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Centre pledges assistance for insurgency-ravaged Garo Hills

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NewsGram Staff Writer

Shillong: Expressing deep concern over the over the abating law and order situation in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region, the Center on Saturday vowed to provide all out assistance to the state for ensuring stability in the region.

Regretting that militants are on a kidnapping and killing spree, union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told journalists, “it is unfortunate that in Garo Hills things are not improving as we hoped, but the state government is taking all steps to ensure and secure the lives and properties of the people.” He called for a united effort to address the issue.

Notably, on Thursday, armed militants of the A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) outfit kidnapped Intelligence Bureau officer Bikash Singh and cloth merchant Kamal Saha at gunpoint from an area between Ampangre and Panda reserve forest.

(With inputs from IANS)

 

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Land of Wanderlust: God’s Own Garden, Mawlynnong clings on to its Tranquillity

Mawlynnong, is located at a distance of 90kms from the state capital Shillong in the state Meghalaya. The village is also tagged as God’s own garden

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Living Root Bridge, by Debopriya Kumar.

November 9, 2016: Mawlynnong, is located at a distance of 90kms from the state capital Shillong in the state Meghalaya. The village is also tagged as God’s own garden because of its mind-boggling fresh natural beauty and clean environment.

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Until 2003, this was a remote community hardly anyone knew about, but after it got the prestigious tag of ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’ by Discover India Magazine, tourists started pouring in to witness the God’s own garden.

Mawlynnong is the home to the Khasi tribal people which is far away from noise and dirt of other cities.

“You would find Bamboo dustbins standing at the corner of each household,” said Debopriya Kumar, a Tourism enthusiast and a scholar of tourism studies who recently visited Mawlynnong.

The streets are swiped at regular intervals by volunteers and would find large signboards requesting visitors not to throw away plastics, as littering is something that is sternly frowned upon.

A Street of Mawlynnong Village. Picture taken by Debopriya Kumar.
A Street of Mawlynnong Village, by Debopriya Kumar.

He further said, “The local people say that the cleanliness was taught by their forefathers and they have kept their tradition going by keeping their surroundings clean.”

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“Though, Mawlynnong’s concern for hygiene emerged about 130 years ago when an outbreak of cholera struck. Since there were no medical facilities in the village back then, cleanliness was seen as the only way to prevent the spread of the disease.”

The village has also been hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said in an autumn radio address under his Clean India campaign, “I was amazed to know that there is such a village in remote northeast, Meghalaya, which is so passionately carrying the mission of cleanliness for years.”

In a conversation with NewsGram, Debopriya Kumar described how the walk through the village is like.

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“The living tree root bridges made by the locals are a beauty to watch, they entwined the roots of rubber trees in order to pave paths through the thick forest.”

The bridges are woven in such a manner that they are not slippery and are very sturdy.

– by Pinaz Kazi of NewsGram. Twitter: @PinazKazi

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Kids working in India’s coal mines came as ‘complete shock’, says Filmmaker Chandrasekhar Reddy

India has 5.7 million child workers aged between five and 17 and there are 168 million child workers globally, says ILO

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Coal mines in India. Image source: www.amusingplanet.com India
  • International Labor Organization estimates there are 168 million child workers globally
  • The film tells the story of Suraj, an 11-year-old boy, who was born in India of Nepali parents
  • Many workers are from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, who are often trafficked with the promise of good jobs or are in debt bondage to powerful mine owners

MUMBAI– When Chandrasekhar Reddy travelled to northeastern India in 2011, the director was looking for material for a film on forests in the region famed for its misty hills and waterfalls.

Instead, he found children as young as five working in coal mines.

Horrified yet fascinated, Reddy stayed in Meghalaya state for several months, befriending the children and their families, and slowly gaining access to the mines, many of which are illegal.

Reddy eventually gathered enough material for his first feature-length documentary, ‘Fireflies in the Abyss’, which was released in India last week after winning the award for Best Film in the Mumbai International Film Festival in February.

Set in the Jaintia Hills, the documentary shows young boys descending steep chutes – little more than “rat holes”- with makeshift ladders to dig coal from hard rock with just a pickaxe and a flashlight.

“The fact that children were working in the mines came as a complete shock to me,” Reddy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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“So many of my preconceived notions of what is right and wrong, the state, the law, the police, families and relationships – they were all turned on their head, as it is a very different world there,” he said.

The film tells the story of Suraj, an 11-year-old boy, who was born in India of Nepali parents.

He lives with his sister and father, a miner who is drunk most of the time. His mother is dead.

Suraj desperately wants to go to school but is expected to work to help feed the family.

Despite a law that bans child labour, India has 5.7 million child workers aged between five and 17, according to the International Labor Organization which estimates there are 168 million child workers globally.

A child works in a mining factory in Kashmir. Image source: www.aljazeera.com
A child works in a mining factory in Kashmir. Image source: www.aljazeera.com

Activists estimate that about a fifth of all mine workers in India are children. Many works for more than 10 hours a day in filthy conditions, exposed to coal dust, silica dust, noxious fumes and the risk of injury or death from collapsing mines.

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“Fear won’t get any work done; you need to give up worrying about your life,” one of the young boys with Suraj says.

“But if you die here, it’s a dog’s death.”

In Meghalaya, which means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit, many workers are from the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh. They are often trafficked with the promise of good jobs or are in debt bondage to powerful mine owners.

In a 2012 report, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, an umbrella group of charities, said children working in the mines in Jaintia Hills faced “hazardous conditions” with no safety or social welfare measures.

While state officials have downplayed the prevalence of child labour, the report said the presence of rat holes indicated child workers since it was “humanly not possible for an adult to enter those holes to extract coal”.

In the end, Suraj gets his chance at receiving an education – with the help of some friends, who also worked in the mines.

“The mine workers live in such uncertainty, such desperation, yet there is so much camaraderie and solidarity,” said Reddy.

“Perhaps that’s what keeps them going, and gives some of them the hope that things can change,” he said. (Reuters)

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2 responses to “Kids working in India’s coal mines came as ‘complete shock’, says Filmmaker Chandrasekhar Reddy”

  1. Child labour is illegal and working in a coal mine is even more hazardous. Thanks to Mr. Reddy for making a feature film on this issue.

  2. It is sad to see that these chichildr are not allowed to live like normal children.

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Thousands protest in Meghalaya against court’s AFSPA order

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Shillong: Thousands of people on Friday hit the street in insurgency-ravaged districts of Garo Hills region in western Meghalaya protesting against the high court order asking the government to enforce the use of the stringent Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to control the deteriorating law and order situation there.

The protest marches which were held at Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills and Williamnagar, the district headquarter of East Garo Hills, witnessed public opposition to enforcing the controversial act in the region which is plagued with series of kidnappings and killings.

Various speakers at both the rallies were of the opinion that AFSPA is not the solution to the burgeoning insurgency problem in Garo Hills as the same law enforced in other states has not been able to restore normalcy.

“AFSPA is not the solution to bringing peace and only a united public movement can succeed. Once AFSPA is imposed it would be very difficult for the government to withdraw it and atrocities on innocent civilians will take place since the army will operate with impunity and without having to answer to the civilian authorities,” said Garo Hills State Movement Committee chairman, Nikman Ch Marak.

“If the army comes it will be ominous for all. It is the common people who will be the target for their excesses. No state where AFSPA has been imposed has seen a militancy decline but has always recorded human right violations,” he said.

Raising the issue of the politician-militant nexus, Garo Student’s Union (Interim Body) president Zikku Balgra N Marak strongly demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe on the issue while urging the central government not to impose AFSPA in Garo Hills.

Pointing out that the threat of militancy had to be neutralized in the interest of Garo tribesmen, he said the unity of people was paramount to restore the lost peace in Garo Hills.

On Tuesday, the Meghalaya High Court has directed the union home secretary and defence secretary to consider the use of AFSPA, and deployment of paramilitary forces to control deteriorating law and order in Garo Hills.

It also directed the principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office to place the order before Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his perusal and consideration.

The high court order came following the recent kidnapping and killing of Intelligence Bureau officer Bikash Kumar Singh and businessman Kamal Saha by militants of the A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok and abduction of government official Jude Rangku T Sangma by the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants. Sangma was released on Tuesday.

(IANS)

(Picture courtesy: www.indianexpress.com)