Sunday, April 6, 2014

Oarless Boat: 16th Lok Sabha election and Mising people

--Bhasker Pegu and Bhupen Mili

In 1996, late music legend Michael Jackson, composed an eccentric lyrics called “They don’t care about us” churning out controversies in the music that goes on:

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Situation, aggravation
Everybody allegation
All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us

Not only the controversial song is laced with touching lyrics but it also contains real images of human rights abuse, poverty, genocide, war crimes, and crackdown on student activists. Little wonder, how this song is related to Mising society? This too, why in this Lok Sabha poll din?
Jackson’s lyrics were never directed at Mising society but the song scarred with magnanimous lines relevant to the state of affairs in the society.  Baffled by the lyric style and images of Brazilian dispossessed colonies of Rio de Janeiro in the video backdrop, many curiously asked: who were the “us’’? For whom does “Us” applies?

Mising tribe, also common with derivative bombastic tags like “peaceful”, “riverine”, “hospitable” from colonial to post-colonial discourses. From colonial Edward Gait to native Surjya Kumar Bhuyan, both noted modern historians on Assam, this tribe is labelled “peaceful” ethnic group of Brahmaputra Valley. Recent researchers and historical novelists say they survived Buddhist persecution and were Miao-Yao descendants, exclusive from the Han Chinese or Tibetans. ( Refer Peter Pegu’s A History of Mishing Eastern India or Akademi award winner Chandana Goswami’s novel Ke’yum to know more). It is because these discourses made Misings often to boast themselves as most peaceful people in what-is-more known as ’restive’, ‘volatile’ Northeast India.

In the history of Mising political participation in national elections, this 16th Lok Sabha poll of 2014 is overly talked as one of the most perplex one as they have found themselves in catch-22 situation. The nationalist organizations and its avatar have publicly taken unconventional “neutral stand” giving the people and supporters a free-kick of conscience. After a historic sweeping to the offices of Mising Autonomous Council (MAC) last year, the micro-regional party had backtracked in national general poll.

Both heavy weight political figures like Sonia Gandhi and Narendra Modi came to campaign for their candidates, one at North Lakhimpur and another at Gogamukh, the headquarter of MAC, respectively. Modi made promises; Sonia appreciated, over the most heart-touching issue of the Misings, to resolve flood and erosion.

Deluge hit Mising people who cleared Tarioni reserved forest near the river Subansiri, also beloved called Obonori, to begin life anew were mercilessly hounded out by political bigwigs who clouted it sprawling green tea gardens. Thousands of youth have left for unskilled jobs countrywide in metros.
Here’s a story how a Mising boy lurked into joblessness due to mass exodus during 2012 riots in western Assam. There are hundred more. On March 23, 2014, a Mising village was burnt down in broad day light by recognizable miscreants before the police in Jagun in Tinsukia only left without a word of condemnation from any quarters. No one protested, not a single politician minced a word in support of the distressed.

Neither the civil society of the community is strong. The middle class and other urban inhabitants seems have loss its roots of rural Misings in the din of market forces to respond to these multifarious problems.

Chronic poverty in river bank areas, inaccessible health care facilities, and landlessness is striking social realities. Burdened with baggage of problems, there is no doubt how many people would realize the importance of education, a modern indicator of civilization and progress.
There was a people’s movement for university campus in 2013. No single elected public representative of their place helped them until some serious-thinking educated boys met Prof Mrinal Miri in New Delhi to get cleared the red-taped bureaucratic file upon Assam’s Chief Minister’s order.
Landless Misings have migrated from place to place to escape the raging spurt of Brahmaputra river. One will find many villages in the hills of Guwahati especially in Khanapara and Panjabari. If climate change and adaptation have to be understood, these people are tell-tale proofs. Many would share how turned dispossessed in the wake of state’s failure of flood management, their stories of fertile land turned sand. Those remaining are besmirched with theory of marginal productivity; more people into agriculture, less productivity returns. Of course, Misings are becoming accustomed to poll rhetoric. A Times of India report would unfold Misings’ intelligence about the cynics of poll and its aftermath.

Today, the small agrarian Mising community is marginalized by involution, dispossession and capriciousness. The 16th Lok Sabha poll is crucial to the Misings and to many other similar subaltern masses.

Visibly state BJP President Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal and Union Minister of State of Tribal Affairs Ms. Ranee Narah of Congress are locking their horns in the tempest of Brahmaputra banks of Lakhimpur parliamentary constituency, where most Mising people live in Upper Assam. Vote bank and river bank are two issues concerning the Mising vis-à-vis Lok Sabha poll this time. No one has been asked to support or vote for a particular party’s candidate.

Amidst the vast politics of mighty Brahmaputra river, Misings have become an oar-less boat without propulsion.

The Misings must stand up to themselves; they must craft their own future. If not this time, but in the eventful years to come. Misings are aggrieved, but never felt agitated to make a mark in the politics of northeastern region. They must stop becoming vote bank to save their habitats, the river bank. To conclude, the Misings at best owe to Jackson’s rendition:
All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us

(The writers are research scholars at the IIT in Guwahati.)

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