The history of human civilization is same as the history of change and development. The advent of renaissance and industrial revolution in seventeen century opened up the scope of change and development beyond imagination. The science and technology played a vital role this whole journey. But history also tells us that a certain section of the society always remains outside the ambit of such change and development process. This alienation is sometimes deliberate and as well as forceful. We observe such alienation of tribal of northeast region of the India from development process, during colonial period British Raj distinguished the tribal from the people living in the valleys. The colonial rulers were less bothered about development interventions in tribal dominated areas as most of those tribal areas were not economically viable as far as revenue collection was concerned. Sociologists opine that such alienation is one of the major reasons for the current unrest in this region. But today we are going to discuss another aspect of exclusive development model and its impacts on the marginalized tribal groups.
Maghuwapara village is around four kilometers from southern part of Guwahati city’s Gorchowk chariali point. Southern side of the village is covered by a hill called Dakini Parbat, a small river flows from Basistha temple, it runs through northern side of the village and reaches famous Deepor Beel, a Ramsar wetland. The village is dominated by Karbi tribesmen. Till last few decades, agriculture was the prime occupation of its people. The village having the natural resources like hill, river, wetland etc was ideal for agriculture. But everything has been changed so brutally!
We carried out a field study in the village as well as important places nearby the village to have firsthand information and better understanding of their issues and concerns. In fact we came across many startling facts and untold stories of suffering and agony thorough out our month long study.
The first household we visited was locked. In the second house, we found a middle aged man; his wife went for daily wage earning. He brought two wooden chairs for us from the mud walled room. He asked us to have seat and called his +2 exam appeared daughter, who was passing of time in neighbors’ house by watching TV. His daughter Mami took us to Rita Teron Das’s house. Rita was also not available in her house. Fortunately, Rita’s mother was available to talk. The villagers are normally engaged in various income generating activities. Very few of them remain in the village during day time.
Noani Rangsal, the widow mother of Rita Teron seemed to be very informative and pleasant to talk. She offered us Pira (Stool without arm, back and legs). After a brief interaction when we asked about prevalence of alcoholism, she said “People do hard works, they carries firewood from the hills, works as driver, daily wage earner, they do physical labour and get tired; what they will do? They take jharlong (rice bear)”. But she feels, there have been some changes in the occupation, food habit as well as the rice bear. Agriculture was the prime occupation for the generation of Naoni’s parents. In those days all the villagers used to cultivate rice, vegetable and so on. The small river nearby the village was like a lifeline for them. It provided plenty of fishes as well as tortoises.
Noani recalled “We used to catch varieties of fishes from the river; sometimes we also went to Deepor Beel to catch fish” she added “In those days our parents used to prepare the bear from the local rice cultivated from our own land. It was much tastier and healthier in those days.” But everything has been changed during last few decades, especially in the last few years. Nobody is engaged in agricultural production anymore. In fact they don’t have the land. Their lands have been bought by the Mahajans from the town. Mahajans used to provide huge (?) amount of money for the land. Some of the people were happy to sell their land; some of them sold their agricultural land to build a good house. Noani says “People sold their land as they thought that, if once they can build their house (at least); they can earn their livelihood by daily wage earning also.” She also remembers that some of those villagers sold their land out of compulsion. Her brothers had to sell off five bighas of land close to her house as adjoining plots were sold out to the Mahajan and hence, her brothers couldn’t cultivate the land and finally sold their portion as well. Another village woman Mamoni Rangsal (30) also describes grimmer story; her father-in-law’s three bighas of agricultural patta land was forcefully taken possession by some men having muscle power and good connection with the government offices and later on they sold the land to some company. Now the big structure is coming up in their earlier land.
The rapid urbanization of Guwahati has been immense impact on Maghuwapara village. Rita Teron (35) says “Companies have acquired those lands, once our forefathers used to cultivate. They are cutting the Dakini Parbat (nearby hill) and filling the low land to construct big warehouse and factories”. These tribal people are not only being ousted from their land; but they are also being deprived from the common natural resources like river, wetland etc. Somehow controlling her rage, Noani Rangsal says “For the last six/seven years we even can’t eat the fish of our river, it smells like urine”. The Guwahati Municipal Corporation had linked Bharalu with the small river which runs nearby the village. Now the sewerage of the city passes through it. A young woman says that they dry the fish in sunlight of oven and then cook to minimize the smell. It is believed that maximum of the aqua lives of the river has been destroyed due to linkage with contaminated water of Bharalu River. At the same time the garbage dumping ground of West Boragaon is very close to the village. Four hundred TPD garbage from the city are being dumped everyday in this ground whereas only fifty TPD garbage are being processed by Solid Waste Management (MSW) Company RAMKY. Sometimes the villagers can’t take breath due to bad smell from the dumping ground.
One the other hand the villagers are not allowed to catch fish from Deepor Beel. The Forest Department has put notice, posters and signboards warning the villagers not to fish in the Beel. The paradox is that in one hand the government is barring the tribal villagers to access the natural resource and on the other hand the same government allowed the Mahajans and corporate to build warehouse, factories, dumping ground on the same vicinity. The dumping ground has been causing severe damage to the ecosystem of Deepor Beel. It has been often reported that fish and other aqua lives are dying out of these projects. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh’s remark on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is quite relevant in this context, while talking about EIA procedure, he admitted it as a ‘bit of joke’ and said “the system we have today, the person putting up the project prepares the report”
Who cares about the tribal like Noani, Maromi or Rita of Maghuwapara. The so called educated and developed society easily blames them as drunken, lazy or so forth. But Noami remembers that her father and uncles were not lazy, they used to work in the field and used to drink the rice bear everyday; still they lived a healthy and long life. But her two brothers died premature death out of liver problem. She doubts, the rice they are using now a days are no longer organic, the pesticides used in the rice might have caused problem. Their food habit has been changed; no longer they are a ‘food sovereign’ community. The rice, pulse, or vegetable everything has to be bought from the market. Money has become much important than never before and they do not have a decent way to earn money. They have to collect firewood from the hills, or they will have to work as daily wage earner or has to work in stone quarries earn money.
Social Scientist Monirul Hussain’s observation on development is quite applicable on the life of these tribal people “Development is neither neutral nor equal, it is biased and unequal. In many cases, it is brutal, ruthless and inhuman!”