas and the fireworks. Thousands of Barpetan follow him. He is placed on the Khatola and taken round the fire to let him bask a little and then carried to the top of the Doul or alter.

Day II and III

On the second day, drummers and musicians perform a bhoana, the bhaona is followed by yatra at night. The visitors from different places spent their nights witnessing these performances. The third day is also observed in the same way as second day.

Day IV
The fourth day is called Sueri, the last day of the festival, when Kalia Thakur is supposed to come back from the house of Ghunucha to the house of house of Lakhsmi, the followers besmear Him with colored powders and bring Him down to a Dola or Plaki (Litter vehicle). At the same time another party of devotees carrying their own Dola from Baradi, another vaishava center arrives at Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The place virtually becomes a sea of devotees. Sounds of conch-shells, drums, cymbals, and Holi songs rend the sky. The children through the fistfuls of colored powders at one another. The God is carried in a procession by devotees to Kanariya, a place some half a mile away from the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The precisionists are so numerous that to cover the half mile takes them about three hours. At Kanariya, the God is stepped down of the palki and offered a kind of green pulse to eat. The satradhikar speaks a few words to gathering on the significance of the festival.

After the speech of satradhikar, Kaliya Thakur is taken back to Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. But to His mismay, He finds that the gate of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is barred to Him with a strong bamboo. Because He was away for all these days at Ghunucha’s place, Mother Lakhsmi is angry with Him and so orders her followers to stop Him from entering her house. His followers bag her pardon on his behalf, but to no avail. Both sides enter into an argument and ultimately fall out and a kind of free-for-all ensues. This is a fought with danger, for young men out of neutral enthusiasm apply all their strength to break the bamboo bar, some get injured in the melee. By any means the bamboo is broken and Kaliya Thakur is carried inside the compound around which He goes seven times. He tires and takes rest for a while. Taking advantage of the peace, a devotee from Lakhsmi’s side reproves Him; one of the His devotee returns the reproves. An interesting verbal duel thus ensues. In the end He admits the defeat, like a peace loving husband, satisfies Her with money and other presents and earns His admittance into the Shrine. There ends the great Doul Utsav.

The Attractions inside the Satra :

Satra Complex: – There are three main gates to inter the Sarta complex, these gates are called is Batchara i.e. (i) batchara from Nahati (ii) Batchara from Uttar hati and Batchaea from dakshinhati. People are not allowed to enter beyond these Batchara with footwear and on any vehicles. It is assumed that the reason behind this rule is to culminate the accident and show honour towards the Satra complex. There are signboards written in Assamese, Hindi and saying the rule.

Kirtan Ghar:
– Kirtan ghar is situated in the almost center of the Sarta complex. Main entrance in the west, Bhag ghar is in east. There are Guru Ashans, which are followed by tow big Ghacha (stand) are kept Akhay Banti. There are two Chairs for Bora Satriya in the east corner of the Guru Ashan.
There are three Guru Ashans in the Kirtan Ghar, it is believed that these Guru Ashan are associated with the name of Sri Sankar Dev, Madhab Dev and Padma Ata. According to the general faith these three Guru Ashan are dedicated towards lord Krishna in a composite form.
There are seven Bar Sarais (great sarais) are kept in a line before the Guru Ashan. One Chaki/ Pradip are lightening in front of each Bar Sarai. The sight is really super natural. There is no statue of any God or Goddess inside the Kirtan ghar.

Bhaj Ghar:
– This is known as Monikut, valuable ornaments of gold and silver are kept in this area. Some representative statues are also kept here. The Bhaj Ghar is established in the east side of Kirtan Gharn in the north-south position. The architectural style of the Bhaj Ghar is unique.

Pat Chang: – The pat chang also carries a special architectural style. The pat chang is a made of wood and tin. It is constructed parallel to the Bhaj Ghar 8(eight) feet away from the later. The floor of the pat chang is 5 (five) feet above from the ground. Some special meetings are held here. Basically religious and administrative issues of satra are discussed here. It is honored as pure as the pat chang of king Kongsha.

Khatkhati Ghat:
– There is a tiny cannel running to the side of Satre complex. It was known as Khatkhati Jan (cannel).Shree Madhab Ded, the great disciple of Srimanta Sankar Ded used to bath along with other bhakats in this cannel. For this purpose steps (khatkhati) was cojnstructed with stone. Hence, it was known as Khatkhati ghat. It bears the memories of great Madhab Deb. Scenic beauty of this jan is really attractive. There are some statues of child Krishna in the water of the jan (cannel). One modern guest house is constructed at the east bank of the cannel. Earlier traditional boat race was organized in this jan, but has government has stop the current of water by constructing embankment at the both point of the jan.

Math: – The math available in the Barpeta Satra is similar with the architectural style of Ahom king. Some precious Sankar –Madhab memorabilia are kept in the math i.e. a piece of stone (used of Sankar and Madhab to wash their feet ), the script of Sankar Deb”s Dasham and Madhab Deb’s Namghosha, Bhaktiratnayali and two “Negeri” currency, which was given to Madhura Das by Madhab Dev as remuneration. It is a general belief that no one tells a lie in front of the Math.

Sri Ram Ata’s Bhiti: – The house (Bhiti means house) of Sri Ram Ata was established opposite to the house of Madhab Dev’s house. Now a day one well is constructed here
, the water of this well is assumed as pure and water from this well is used in all the works of the Satra.


Bhora Ata’s Bhiti
:- In the north-east position of the Satra there is a small but beautiful house. Mathura Das Ata spent his last days in this house as he can wholly concentrate on the holy works.


Bhagawat Graiha :
-It is an open (without wall)English letter L size house, it is used as a prayer house, every day at the morning and evening time people come to listen the Bhagawat. In the time of Deol or holi the Bhagwat house is used as temporary medical house.


Sabha Ghar:
– Sabha Ghar is also an open house in the north-west position of the Kirtan Ghar. General meeting of “Samoh Bhakat” (Community) are held here. There is a small house in the north side of the Sabha ghar it is known As Jagamohan Ghriha. In the last day of Doul Utsav the statue of Shamray is kept here for some moments.

Some other important touristy items in side the Satra Complex are Sankar Dev Library, Bhouna (theatre) stage, office of the managing committee etc.

Other Places of Tourist Interests (Vaishnaviate):

Barpeta is the centre of vaishnaviate culture. There are a good numbers of satras spreading across the district. Since the time immemorial these satras attract large numbers of devotees from all over the state, particularly during the festival and anniversaries. Among the satras that are regularly visited by the tourists are Sundhardiya Satra, Sunpura Satra, Ganakkuchi Satra, Satrakanara Satra ,Jania Satra etc.

The Barpeta town is divided into 22 Hattis that are inhabited by the devoted followers and families of the gurus, which are administered by the Barpeta Satra administration. This unique feature is not found in any place in Assam.

Let’s find out the major tourist attraction of Barpeta:
1. Chinpara Vithi: Chinpara Vithi is the place where Srimanta Sankardeva landed from his boat at Barpeta on the bank of Palengdhi Bori, which is presently called Palengdhihati. The saint stayed here for six months to propagate his faith. This place is located about ½ KM north of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The namghar established by the guru still exists here.

2.Sundardhiya Satra: Located near Barpeta Town. This is a satra played an important rule in expanding vaishnavism and reformation. Sri Madhabdeva founded the satra and composed the ‘Bhakti Ratnakar’ and ‘Namghosha’ here in the original vithi (Foundation) of the satra. The great saint during his sojourn here dug a well preserved till today and water of the well is considered holy. Three gurus Asanas (Chair) placed in the name of Srimanta Sankardeva, Sri Madhabdeva and Sri Badhula Ata.

3. Ganakkuchi Satra: Established by Sri Madhabdeva and stayed for more than eighteen years. A large number of Sachipat Puthis (Books written on the leaves of a special kind of tree) are preserved in this satra. It is situated within the radius of Barepta Municipality.

4. Baradi Satra: This satra was also established by Sri Madhabdeva. The common people were greatly influenced by the teaching of this great scholar. This satra became an important centre of vaishnaviate learning.

5. Gorokhiya Gosair Thaan: Sri Narayan Das Thakur Ata, a disciple of Srimanta Sankardeva came to offer his devotion that said to be founded by some cow herds (Gorokhiya). The building of this Thaan has a close resemblance of the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The Thaan covers an area of 25 Bighas green land, where Doul festival is organized annually with pomp and splendor.

Suggestion and Recommendation:
Following steps can be taken to develop Barepta Kirtan Ghar to boost up the cultural tourism and over all development of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar:

1. Infrastructural development (i.e. road connectivity, guest house, one museum etc.) should be done to attract more tourists.

2. Tourism and cultural ministry of Assam Government should initiate marketing activities through print & electronic media.

3. Government should try to get the Brindabni Bastra from British Museum. Non-government organization should also initiate awareness programmes to gain the public opinion for the same.

4. Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. can launch special package tour from Guwahati on weekends.

Conclusion:
The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is the centre of Neo-Vaishnaviate culture of Assam. But unfortunately Government of Assam in not interested to boost its tourism potentiality. In 2000 the Sangeet Natak Academy recognized Satriya Nritya as a classical dance, yet after the recognition state government has not taken any bold initiate for the conservation and preservation of the same. On the other hand, thousand bighas of land belonging to Barpeta Satra is under the illegal possession. This is the high time to do something for the preservation, conservation and development of Barepta Kirtan Ghar. Every Barpeita as well as Assamese community should loud their voice for the greater interest of this unique place.

The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar has immense potentiality for future study and research.

Glossary:

Aldhara: Personal attendant of Satradhikar or a superior monk.
Athpariya: Officer who keeps vigil at satra (literally, having eight stages of a day of night.
Bahar: Temporary camp for Satradhikar during periodical visit to villages.
Borgeet: Devotional songs in classical tunes particularly composed by Sankardeva and Madhabdeva.
Bayan: Officer-in-charge of instrumental music.
Bhagavati: Ecclesiastical officer engaged in reading and expounding the Bhagavata.
Bhajana: Higher form of ordination.
Bhakat: Monk, initiated disciple.
Bharali: Provision keeper of the satra.
Bhaona: Religious theatrical performance.
Mahapurushiya: A person who follows the religion of Sankardeva.
Samuh: The voter community of Barpeta Satra.
Kar: Lavy paid by the Samuh to the Satra.
Dhar: Fine as punishment for violating the mahapurushiya norms.
Pala: Every person to render his service towards the satra in accordance.

Recommanded Further Reading:
1. Dr. Uday Nath: Barpetar Sanskritik Burnji, 2001
2. Gokul Pathak: Barpeta Satrar Itihas, Amar Desh Brakasan, Barepta, Fifth Edition, 2003.
3. B K Barua: Sankardeva, Vaishanava Saint of Assam
4. Brirendra Nath Dutta: Assam the Emerland Treasure & Land.
5. S N Sarma: Neo-Vaishnaviate Movement and Satra Institute of Assam
6. Janice Darbari: Srimanta Sankardeva: The Living Legend, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi-14, First Edition, 1998.

Note: The study was made for academic purpose. Specially to know the tourism potentiality of Barpeta. I express my heartiest gratitude to all the concerned for their support and information.

Katneswar Barman’s Sculptures

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Shanti Nagar, a beautiful hilly place near the 4th APBN head quarter. I frequently visit this place. Many poor women of this area have availed credit from Ujjivan and earning their livelihood. But yesterday’s visit was bit more delightful. I went to see the impacts of tiny loans among under-privileged families of this area. Suddenly, I met a person. At a winter morning, the man at sixty was enjoying the heat of burning firewood. When I closely looked at him, he was giving the final touch on his first ever concrete sculpture. Balladeer of Brahmaputa Dr. Bhupen Hazarika is smiling through his tough hands. The hands, for the last 42 years were carrying AK47.

Kanteswar Barman, a just retired police officer of Assam Battalion, had started his career as a constable in the year of 1967. He had to given up his education before matriculation due to poor economic condition of his family. But the police protocol could not arrest the creativity of this inborn artist. In the year of 1976, he found the world as a canvas not just a battle field. The hands, which had cleaned the barrels of the gun everyday, took brush and started painting. Episodically, he continued oil painting, mixed media painting and wooden sculpture through out his police career.

“Being a responsible police officer it’s very tough to concentrate on creativity” Mr. Barman said. Now, he has plenty of time, but unfortunately due old age he has lost his control over his finger. Oil painting, mixed media painting needs maximum smoothness of finger. The inborn artist has chosen another medium to express his creativity, started concrete sculpture. And most interestingly, his first project is Bhupenda! For the last three months he is working on the same.

I was looking so curiously his work on Bhupenda’s statue. He suddenly stopped his work and takes me into his drawing room. I was shocked; the room was full of his paintings and wooden sculptures. He described me one by one. Mahatma Gandhi’s wooden statue, Anna Hazare’s wooden statue and numbers of other amazing creative pieces were kept on the room. The paintings are eye-catching as well as mind-blowing. One oil painting on de-forestation proves his geniuses.

But unfortunately, all these beautiful pieces were stored haphazardly; some of those were getting fungi and colors getting pale. Usually these type sculptures and painting are kept in dry and dust free weather and appropriate temperature is also maintained. Sometimes coating also used for durability of these pieces. When I asked about preservation and conservation; his wife answered “some of his painting also got burnt”.

After having a long chat, I came to know that, till date his works are not reported by any new paper also and financially he is not sound to preserve these on a meaningful way. In 2009, he was awarded second prize in an exhibition held at Judges Field, Guwahati. That is the only recognition he has received so far!

Spontaneously, I got committed to do my level best to preserve his noble works. But again unfortunately, I can’t move a single step with out your help.

Published in Dare2Speak.org on 1-2-12