Saturday, March 16, 2013

Three Villages and a Wedding

It was a girls' day out. Mizink, Beauty, Mosumi, and myself spent the day speaking to women in Bodo communities, hearing what they had to say regarding the recent ethnic conflict that started in July. I visited three villages - Muinatola, Tulsibhil, and Lokhigaon through which certain themes emerged and re-emerged in the conversations.

Immediate Aftermath
On 23rd July Muslims burnt Bodo homes in those villages that had a mixed population of both Bodos and Muslims. Areas that were largely Bodo were spared because of the latter's majority. These areas later became safe havens for families to stay with relatives or for government set up relief camps.

In the first few days, the women's sole possessions were the clothes they were wearing. They had left all other belongings in their homes which were looted, broken, and burned. There was no place to bathe and no food to eat. The families in these villages contributed small portions of rice and daal which were cooked and distributed collectively. Organizations like the ABSU and NERSWN were some of the first groups to provide temporary relief such as rice and vegetables as well sanitary napkins to the women. Oxfam provided plastic sheets that functioned as roofs/beds/covers.

Some people were scared to venture out into the open, so they hid in the jungle at night. A few got left behind in the village, and they could not join their families for fear of being killed if found. The police transported these individuals to the relief camp in Gambharibhil, where they joined the rest of the families.

At the Relief Camp
Most relief camps were set up in school buildings and other such pre-existing infrastructure. Both the men and women slept in cramped, congested spaces, the latter spending their nights inside the rooms and the former on the outside verandas. Each person was allotted 300 grams of food per meal, for which they had to wait in long lines and often in the rain. Most people spent 4-5 months in these camps and when they could afford it they took a room for rent in areas like Dotma where 3 rooms cost Rs 3000 per month. Others stayed with relatives in unaffected villages such as Gambharibhil. The government distributed water packets and constructed tube wells. Bath houses were makeshift tarpaulin propped up with bamboo poles.

A few children were born in the camps. One woman recalled at least five births in the Gambharibhil relief camp. Nutrition was provided to these new mothers and children through Anganwadi services. The government also distributed items such as dokonas (traditional Bodo female attire), oil, soap, sanitary napkins, etc.A doctor visited the camps in the day and left at night. He provided medication for common illnesses such as diarrhea, fever, and cough.

When pre-existing buildings were not enough, makeshift tents with blue or gray plastic coverings were set up. People from different villages were brought together to live in unknown spaces, so there was bound to be conflict and lack of privacy. If one dokona was given per household, it had to be shared amongst its multiple female members.

The Return
Many waited until after Diwali to return to their villages, in the fear that exploding firecrackers would  result in further violence. The government gave out checks for Rs 22,700 per family. Some also received additional funds of Rs 30,000 from the Central government. Certain government services started up again, but on a limited basis. Supplementary nutrition was provided to the children, but since the Anganwadis no longer had utensils (they had been looted) the food was distributed to families upon its arrival. Additionally, rice, daal, and chura were available at the Anganwadis. Both men and women participated in daily manual labour, the wages for the two being Rs 250 and Rs 150, respectively. Since the riots adversely impacted farming activities, some Bodos requested three months of ration from the SDO. This had not been given thus far.

Muslims and Boros used to have a comparatively trusting relationship before the riots. Muslims used to work in the homes of the Bodos. However, now there was greater suspicion and lack of interaction between the two communities. For many women before the conflict, income was generated through piggeries and selling vegetables. Due to fear and lack of opportunities, many simply stayed at home now and waited until the worst was over. One particular woman was not included in the list of beneficiaries, because her brothers were supporting their individual families. Furthermore, lack of BPL status prevented widows from availing of social benefits such as widow or old-age pension.Those families whose homes were insured for destruction of property had not received any money when their homes or vehicles were burnt. Instead, they were asked for bribes from different government and insurance officials.

Those who ventured out into the Muslim dominated market did so quickly and with little conversation. CRPF men were stationed at positions throughout the market for 24 hours a day. However, Bodos did not go to the market after 6 in the evening. The two communities avoided speaking to each other at all costs. In February, a dead goat was found by the police who proceeded to round up men from each home in Tulsibhil. The men were loaded into police vehicles under the suspicion of inciting ethnic tensions. Their women came out to the streets and argued with the police. After much quarrel, the men were released.

So many questions. So many stories to process. I thought of the room we sat in which was a deserted Union Bank office. The bank-walas would be back, and then what? The family that currently stayed there would be displaced yet again. Stability and security is a distant dream for these communities...

On a lighter note, I attended a Bodo wedding today. We entered a large tent set up as a maze. The tunnel opened up into a room where the bride and groom sat. They were cross legged on a large cushion surrounded by a curtain of intricate floral arrangements. We shook their hands and walked through another maze into a dining area. Fish, fried fish, pork, fish egg sauce, and rice. I had it all with the local rice beer which a smiling woman generously poured into my small, plastic glass. It was sweet and sharply pungent, sort of like mahua. We ate, left through another maze, and sat in another tented room. Here, pan was being served. It is as common as chai, eaten at every occasion, after every meal. The preparation was simple, a few chopped betel nuts wrapped in a leaf smeared lightly with a minty white sauce. It's a bit too strong for me, but here people love it. We left soon thereafter. This is how wedding attendance should be - short, sweet, and full of food.

No comments:

Post a Comment