Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Office

Beauty left at 6:30 am, after which I was not able to sleep. By 7 I figured everyone was up since there was a lot of clanging of pots and pans and female chatter. I stepped outside to find the other two still asleep. The noise had come from the other rooms in the quarter which belonged to the landlords of the NERSWN office being rented. A young girl with curly hair was getting her hair oiled and pleated and another woman was fetching water for the day's cooking. There was no faucet at the Gossaigaon quarters, only a deep, deep well with a metal bucket tied to a rubber rope. Pulling it up multiple times a day I can envision my biceps gaining significant bulk. Messing with Pragya just got tougher.

I had reasoned with my stomach that I would not get breakfast. Imagine my belly's joy upon seeing Firoz' smiling face, asking me if I wanted to join him for breakfast across the street. Do I? My stomach was very happy indeed, especially after gouging down two freshly cooked chapattis and a bowl of aaloo-mattar sabji.

Sonam dropped me to Gossaigaon town where I was to meet the Sub-Divisional Officer (Civil), Mr. Vinod Seshan. I called him upon arrival at the office, but he had left for a meeting at Kokrajhar. He suggested I meet with the Extra Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Das who would be able to brief me on what the department had been doing in terms of relief work in response to the ethnic conflict. Mr. Das was available after noon, so I had an hour to kill. I had brought a book a long, The History of the Plains Tribes Council of Assam. It functioned as a sleep inducer which helped the time go by quicker. Noon came along. No sign of Mr. Das. His phone was unreachable. I waited and I waited. Finally, at 1:15 pm I got up to leave and was walking toward the stairs when a tall, mustached  man came up and asked me, "Are you from TISS?". Why, hello Mr. Das.

I gave him a list of all the records I wanted: the number of relief camps the government had set up since the conflict in July, their breakdown by gender, age, community (Adivasi, Bodo, or Muslim), the funds that had been dispersed for ration, financial compensation, education, infrastructure...well, you get the idea. He told me to come back at 3 when he would have the data ready for me.

I took a slow, rickety rickshaw back to the office, ate a hearty lunch of rice, daal, and Gossaigaon's special pork, and returned to the SDO's office. Mr. Das presented me with a stack of copies from the Social Welfare Department. All 48 relief camps that had been set up were now closed. Naturally, I asked Mr. Das where all the people had gone. "Back to their villages," he said. I thought of Beauty and Nijhara's homelessness. Where would they go? I managed to meet with Mr. Seshan later in the afternoon as well, who updated me on what the administration had done as well. Through these conversations, the following figures stood out (all these numbers are for the sub-division of Gossaigaon only):
- A total of 66,990 women were at 46 relief camps out of a total of 1,65,595 residents at the camps.
- 23 of these 46 camps did not have separate toilets for men and women.
- 22 people were killed in the ethnic violence, out of which 5 were women and 16 were Muslim.
- 14 people were injured during the conflict, out of which 13 were Muslim.
- As of March 12, 2013 the government had distributed 40961.11 quintals of rice, 7574.57 quintals of daal, 10116 tins of oil, and 2366.24 quintals of salt, amongst other items.
- As of October 25, 2012 3816 containers of baby food were distributed over 39 relief camps.
- 651 pregnant women, 826 nursing mothers, and 7007 children aged 6 months- 6 ears received benefits from the Integrated Child Development Scheme: milk, jaggery, biscuits, etc.
- 28,583 homes had burnt down during the conflict, for which the families received a total of Rs 1,42,91,500
- Medical aid was provided to 1,21,519 patients in 39 relief camps
- No pregnant women delivered in the relief camps and no pregnant women died while staying in the camps.

These figures tell a story of systematic delivery. It is the perspective of government officials. What I plan on doing in the next few days is hearing the voices of the camp residents, as to how much of the above is true.

In the evening, we went to a Bodo Theater performance. The ticket was Rs 300, but we had free passes. The event was under a makeshift canvas tent, and jampacked with some 500 people sitting on red plastic chairs. While I did not understand a word of Bodo, this is what was translated to me:
- A woman gets a new cell phone and has a extra-marital affair with a man she dials a wrong number to. The woman leaves her husband, who happens to be twice her age. Their two school-going sons find her goodbye note.
- The woman and her new husband are rejected by the man's parents, and they go out to leave on their own.
- 20 years later...the deserted husband (old guy) and his two sons are living together. The cooler son brings home a young orphan girl who is to be their new 'mother'.
- The eloped couple are poor and the husband is a rickshaw driver. He agrees to give a ride to a Muslim, for which he is beaten up by the other rickshaw drivers.

This was an hour into the play, complete with flashing lights, '90s music sound effects, and the occasional song and dance sequence. It was apparently quite funny, the comic relief being provided by an over-educated servant, the old man, and the skullcap-donning Muslim who was praying in the middle of the road and got kicked during namaz by the old man. We left a few minutes after even though the musical event continued. As the 6 of us walked down the dark street back to the office, Sonam spoke about how it was quite common for extramarital affairs to occur when people had first started getting cell phones. The play also highlighted the tensions between Bodos and Muslims. In other words, it provided a healthy dose of reality in the guise of comedy. I understood now why the place had been packed. People needed to relax and be entertained, something that had seemed difficult a few months ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment