Monday, March 18, 2013

Moving Forward

Another day with ODRC. Another day in Muslim and Bodo communities. Another day of listening to those who have little left except their social and economic losses. On the flipside, it was another day of reconstruction, of rebuilding, of persistence and conviction that despite everything, life can get better, because the only option available is to move forward.

Our first stop was at Matyapada where I spoke to a few Muslim women at the wooden benches of a school. They had been back here for the past three months. After the riots they had left for the Tamahar relief camp where they had been provided with rice and daal. Water had been sourced from tubewells. Children had been given milk, biscuits, and chura. Of the 17,000 people at that relief camp, these women knew of two from Matyapada who had given birth there. For baths, the women used to take a vehicle to the nearby area of Sapkata. Jamaat-e-Islam-Hind had helped them by providing burkhas and Rs 500 to some families. Most households had received the government compensation of Rs 22,700 and Rs 30,000. Only 22 families had gotten land pattas. I saw an empty expanse of land which apparently had a patta. The shelter here had a tin roof, indicating legal ownership. The piece of land adjacent to it had no tin roof. No patta. The women did not know what the criteria had been for the distribution of these pattas. They were largely in the dark as far as social and economic benefits were concerned. As was the case in their community's culture, the women did not interact with the government or market directly. Their place was in the home.

While the Integrated Child Development Scheme had been operational during the camp, it was not  functioning ever since they had come back. The Anganwadis gave them nothing. Furthermore, pension was provided to 10 of some 17 widows in the village.

The women invited me to their homes. I suppose they wanted me to see what their living conditions were like. Maybe they thought I could offer them something and wanted to request amenities. Like a sympathetic tourist, I was helpless. The concept of someone conversing simply to understand would seem foreign and utterly useless to me too if I were in their position. I had nothing to offer them except false hope, and that too I tried to hold back.

After a brief stop in the village of Panvari, we visited Gosaikath, one of the larger Muslim affected areas. Large concrete pillars had political slogans painted on each of their faces. 'Long. Live. ABMSU (All Bodoland Muslims Student Union). Other signs indicated the work that Jamaat-e-Islam-Hind had done. This village consisted of about 700 homes, and the people here had also returned three months back. Signs of growth were visible in the budding green shoots in their fields. Children were playing football in the arena in front of an ODRC constructed school. Mid-day meals were being served during our time here - rice, daal, and a potato-cabbage concoction. Relations were comparatively better between Bodos and Muslims here, in that economic transactions took place. There had even been a sports competition cum peace meet between both men and women from the two communities. A single high bridge connected Gossaigath to the rest of the world. It had been destroyed by the Bodos during the conflict, but had since been rebuilt.

After a hearty lunch at a dhaba on the highway near the Assam-West Bengal border we went to the area of Shimul Tapu Public Grazing Reserve (P.G.R.). It consisted of approximately 86 households of numerous communities such as Muslim, Bodo, Rajbankshi, Nepali, and Bengali. During the ethnic conflict, the Bodos and Muslims had gone to different relief camps in Jaraguri. At that time, the Rajbankshis left for West Bengal, and the Nepalis had gone to their native villages. Medical treatment was provided in the Jaraguri Hospital. As was the case in other villages, the Anganwadi had been running well in the relief camps, but its work had stopped altogether once people had returned to their villages. Oxfam had worked in the camps, providing tents and 40 toilets to the families that did not have one. Tata Trust provided handpumps and organized a peace meeting between the different communities. The camps consisted of large tents longitudinal in structure. Within each tent, some twenty smaller living areas were constructed, each 'room' housing one family and one chulha for cooking. Some rooms were also available for rent at Rs 500 a month around the Jaraguri area.

The government had provided financial compensation to twenty families in Shimul Tapur, and the rest were making ends meet. Certain men in the village worked in Meghalaya at the coal mines. They sent Rs 10,000-12,000 to their families here. Other families had given their land for cultivation to the Bengalis. This protected the crops from being destroyed. Half the crop was given as remuneration to the Bengali caretakers. The school building remained unaffected by the conflict; since children from multiple communities studied there, it had not been burnt down.

No comments:

Post a Comment