More than a month has passed since the public uprising and subsequent agitation in Churachandpur district of Manipur after three controversial bills were passed by the state government on August 31. The three bills are the Protection of Manipur People's Bill 2015, the Manipur Shops and Establishment (Second Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015.
The contention and huge uproar over the three bills were echoed in all the five tribal hill districts in the state - Churachandpur, Chandel, Tamenglong, Senapati and Ukhrul.
Significantly, the tribal people asserted that the undemocratic passing of the three bills impinged upon their basic constitutional rights under Article 371C of the Indian Constitution, wherein administration of the hill areas lies with the president and that executive powers of the union is extended to the said areas.
Moreover, the newly introduced Protection of Manipur People's Bill 2015 strictly limits its "citizenship" to the census report of 1951 and categorically termed "people" who are recorded in the 1951 census as "natives".
This has caused a deep resentment among the tribal people in the hills. According to the cut-off year, many would be left out of the "native list". Given the geo-physical and developmental challenges, where the remote tribal areas are isolated, it is a well known fact that the census record cannot and will not give accurate data. It is of utmost importance to also underline here that after more than 60 years of India's independence, India is yet to ascertain and draw its International boundary lines in the northeastern sector. The 35-km stretch of international border in the Manipur sector is yet to be demarcated on the ground.
The state assembly passed the said bills without any debate or opposition in the assembly. In fact, there is no opposition party in the Manipur state assembly. Out of the 60 legislative members, 40 are from the Congress, while 20 are from regional parties or state parties such as All India Trinamool Congress, Manipur State Congress party and Naga People's Front.
Even the exclusive Hill Areas Committee, consisting of the tribal legislative members, was reportedly a silent spectator to the passing of the bills. Their silence was interpreted as "acceptance" by the ruling government and supported by the "majority" non-tribal valley dwellers. The tribal people interpreted this as "incompetence" and "dysfunctional" and directed their anger against the tribal elected representatives, subsequently burning down their residences and socially boycotting the 20-odd tribal MLAs.
Much as it is geo-physically comprising the Imphal valley and hills and socio-culturally inhabited by tribals and non-tribals, the state of Manipur has been administered separately. Historically, the valley administration has never been extended to the tribal hill areas even during the British colonial rule before 1947. This continued even after independence and statehood. While the tribal village chiefs governed and administered the hill areas in pre-Independence era, in the post-statehood and India's independence time the hill areas were administered under Article 371C of the Indian Constitution.
As rightly contended by the tribal people, census record(s) cannot be "proof of citizenship or nativity" as the tribal people owe their allegiance and citizenship to their village chiefs.
The random, umbrella bills for the entire state is a grave mistake on the part of the state legislators in a state as diverse as Manipur. More importantly, in a state that has seen and witnessed numerous violent militant movements and conflicts, such an act of apathy and arrogance on the part of the ruling state government indeed is a dangerous trend given the sensitivity of the issue.
Including state Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, none of the state legislators has so far visited the district. The only gesture is a meeting called by the chief minister with representatives of the agitators, which is too little too late. Though the 20 tribal legislators have been consistently saying that they would resign, none of them has officially offered their resignation.
Till today, groups of young people were running amok, destroying vehicles and burning houses. As recently as on October 13 midnight, a school building was burned down in Lamka by a group of angry youths.
As it stands, the bodies of the nine people who died in the violence following the passing of the bills are still lying unclaimed in the hospital morgue. Curfews are imposed at any time by any group. Reportedly, the police depend upon the intervention of the womenfolk to control the situation or any incident that arises. There is literally no "public administration".
The tribal hill district of Churachandpur is way too far away from New Delhi and the noise of its inhabitants seems to fall on deaf ears.
IANS -- October 15,2015
The northeastern state of Manipur is going through another dire phase – and once again it’s women to the rescue. Ever since the state passed three controversial bills, one among them a land revenue and land reforms bill, clashes between the tribal youth and security forces have become an everyday occurrence. The public uproar ensued right after the legislative assembly passed the three bills – The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015, The Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill 2015, and The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill 2015 – on August 31. Incidentally, the legislations were passed during an emergency session following the demand of the implementation of Inner line Permit (ILP) system in the state. The ILP is a special pass that is required to enter the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. The system was introduced by the British to protect their commercial interests and continues now essentially as a mechanism to protect the tribal people and their cultures.
The hasty passage of the bills without any consultation with the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) has not gone down well with tribal population. In particular, Section 2 (b) of the Protection of Manipur People Bill that defines “Manipur people” as those “whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census Report 1951 and Village Directory of 1951 and their descendants” has created the fear that they may be declared as “foreigners” in their own land if they are not on the records. This, in fact, is a very real threat to many, given the fact that most tribal chiefs in the hill areas are illiterate, there are limited written historical records from the 1950s and also several hamlets are so remote that it is impossible for census enumerators to accurately record residents of all villages. Apart from the question mark on identity it’s the land bill that has unleashed widespread anxiety. So far, the tribal upsurge has resulted in the resignation of five tribal legislators, claimed 10 lives, left more than 50 injured and led to the burning down of the houses of, among others, a tribal parliamentarian and six legislators.
At present, what has kept matters in control, especially in Churachandpur, the worst affected district, is the personal involvement of local women’s groups like the Zomi Mother’s Association, Hmar Women’s Association, Kuki Women’s Union and the women’s wing of the Mizo People’s Council. They have been out in large numbers to demand a “political solution” and are even “prepared for a long movement” but they are clear that violence is not the way out. The joint statement issued by the tribal women’s bodies says: “We are people who have been living and practicing our culture and traditions which are unique and distinct from the dominant societies. Our social, cultural, economic and political life has been passed down from our ancestors and we continue to practice them. We belong to a worldview that defines land as collectively owned by the people and not the State. We are against any form of attempt to alienate us from our land. Land is central to our identity and life”.
Vungmuanching, leader of the Zomi Mother’s Association, can remember the events of the day violence broke out as if it were yesterday. She elaborates, “When we came to learn that the youth has gathered in large numbers to burn the police station, we gathered our members and immediately rushed to the spot. There we formed a human fence and appealed to them to give up the planned arson. We had to literally beg them to stop. Some of us tried to reason with them saying that we, the mothers, were not willing to lose any more of our young children to the mindless fighting. We told them that they are our future and that if required we would sacrifice our lives first. But we will do things the right way.”
Ever since this landmark incident, things have been visibly better, although Vungmuanching is worried that the situation could very well go out of hand because “our youth is still on the boil”. It’s only the repeated calls for peace made jointly by the women’s groups which has kept them at bay. “During the curfew days, we were regularly organising non-violent sit-ins, signature campaigns and candle light marches as and when normalcy was restored for a few hours. What’s been truly inspiring and amazing is the spontaneous coming together of various women’s organisations despite the differences in political ideologies. Women and girls have come out because we feel the need to raise our voice. We hold our tribal elected representatives responsible for this mess and want the centre to step in and take immediate action,” she adds.
Thus far the administration has remained a quiet bystander and that has driven Vungmuanching’s contemporary, Kimneihoi Hlungdim of the Kuki Women’s Union to join in the call for “immediate intervention by the central government”. According to Kimneihoi, “The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill 2015 is a disturbing move by the state government to take away tribal people’s control of their own lands. Furthermore, I take serious exception to the provision in The Protection of Manipur People’s Bill 2015 that defines Manipur people as those persons who are registered since the 1951 census simply because in 1951 many of the people in the under developed tribal hills areas were not even registered.”
Kimneihoi is particularly concerned with the status of her Kuki people, too. “Of late, there has been a lot of talk as to how the Kuki people are ‘illegal migrants’. This is one of the reasons why the Kuki women and even people at large are demanding a separate administration. The Kukis are fiercely protective of their heritage and land.”
Marybeth Sanate of the Hmar Women’s Association is one of the key coordinating members of the ongoing women-led protests. She remarks, “This is the first time that such a large number of women has come together to demand a political solution.” As the protests gain momentum, the women are getting themselves better organised. Marybeth is confident that “the women are prepared to be part of a long movement” because they are well aware that “as they stand, things are not good and are not going to get any easier. We are getting ourselves organised. Several forms of protest are lined up, including a series of candle light marches”. Of course, even as the demonstrations go on and the women get ready for a long drawn campaign, none of the state or central leaders has visited the district yet and neither has there been any attempt to review or discuss the contentious legislations.
Times are indeed changing for the tribal groups that inhabit the idyllic hills of Manipur. With women’s groups in Churachandpur, that till recently were mostly welfare organisations, now beginning to assert their political rights it’s definitely the sign of a new beginning and, perhaps, a more stable tomorrow.
Women's Feature Service
September 28, 2015.
Many would argue there is nothing "new" or "historic" in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's August 3 announcement of the "Naga Peace Accord". Indeed there is none. The only available media statement said details of the accord framework and its execution will be released in the days to come.
But there is something very unique - Modi's way of doing things. His strategy, execution and, most of all, his ability to read people's minds and effectively using the media (particularly TV) to his full advantage. He effortlessly manages to soothe the ego of the leaders of the NSCN-IM to (almost) perfection - the photo-op, the protocol. With the whole country glued on to the screen, it was perfect. The Naga traditional shawl, which Modi consciously did not remove all through the public show, was a value addition.
The grey dot in the show, though, would be the pretentious smile of Th. Muivah, general secretary of the NSCN-IM and a stammering on pronouncing " Narendra Modi". And of course the absence of the outfit's chairman Isaac Swu, who is undergoing treatment due to illness.
As usual at his best public speaking, Modi delivered a diplomatic and impressive speech. There were pointers in between the lines. He touched upon issues that were core to the hearts and minds of the Nagas -- their way of life. He talked of the larger picture of socio-economic development of northeast India and beyond which made his speech acceptable to all, particularly the non-Nagas and the general Indian public.
As usual at his best public speaking, Modi delivered a diplomatic and impressive speech. There were pointers in between the lines. He touched upon issues that were core to the hearts and minds of the Nagas -- their way of life. He talked of the larger picture of socio-economic development of northeast India and beyond which made his speech acceptable to all, particularly the non-Nagas and the general Indian public.
Perhaps due to the long drawn exhaustive "peace process" between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM faction) and the Indian government, that has more or less led to fatigue, the August 3 announcement didn't or rather could not stir much ripples, unlike other occasion when the peace talk reaches a certain point, such as in 2001, when Manipur literally burned. In fact, much as the Naga peace talk had been complex and complicated (the process is more than 15 years old now, and doesn't seem to be over as yet); it would be too early to comment.
From the official speech of Muivah who is the NSCN-IM signatory to the "framework agreement", it is clear that he is not yet done, an indication that the NSCN-IM shouldn't be written off so soon. Not directly facing the camera, Muivah repeated a very similar sentence that has been used since past years that an honourable peaceful political solution is yet to be worked out. An attempt to convey a message that "this is not the end".
Though there is disquiet or no major knee-jerk reactions, be it in Naga areas or other parts of northeast India, there was curiosity, jitter and anxiety. The process leading up to the announcement was done in utmost secrecy where many even within the NSCN-IM, the civil society in Nagaland and other northeastern states were taken by surprise.
While the framework agreement - as in terms of taking to a new level - deserves an applause, it is pertinent to keep in mind the larger public, specially the Nagas who have the right to be informed about what is going to affect them. If they are kept in the dark, it would be a grave mistake on the part of the Naga leadership and New Delhi.
Certainly there would be negotiations and compromise on various "points" as in many other peace agreements across the world. All said and done, peace is not given or taken. It is not something that can be achieved by signing a document. It comes from the genuine desire of the people, the key stakeholder, the civil society and the government. As many had mentioned and re-called the 1986 Mizo Peace accord - in an attempt to draw parallels and comparisons, it is important to also remember that it w ..
A nationalist, Modi's readiness to solve the issue does not call for any doubt. His larger vision of India as an emerging leader in South Asia vis-a-vis northeast India cannot be missed. And it is hoped that all this was done in an attempt to make progress and development which the northeast region desperately needs. Modi's understanding of the general picture of northeast India at large and the Naga psyche is visibly noteworthy.
As far as the August 3 "historic" announcement of the Naga accord is concerned, there is no doubt some progress had been made. The secrecy could be yet another tactic and strategy by Prime Minister Modi, who is reportedly monitoring the process since taking power.
A nationalist, Modi's readiness to solve the issue does not call for any doubt. His larger vision of India as an emerging leader in South Asia vis-a-vis northeast India cannot be missed. And it is hoped that all this was done.
Nevertheless, for better or for worse, his tactics and handling of the Naga conflict and the northeast region will be tested in days to come.
As of now, the Naga accord is an open-ended matter. We can only hope for better days, not only for the Nagas but for all the people in the northeast who are direct or indirect stakeholders of the peace process.
IANS August 6,2915
In her long innings as a student leader, social activist and, finally, an elected representative, Madhumati Debbarma has seen many ups and downs. Although she has enjoyed every phase of her public life she does admit that getting herself elected to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was no cakewalk. This year, the 40-something leader has been chosen to represent Kulai-Champahour (ST) constituency for the third consecutive term but each time, she says, “one has to work hard, stay connected with the people and not take anything for granted”.
People’s issues, restrictive traditional practices and norms, economic hardships and a general atmosphere of conflict – years of activism have enabled Madhumati to closely understand the harsh realities on the ground. Even before she joined politics, as the member of the All India Mahila Sangathan she was actively involved in initiatives focused on empowering women in tribal areas, especially devising programmes to help them acquire income generation skills. Nonetheless, she is convinced that only her foray into mainstream politics has given her the constitutional authority to bring about real change. “One can always work for the betterment of society either as a social worker or an activist. Yet, becoming an elected leader has given me the power to do much more for my people and positively influence policy-making, which has a long term impact,” she points out.
At present, the TTAADC has three women on the 30-member body – 28 elected and two nominated – which is by no means adequate representation. In fact, of a total of 175 candidates that jumped into the fray just 10 were women. And therein lies the reality of women’s grassroots leadership not just in Tripura but in the region. Whereas women are at the forefront of activism and even come out in large numbers to vote they are conspicuous by their absence from political office.
In the tribal dominated northeastern states, there are parallel governance structures – the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) administer the tribal areas while the panchayats govern the non tribal stretches. Of course, though the ADCs were conceptualised to decentralise power, uphold the interests of tribal people and safeguard their culture, there has been no move so far to initiate reservation for women in these bodies. Consequently, for leaders like Madhumati, who aspire to wield power on the hitherto male dominated ADCs, the challenges are many. From convincing the party to give a ticket to contest to motivating voters, prevalent patriarchal mindsets often come in the way. This negative outlook has, of course, not deterred those who are committed towards the welfare and rights of their people.
Take Sandhya Rani Chakma, who has been able to overcome the hurdles to take up a place on the TTAADC for a third consecutive term from Chakma Karamchhara (ST) constituency. Rather than talk about the problems she has encountered, as “problems are a part of any job and like anyone else I too have faced them”, this dedicated Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader is more inclined to present a hopeful picture. She believes that women’s participation in local self-government in her state is encouraging as “women are keen to work for their community”. Many a time, this can-do spirit does not get channelized into full participation in the political arena, though through her personal example Sandhya has been trying to strongly make a case for the same.
The experienced leader first forayed into politics during her college days as an active member of the Student Federation of India (SFI), besides being a part of the Tripura Tribal Student Union. In addition, whenever she had the time she would keenly involve herself in CPI (M)’s party work. Such an approach won her the confidence of her party colleagues and her name was proposed for the list of candidates for the Council. “I have been in the political sphere for over a decade now and I truly believe that more women need to be in politics. As elected members of the government we can do more work, assist people effectively and have a widespread impact. My work is a testimony to this,” she says proudly.
Both Madhumati and Sandhya are not just colleagues in the TTAADC but are associated with the same political party. The duo is totally sold on woman power and recommends reservations and a greater involvement in party workings. Currently, gram sabhas (village councils) that do not fall in the TTAADC area have 33 per cent reservation for women though it is not extended to the district council. To encourage women candidates Sandhya calls for extending support “institutionally, as if that happens then many more will come forward to contest elections”. Madhumati observes that political parties, too, need to “provide more space and opportunity” to them by nominating more women as candidates, “This has been a constant demand from our end. We are always trying to ensure more nominations for women.”
These opinions are echoed by Madhumati and Sandhya’s counterpart in the Manipur (Hill Area) Autonomous District Council, Hatthing Doungel. Ask this two-time elected member how her political career has shaped up so far and she will relay mixed feelings. She says, “In my first term I was only learning the ropes of governance. This time around I have a clear agenda for development and I know exactly how to go about fulfilling it.”
The circumstances in Manipur have been quite complicated because of its long history of violence and underground insurgent activity. The 2015 election was perhaps the first time since 1972, when the state was formally founded, that adult franchise was exercised in true spirit at the grassroots. In the earlier years the election process had been completely neglected quite like the state of development. Even today officially there is no count of the total number of women candidates that contested for the 136-odd seats spread over six ADCs in the six tribal hill districts. Each council comprises 24 elected members and two nominated members. Only three women, including Doungel, have been winners out of around 10 female candidates (unofficial sources).
Where the women ADC members like Madhumati, Sandhya and Doungel speak the language of development and naturally have women’s welfare central to their agenda what they require is a fair chance to do their job and the support of their party.
Women's Feature Service
Six autonomous district councils of Manipur’s hill districts of Churachandpur Chandel, Sadar Hills, Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong will go to the polls on 1 June. Parliament passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 and the first election was held in 1973. Each council had 18 elected members and two were nominated. Today, each comprises 24 elected and two nominated members.
The UNC has warned the present members and those who contesting the polls by defying the Naga People’s Convention declaration of July 2010 that they will be banned from taking any social or political responsibilities in the future, adding that anyone who ignores the directive of peaceful and democratic appeal shall do so at their own risk.
Some militant groups have reportedly sought a ban on the 2015 ADC election and its candidates. The 1 June election assumes significance because it is being held after 20 years. Even as the ADCs were revived in 2010 under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council 3rd Amendment Act 2008, elections, per se, as in exercising adult franchises, were not witnessed. Most of them were nominated. In June 2010, however, about 156 representatives took oath. The ADCs were revived in 2010 with renewed hope and aspirations, but the road to grassroots democracy has not been smooth. The ADC members became mere implementers of a few development projects —their activities confined to monitoring rural primary schools and overseeing welfare schemes.ADC members in their memorandums to the state and the Centre have expressed grievances over non-devolution of power.
According to the 2008 (amendment) Act, there were 26 subjects and a new section, 29 (A), listed in the Principal Act that provided the ADCs the power, functions and responsibilities. But members allege till today that these have not been acted upon in spirit and deed in violation of Article 371 (c) of the Hill Areas Committee.
In 1991, the state government said it had no objection to extension of the Sixth Schedule to the hill areas but it should be done with “certain local adjustments and amendments” but this was never clarified. The Centre has also been seeking an explanation on what these “local adjustments and amendments” are but so far no one knows what the state government has to say about it.
Besides political suppression of these grassroots representations, the basic infrastructures of the ADCs are minimal and absent.Many of them do not have proper offices. Most members have not been able to discharge their duties for security reasons and are mostly based in Imphal.
As a matter of fact, the functioning of the ADCs is weak and abysmal. As it stands, the implications of such a situation is indicative of a weak democracy, rather a non- existence of governance in the hill areas and Manipur as a whole.
The upcoming election is an opportunity for the state and the Centre to look into governance and administration of the hill areas.While the latter is equally responsible for the state of affairs of the local governing bodies, the key lies in the state government, as per Schedule 7 of the Constitution, the local government is a state subject. Moreover, according to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments 1992, ratified by the state government, the latter is accountable for implementation,monitoring and reforming structure of the local self-government. This is also the time to review the several talks and “pending solutions” with the civil and traditional bodies as well as the rebel groups.
In a democratic country like India, the key to development of rural areas and subsequent progress of a nation lies in the vibrancy of local-self- governance,more commonly known as grassroots democracy. The unrest in the hill areas in Manipur is basically due to the non-functioning of this very basic structure of governance.
The Statesman (NE page)
The much-hyped Union home ministry affairs-constituted Bezbaruah Committee to look into the security concerns of citizens from the North-east living in Delhi and other metropolitan cities and recommend measures to tackle these has not yielded results.
With regard to the recommendation for legal assistance, the Delhi legal services authority was directed to constitute a panel of seven lawyers, including five women, exclusively to assist people from the North-east states.While this is yet to materialise, many cases are pending. The long drawn out legal process has forced many to give up. Last year alone there had been numerous cases of assault, including the rape of a 14-year-old Manipuri girl and the murder of a Naga youth.
Special police initiatives,exclusively for Northeastern people, were also recommended and there had been suggestions for a special recruitment drive. But till date there has been no report of such recruitment. The only initiative taken up was the formation of a list of state-wise “representatives” to assist the police.Their main job is to receive calls and be a “contact point” for any issue arising and report cases to the police/ police stations. These “representatives” are not employed staff. Nor was it recommended by the Bezbaruah Committee or the Union home ministry; it was done purely on a philanthropic basis under the “special cell” of the Delhi Police. They are not officially recognized though they carry identity cards as “representatives”.
Instead of catering to an emergency, the police helpline, 1093, has drawn bizarre responses. According to an IANS report in March this year, the helpline received unrelated and ridiculous calls. The report says that since its operation from October till March, the helpline got 27 telephone calls,mostly unrelated to North-east issues or problems.
The only action taken so far is on festivals and events. Upon recommendation of the Bezbaruah Committee, the home ministry has asked several ministries and institutions, such as the Union Information and Broadcasting, Culture and Sports ministries, the University Grants Commission, the National Council for Educational Research and Training, etc, to take up publicity and programmes to showcase the North-east and hold interactive sessions. As far as publicity, cultural and festival extravaganzas are concerned,many events have been organised.
Educational institutions are holding conferences/ lectures on the North-east. Scholarships for students of the region in graduate and postgraduate courses have been announced. The UGC and NCERT have plans to introduce chapters and revise their subjects to include in the text-books pertaining to the history, geography and socio-culture of North-east India. The Sangeet Natak Academy and Lalit Kala Academy are preparing an action plan to conduct cultural activities.
The Bezbaruah Committee is said to have suggested amendment of rent laws. But the Centre proposed construction of a hostel and effective use of the existing one, such as the working womens’ hostel, constructed in 2012 at Jasola. On the payment of salaries, the ministry has suggested North-east youths to approach the Labour Department.
In a rather impractical move, as per recommendation of the Bezbaruah Committee, the Union home ministry has asked the resident commissioners of each of the North-east states in Delhi to provide detail data of students, professionals, businessmen, workers/labourers from the North-east to the Delhi Police joint commissioner. While there are more than 200,000 North-easterns in Delhi alone (as per the estimate by the Centre for North-east Study and Policy Research, JMI 2013), such data would be practically impossible to compile. Moreover, there has never been a “data compilation” of people who move from their region/state to another within the country. This is rather ridiculous. The North-east population comprises internal migrants, unlike people moving from one country to another.
While migration is a universal phenomenon, is the movement of the North-east people within their own country something that is unique or extraordinary? The issue/problem of the North-east population in metro cities is about crime and violence and should be tackled as such, and not be treated as something extraordinary or complex lest it unwittingly and unfortunately facilitate an exclusion rather than an inclusion.
The Statesman ( NE page)
April 20, 2015
The Statesman ( NE page)
April 20, 2015
Food can be the window to a culture and instantly provide deep insights into the everyday life of the people. It is also a wonderful tool of soft diplomacy, as it effortlessly builds bridges across regions, religions, castes and class lines. These factors, and the reality that not much is either known or been written about the rich cuisine from Northeast India compelled journalist and author Hoihnu Hauzel, who hails from Manipur, to pen ‘The Essential North-East Cookbook’, which offers a variety of wonderful flavours from the region. She has recently brought out the second edition of this guide to “exotic delicacies that are not a part of mainstream Indian fare”. In this one-on-one, Hauzel talks about her passion for food and how it’s just a matter of time before northeast food becomes widely popular. In addition, the author shares two of her favourite recipes.
Q: You’ve been a long-time journalist and columnist. How did your journey as a food writer begin?
A: I developed an interest in exploring and talking about food from the Northeast quite early. I was once asked to give a talk on our regional cuisine on the occasion of International Women’s Day by the All India Radio in Manipur and that led me to go deeper into researching on local foods and food habits. That is when I realised that not only is there very little known about our cuisine but, more importantly, there is no written information available. It sparked off an interest within me and I began to write regularly on our delicacies.
Q: What’s your food philosophy?
A: I see food as a means to bond and also to bridge the regional divide. For me, food is what keeps my relationships and friendships going. I reach out to my friends, who are not from the Northeast, through food. I love to invite them over and cook special meals. I even share ingredients from back home with them. What I have observed over the years is that there is a keen interest to learn more about our food. In fact, I truly believe that food is the most effortless way to understand a people and their culture. When someone is familiar with the food of a particular community, s/he is naturally inclined to gain deeper insights into their life and respect their traditions.
Q: So what is food from the Northeast all about?
A: The dishes from the Northeast are not heavy on oil and spices and yet are delicious. They are perfect for health freaks and weight watchers. We use several locally grown aromatic herbs which makes them exotic. They are light, healthy and easy to prepare. Simplicity, in fact, is the hallmark of the cuisine. The basic components of a meal are steamed or boiled rice, accompanied by a gravy-based meat or fish dish, chutney and washed down with a soup of boiled vegetables.
Yet, while the basics are similar there are differences in the foods consumed and the methods of preparation, based on religion and culture. For instance, the tribes that are not influenced by Hinduism relish meat, while Hindu communities like the Asomiyas of Assam eat fish and mutton, and the Meiteis of Manipur eat fish at the very most. People from the predominantly Christian states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and about 40 per cent of the Manipuris do not have any religious restrictions in their diet.
Rice with vegetable
* Half cup rice
* Leaves of one medium-sized cabbage (washed and torn into 1” pieces by hand)
* 5 French beans (trimmed and broken into small pieces by hand)
* 1 tomato (chop)
* 5 large mustard leaves (washed and shredded by hand)
* 1 tbsp ginger (chopped)
* 1 medium-sized onion (chopped)
* 1 tbsp garlic (chopped)
* 3 green chillies (chopped)
Salt to taste
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
1. Wash rice and drain.
2. Place two-and-a-half cups of water in a pan and bring to boil over high heat.
2. Add rice, bring to boil again, lower heat, cover pan and simmer till rice is fluffy and soft.
4. Mix in remaining ingredients, and continue simmering over low heat, stirring occasionally till the vegetables are done.
Serve hot or cold.
Variation: Add either chicken or pork shredded into pieces into the mixture.
(Note: The dish is usually served in the afternoon as a snack. In the old days, it was taken to the fields for lunch by the cultivators. Today, Galho is served as a delicacy in most restaurants in Nagaland)
Khasi pork dish cooked with black sesame seeds
* 1 kg pork
* 4 medium sized onions, sliced
* 2 tbsp garlic paste
* 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
* A pinch of turmeric powder
* 1 tbsp salt
1. Wash pork, drain thoroughly and cut into three-inch pieces
2. Place pork in a cooker over low heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly till the fat oozes out.
3. Remove meat from the cooker and set aside.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring frequently till the fat separates.
5. Add the pork and cook for about 5 minutes.
6. Pour in two cups of water, close the cooker and cook under pressure for 15 minutes.
WOMEN'S FEATURE SERVICE
On 2 March, Union minister for development of the North-eastern region Jitender Singh told scholars, most of them from North-east states, and faculty members and the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, that the process for the proposed hostel for North-east students would be completed soon. He was speaking at a roundtable talk on “Unfolding development potential of the region — sustainability and policy perspective”, organised by the JNU in collaboration with the ministry. He also stated that in the Union Budget, Rs 2,362.74 crore had been allocated for development of the region.
Noting the huge number of North-east students and faculty members in the JNU as significant and remarkable, the minister said “the academic potential of the North-east is under-exploited. Of the 8,000 students in the JNU, where 512 were from the North-east states”. He also announced, besides several initiatives, that his ministry would collaborate with the JNU-North East study programmes at various academic levels and research. Mega events such as film festivals would be organised in the national capital and also in Mumbai to tap Bollywood filmmakers. An N-E hostel is estimated to cost Rs 95 crore and it will have 500 rooms, a dining hall, warden flats and common rooms. While 50 per cent seats will be reserved for students from the Northeast, the rest will be for students from other parts of the country.
According to the JNU website, there is hostel accommodation for 5,500 students. Of this, 15 per cent is reserved for Schedule Castes and 7.5 per cent for Schedule Tribes. At present, there are 18 hostel for boys and girls, and one for married couples. All the hostels are named after rivers, such as Ganga, Tapti, Narmada, Brahmaputra and Lohit (Arunachal Pradesh).
There have been some reactions over the exclusive hostel for students from the North-east states, with many feeling that such a move is regressive rather than progressive. That it will be a blot on the reputation of the JNU, known for its liberal views and stands. Some argue that such a move would further alienate North-east students. Some even feel that a secluded hostel would amount to “ghettoisation”.
Strongly objecting to the proposal, Partha S Ghosh, in a letter published in the Economic and Political Weekly (28 February) says that nothing will hit the ethos of the JNU harder than such moves for an exclusive hostel for a certain section of the student community. The university is known for its inclusive culture which is reflected through its vibrant hostel life. Jawaharlal Nehru, in whose name the university was established in 1969, had always stood for inter-communal and inter-regional harmony. he wrote. He quoted the university insignia that says, “A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives.”
Ghosh called upon the university authorities to reconsider their decision, even if it may be a little late in the day. He recalled a past a decision to dedicate one accommodation,which was stopped after opposition.
The JNU has for a long time been facing an acute shortage to comply. Now, only 5,500 out of 8,000 can be accommodated.
North-east scholars and faculty members in the JNU too do not subscribe to the idea though many agree that North-east students face hardships. One important point being the food served in the hostel mess which is mostly North and South Indian fare. There are no North-east items in any hostel. Some believe that one hostel providing North-east food would be a good initiative. .
Caroline Maninee, a scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, says, “Our food culture is very different, at times we spend a lot of money eating outside as North-east food is not provided in the mess and our payments go in vain. If South and North Indian dishes are provided, why not North-east too?”
Citing her experience, she said, “If we take our chutney to the mess room, friends from other regions walk away or move to other tables, leaving us as though we are eating something dirty.” While agreeing that a separate North-east hostel is not a good move, she feels that of the existing hostels one can have a North-east mess — “at the least on alternate days or weekends”.
According to Professor Bhagat Oinam, Department of Philosophy and former director of the North-east Study Programme, JNU, a separate hostel would serve as an exclusion of North-east students rather than integration. He said “this will ghettoise North-east students”. Instead, the proposed hostel should have seats reserved for North-east students and its name should not bear the tag “North East Hostel”.
The Statesman, North East
March 23, 2015
Pi Dari lives in Kammanahalli, a quiet locality in the bustling IT city of Bengaluru, the state capital of Karnataka. Living far away from her home state Mizoram, in the northeast, she keeps the taste of Mizo cuisine alive by maintaining a flourishing kitchen garden in her backyard where she cultivates a variety of vegetables and herbs found back home. Her friend, Pi Zami, too, makes batches of fresh pickles and keeps a ready stock of dried ingredients, such as banana flowers, samtawkte (bitter gourd) and bekang (soybean), which are essential to their traditional recipes but are hard to find in the southern city.
Whereas earlier, the two women used to keep these home-grown and homemade products for their personal use, these days they bring them over to Pi Kaitei's home, also in Kammanahalli, for a weekly sale held there. In fact, every Friday afternoon, Pi Kaitei's garage is where all the action takes place. From 3pm onwards, women slowly start trooping in with bags bursting with goodies and make themselves comfortable as their gracious host serves cups of steaming hot tea and snacks that remind everyone of home. As the numbers grow happy chatter fills the room - some animatedly exchange news or discuss the latest happenings in their community, others begin unloading their bags to set out boxes of sticky rice, bunches of bean leaves and phuihnam (wild shoots), varieties of chilly, bottles of chutneys, and tins of ngari (fermented fish), among other traditional food items.
"This is the Northeast Bazaar, which opens up for two hours every week giving an opportunity to women from the northeast region to interact with each other and buy foods from their home states that are otherwise extremely hard to source in Bengaluru," explains Rini Ralte, social activist, academic and the brains behind this unconventional market.
Ralte, who came over to Bengaluru from Mizoram over two decades ago, understands what it's like to come to a place so decidedly different from one's hometown that the process of adjusting to a new life in the new town becomes tougher than it already is. "Today, there are hundreds of people from the northeastern states living in the city. Some are here for higher education, others in search of good livelihood opportunities. But being so far away from home can be very difficult and lonely, especially when the local language and customs are so different and distinct from one's own. That's why we decided to set up the Northeast Bazaar where women can meet up, talk to each other, and, at the same time, get a taste of home cuisine," she elaborates.
Just a couple of years ago Bengaluru was in the news for incidents involving the targeting of youth from the northeast. As a fallout, nearly 30,000 people belonging to the northeastern states had leftthe city in haste fearing for their safety. Ever since then Ralte, Pi Dari, Pi Zami and others were trying to figure out a way in which they all could connect with each other on a regular basis and derive a sense of support. Today, the bazaar allows them to do this and much more. "However, conceptualising the project was far simpler than turning it into a reality. Our main challenge was finding the right place to set everything up. It had to be big enough to accommodate many women and, at the same time, economical," shares Ralte, who has initiated several northeast solidarity networks in Bengaluru. This critical problem was solved when Pi Kaitei offered to lend her garage. "This proved to be a perfect solution for us. We got down to cleaning it up and then rearranged everything to turn it into a cheerful and inviting space. And the best part, it was rent free!" recalls Ralte.
The Northeast Bazaar formally opened its doors to the community women in July 2014 and since then has gained immense popularity. "We spread the word telling friends and family and through social networking sites. The response has been quite amazing. I remember on Day One, we had sold offeverything that was on offer within one hour," remarks the ingenious activist.
These days, the Northeast Bazaar is the place to pick up an array of authentic ingredients native to the region. There's everything from samtawk (bitter wild berries from Mizoram), satinrem (egg plant), behliang (a verity of peas), bahkhawr (herb) and pardi (herb similar to celery) to lengser (leaves used to flavour meat and fish curry) and chhangban (Mizo bread made from sticky rice) available on sale. "Most of these are brought over by the women themselves. So, in a sense, this is one way in which they get to earn a small sum of money for themselves. Incidentally, the pickles, chutneys and veggies that Pi Dari and Pi Zami bring are very popular," informs Ralte with a smile.
As women browse through the selection of items Pi Kaitei brings out tea and sanpiau (rice cake) for everyone. Eventually, they get talking about the latest happenings in the city apart from swapping personal news and giving each other some well received advice. "The bazaar has become a major hub for information - whether it is finding a suitable job, searching for a safe place to live or just getting updates on things happening back home. Everyone really looks forward to coming here on Friday," says Ralte.
For now, the Northeast Bazaar is operating on a small scale. The money to keep it going comes from small donations generously given by the visitors themselves. The amount collected is also used to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Shares Ralte, "If anyone needs emergency legal fees or money for food or shelter, we give it to them from this kitty." And are there any plans to expand? "Presently, we cater to only the northeast community because we do not source and sell huge quantities of products. Whatever we offer is always sold out. There is a space constraint as well. We can't afford a bigger place right now and we certainly can't cram up in Pi Kaitei's 20 sq ft garage. So we are keeping a low profile," she says.
Nonetheless, the women do feel excited about spreading out their operations in the future. "It would be wonderful if we could bring over a larger variety of products from our home state and showcase our food and culture to a wider audience. This is one way in which we can successfully bridge the gap between the locals and the northeast community. It will aid in a creating better understanding of each other and increase tolerance," signs off Ralte, on a positive note.
(© Women's Feature Service) February 2015