By Samhita Barooah
In the backdrop of the recent turmoil of border conflict along the Assam-Nagaland border areas, I am remembering my recent visit to Longleng district of Nagaland was scheduled during the summer of June this year. For me, Nagaland is the second home after Assam. In last 10 years of my travels in the Northeast region, Nagaland has been the most memorable and hospitable inspite of inhibitions and differences. I took the train from Guwahati till Furkating and then proceeded from Golaghat outskirts to Longleng in a shared sumo. It’s a distance of around 202 kms which took some 6 hours from Golaghat to Longleng. The route was taken by the sumos through Mariani, Titabor, Amguri, Tuli, Merangkong, Chongtonya and finally Longleng. The journey through the plain areas was comfortable till the slopes of Tuli and Chongtonya. But as I started from Chongtongya to Longleng, our sumo driver warned me and said, now the road is not going to be like your plain areas. It is going to be difficult. He was so true for the next 2 hours the road was terrible and a journey of 34 kms seemed to be endless. By the time I reached my destination, the road condition had a toll on my back and knees. The scenery along this road was awesome but I could hardly take a good look at the surroundings.
Many thoughts crossed my mind while crossing the stone crushing machines, scrapped skin of the hills dug intensely for extracting coal and gravel stones. I was wondering what if the roads were not there, we could not have traveled this far. At the same time I also pondered that how can people be resilient to such pathetic conditions of the roads. All those who are affluent and those traveling by trucks may not feel the pangs of these roads but those who travel in local public transport like the Sumos will really have a hard time. I kept wondering about development and its aftermath. We are craving for development of infrastructure and other such amenities but what happens after the resource is created. Why can’t it be maintained in a way that it is convenient for all sections of society. Our indifference and resilience has taken deep roots and we are used to the culture of silence in terms of lack of quality in the resources. We can settle for very little and always under-estimate the needs of our own people. We are busy catering to the world with the best standards when it comes to exports or resources, intellect and services, but when it comes to the most disadvantaged sections of the society, we like to do away with all the frills and luxury. Is this a form of inequity or some sort of social exclusion?
Inequity as the resources sharing process is very much one-sided. It only favours the haves and the ones with power. Resources like land, water, rivers, minerals, roads, electricity and forests are exploited in such an indiscriminate ways that it will cater to the rapid growth and urbanization mirage. People in the margins are strategically excluded from the inclusive growth parameters of the powerful rungs of society. In the struggle for identity and freedom how does common people of Longleng district are coping with the changes is indeed a big question. Longleng town strangely has good road connection within its periphery. Like any other big town or small city in northeast India, approach roads to the towns and cities are difficult. Inequity has an impact on people for future as well not just in the present. Somehow social justice for all categories of people seems a far cry in this kind of development process. Inequity means lack of quality in goods, resources and services for different sections of society. People have diverse needs and their aspirations keep growing, to be able to cater to the changing needs and aspirations without being partial to one individual or group would constitute an equitable process of growth. But in Longleng district, equitable sharing of resources seems to be still an unknown agenda.
In Longleng, Jhum agriculture is practiced in most of the areas. Traditionally Jhum farming practice helped the farmers to maintain an agro-biodiversity eco-system with more than 25 varieties of crops but gradually this process is shifting to cash crop monocultures. Farmers are very keen on growing high-market value trees, crops and plants which will fetch them good money. They are gradually transforming their Jhum fields into cash crop fields with rubber, teak, pine and cardamom plantations. Interestingly farmers produce food crops for self consumption and cash crops for the market in the same Jhum field. I managed to meet a women’s self help group who worked in their farms owned individually by their respective families but as a group engaged in cardamom cultivation. The women seemed very enterprising and initiate savings activities in their village and worked very hard in their farms. They spent almost 8-10 hours in a day working in their farm lands and later worked in their homes for the regular household chores for more that 4-5 hours every day. If a woman farmer is engaged in productive labour for both farm and at home, they deserve to be compensated with adequate wages and social security measures. The wage-rate for agricultural labour in the Tukpang village is Rs 60 for the women and Rs. 200 for the men. Men get more wages as they have to remove big stone boulders and similar agricultural work as the women. Infact, women spent much more time in the field and engages in labour intensive and back breaking drudgery. This kind of wage disparity can lead to adverse forms of violations of human labour and dignity.
Women too deserve to be compensated well for their toil and struggle for survival. Technological innovations have only resulted in sophisticated software, but the irony is that such innovations have not yet led to equity, justice and lessening of human hardship for growing food. With the advent in mechanization of agriculture, women farmers are getting more and more excluded from the mainstream development paradigm. Women grow herbs, diverse food crops, leafy vegetables of high nutrition value and other food crops to sustain their families and communities in Nagaland, which is the root of well-being and good health while all other forms of agrarian reforms have been making a few people rich. Technological innovation also has to cater to the needs of the most disadvantaged groups in farming communities. More specifically since more than 80% of the farming in Nagaland is done by women farmers, their specific needs have to be taken care of while designing farm tools through technological innovations. Changes in the agro industrial sector has to benefit the local skills, needs and markets along with that this sector have to develop the eco-system in the sustainable manner as all natural resources are limited and easily perishable. Any development planning and strategic move towards such sustainable use and regeneration will ensure a healthy and self sufficient Naga farming society.
Drudgery and rough terrain in the hills of Nagaland have made an impact on the daily lives of the local population. Young generation does not like to engage in land based activities. They are more interested to migrate for higher studies, better jobs and a decent standard of living. Older generation in Nagaland are rooted to the traditions and cultural heritage so deeply that they can never imagine any change in their existing living conditions. The other forces which define boundaries and territories based on sour historical pasts and conflicting current realities look out for transformation of the ecosystem and the livelihood pattern so that they can ensure a better future for their future generations. This kind of assertion is considered to be selfish by some and sometimes also considered to be a reflection of self-respect by many.
Land, water, rivers and forests are integrally interconnected irrespective of political, geographical and national or international boundaries. These natural resources are layered in such a way that internal cooperation and collaborations between human agencies can only restore and replenish these resources. In our current reality of Assam-Nagaland border conflict where people are struggling against natural and human forces of difference and discontent, it is extremely urgent that we understand the community culture of co-existence. Divisive forces use various platforms to assert, reinforce and reduce human ethics of resource sharing and compromise. Our resources are limited and we need to ensure that human lives and ecological entities are also given safety in the most crucial moments of existence. We are all struggling to sustain our identities, ethnicities, cultures, ecosystems and rights, any form of human rights assertion cannot be rooted in violence of thoughts, words and actions. Even the reconciliation processes and dialogues have to respect the voices of dissent with dignity and not with violent force.
Resource and power sharing has to be established amicably in consultation with the aggrieved communities. Both communities with discontent have to ensure that the contextual and situation specific approach is more important that the blanket generalization approach which follows after any such incidents of mayhem. People, organisations voicing the public agony and media also need to maintain restraint in ensuring non-escalation of future enmity between the larger mass of people in either parts of the border areas. People are already burdened with the pangs of daily existence in extremely fragile livelihood systems in the border areas. One can only hope for better understanding between neighbouring states for better survival. There are many common stories of survival from people from across the border who have been struggling for little bit of food crops, land use or water sources. If the forest dependent communities of Nagaland had not conserved the forest ecosystems and the river sources, the farming communities in Assam would not have been able to sustain their farms and river ecosystems. It is a matter of natural interdependence for survival and struggle when it comes to the survival of the common people of both the states. These are the people who do not have any voice to share their real feelings, do not have any force to protect their livelihoods and do not have any resources to recover from the irreparable losses.