Thursday October 18, 2018

Barsimaluguri: Story of transformation of an Assam village

Barsimaluguri village in Assam gets a new life, thanks to efforts by an NGO and villagers.

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School in village Barsimaluguri Picture from FB page : https://www.facebook.com/borsimaluguri/
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Barsimaluguri village in Assam sees a transformation, thanks to civic engagement by an NGO Nanda Talukdar Foundation (NTF)

An insurgency-hit village in Assam’s Himalayan foothills where the residents long suffered stomach ailments due to the iron-contaminated water and only 10 percent of its around 250 households had proper sanitation facilities is now cited as the first ‘smart village’ in the entire northeast — thanks to two non-resident Assamese and a veteran journalist.

On the international border with Bhutan, Barsimaluguri village in Assam has just 234 families. It is Situated in Baksa district — one of the four Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

“It was a typical village — backward in every sense. A baseline study said only 10 percent (households) had sanitary toilets,” Mrinal Talukdar, a journalist with over 25 years of experience and who currently heads NGO Nanda Talukdar Foundation (NTF), told IANS from Guwahati.

The NTF, which has been involved since 2015 in direct grassroots intervention through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives by adopting backward villages and turning them into model villages, zeroed in on Barsimaluguri for its next project.

“We wanted an insurgency-infested yet reachable place from Guwahati within a radius of 150 km due to logistical reasons. We were interested in the north bank of the Brahmaputra river in the foothills of Bhutan… an area not many people venture out even today,” he said. The village in Baksa, 80 km from Guwahati, fit the bill.

Yarn Bank set up in the village Barsimaluguri.  Picture from FB page : https://www.facebook.com/borsimaluguri/
Yarn Bank set up in the village Barsimaluguri.
Picture from FB page : https://www.facebook.com/borsimaluguri/
 The foundation roped in Anirudh Goswami, working in Delhi, and Surajit Dutta, based in Bengaluru, for a project to turn backward Barsimaluguri into a modern village full of facilities.

Goswami provided technical and organisational support to the NTF, which managed to convince a leading financial PSU to fund the initiative while Dutta served as the project leader.

The NTF project was shortlisted by Himachal Pradesh-based consultancy HIMCON, which in turn roped in donor India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL) to underwrite it.

Talukdar said the foundation decided to work on 4-5 aspects to make it a model village — safe drinking water, total sanitation, alternative power, skill development and employment generation besides improving facilities for sports and education.

And the results are evident — solving the problem of its metal-tainted water, Barsimaluguri has now become the first village in Assam to have a reverse osmosis (RO) plant which can deliver 500 litres of standard mineral water in an hour, while nearly half the households have got new sanitary toilets.

“The RO plant is managed by the villagers. They pay Rs.120 per month and take 20 litres of water a day. Which means 20 paisa per litre. They spend the money on salaries and upkeep,” said Talukdar.

“In a bid to end open defecation, the project, surmounting the challenges of logistics and quality manpower and heavy monsoon, constructed 100 toilets in the village. We have covered almost 50 percent of the total households,” he said, adding that they were “proud” to be associated with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

The brightest part of the intervention was the solar energy component — 100 houses were given solar kits and 75 streetlights were installed making Barsimaluguri the envy of every neighbouring village as it remains illuminated the whole night.

Talukdar says the project simultaneously moved to improve human resource, with a series of camps held for legal awareness, women empowerment, child development and skill development through the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship.

“It’s now time for us to pack up. We have identified another village, Jajimukh in Jorhat district. Now the hunt is on for a sponsor — that is the most difficult part,” he said.

“Every project has its challenges. Barsimaluguri had the challenge of the (Bodo militant group) NDFB and Jajimukh will have problems of transportation as there is no direct road there and one has to reach the village by boat,” he said.

The foundation has a broad palette of activities — starting with preservation of 19th century books, it now visits about 400 villages a year to conducts social audit of self-help groups developed by the State Institute of Rural Development and is also developing a teaching module on coverage of children and women for journalists with help from Unicef.

“Now Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) has given us three villages in the vicinity of Golaghat to transform into smart villages and develop a sustainable model of livelihood,” says Talukdar. IANS

(Prantick Majumder can be contacted at prantick.m@ians.in)

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  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    After being ignored by Indian government and media at least something good is happening with the efforts of NGO .. Being a part of India, the people of north-east are ignored.. When Anna ji was fasting, media was actively covering each incident but nobody knows about Irom Sharmila who is fasting since more than 60 years to protest against AFSPA.. Also, after the Nirbhaya incident everyone was criticising the culprits but does anyone know about Thangjam Manorama? Is anyone aware of the Assam floods of September 2015 which left over 2 lakhs people homeless.. Most of us don’t.. as media was busy in covering Sheena Bohra murder case..

  • Shubhi Mangla

    Great to hear that utmost care of cleanliness is taken in Hingol pilgrimage…Many pilgrimages in India are unfortunately unclean

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  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    After being ignored by Indian government and media at least something good is happening with the efforts of NGO .. Being a part of India, the people of north-east are ignored.. When Anna ji was fasting, media was actively covering each incident but nobody knows about Irom Sharmila who is fasting since more than 60 years to protest against AFSPA.. Also, after the Nirbhaya incident everyone was criticising the culprits but does anyone know about Thangjam Manorama? Is anyone aware of the Assam floods of September 2015 which left over 2 lakhs people homeless.. Most of us don’t.. as media was busy in covering Sheena Bohra murder case..

  • Shubhi Mangla

    Great to hear that utmost care of cleanliness is taken in Hingol pilgrimage…Many pilgrimages in India are unfortunately unclean

Next Story

Here’s How Strict India’s Citizenship Test Can Really Be

To be recognized as Indian citizens, all residents of Assam have had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971.

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Indian Citizenship
In India's Citizenship Test, a Spelling Error Can Ruin a Family. VOA

Riyazul Islam says he had to produce family documents going back to 1951 to prove he was of India and not an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. But a draft list of citizens released in July excluded him and his mother, among a total of about 4 million people left off.

A wiry 33-year-old living in the northeastern state of Assam, Islam says he and his mother have no further documents left to prove they are Indians, although his father and many others in his family have been included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“If my father is an Indian citizen how come I am not?” said Islam in an interview in the small Assam town of Dhubri, close to the border with Muslim-majority Bangladesh. “What more proof do they need?”

Anguish like this is now commonplace in Assam, where the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accelerated work on the citizen’s list after coming to power in the state two years ago, promising to act against immigrants accused of stealing jobs and resources from locals.

The government has not given details of the four million excluded from the list. But most are believed to be minority Bengali-speaking Muslims living in the state, which has a total population of 33 million, mostly Assamese-speaking Hindus.

Many of those excluded are illiterate and poor, and some are victims of a spelling error in their names or a mistake in their age in documents offered for proof of citizenship, according to a review of their documents by Reuters.

Opposition parties say Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is denying citizenship to Muslims through the Assam list, and demonstrating its Hindu nationalist credentials with an eye on a general election due by May.

The BJP’s Assam spokesman, Bijan Mahajan said there was no religion-based motive behind the citizenship drive.

“(This is) being opposed for political mileage whereas at ground zero there is absolutely no tension,” he said.

However, Arun Jaitley, one of Modi’s senior-most cabinet colleagues, said in a Facebook post this month that the NRC was necessary because the growth in the Hindu population of Assam had been overtaken by that of Muslims.

Ethnic Assamese have been agitating against outsiders in the state for decades. In 1983, about 2,000 people were chased down and killed by machete-armed mobs intent on hounding out Muslim immigrants. It has not been clearly established which group was behind the carnage.

India n Passport
The government has not given details of the four million excluded from the list. Flickr

The Assam NRC draft has excluded many Hindus too, but last weekend BJP chief Amit Shah assured citizenship to all non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by framing a new law.

It is not clear what will happen to those excluded from the final list of citizens, due to be published by the end of the year. But lawyers say they may end up in detention camps, or at the very least be denied citizenship rights and government subsidies.

They could also be struck off voter rolls, which will be an important factor in at least half a dozen Assam constituencies in a general election.

Spelling Errors

In Dhubri, a farming town on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River upstream from the Bangladesh border, those who did not make it to the list were fearful of discussing it in public.

But inside their homes, several of those excluded showed a Reuters reporter tattered pieces of paper, including birth, school and marriage certificates dating back years and preserved carefully in plastic envelopes.

Such government-issued documents in the countryside often contain spelling or numerical errors, as the illiterate depend on others to write down details. Getting birth certificates made was also not common until recent years in many parts of the country.

Such mistakes can lead to loss of citizenship, said Aman Wadud, a lawyer who has handled dozens of cases of illegal immigration at Assam’s foreigner tribunals.

“With Muslims, there is a problem of title (surnames),” said Wadud. “Because most of the accused are illiterate they don’t use a constant title. Ali, Ahmed, Hussain are used interchangeably.”

He showed Reuters a tribunal judgment on a resident named Tajab Ali, who submitted a series of voters lists as proof of his citizenship going back to 1966. He said his name had been wrongly recorded as Tajap Ali instead of Tajab Ali in the 1985 voters list, and his father’s name wrongly recorded as Surman Ali Munshi instead of Surman Ali. There were also discrepancies in his age.

The tribunal said Ali submitted an affidavit “declaring various names of himself, his projected father, and mother. But an affidavit being only a self-declaration, it has no evidentiary value.”

Sajida Bibi, Islam’s mother, also fell victim to a wrongly entered name.

One of the documents she submitted to prove citizenship and shown to Reuters by the family, was an affidavit saying her name had been wrongly recorded as “Sabahan Bibi” in the 1951 citizenship registry, the first one drawn up in the state after India’s independence in 1947. The affidavit also said she was named as “Sahajadi Begum” in her school certificate, and that she changed her name to “Sajida Bibi” from “Sajida Begum” after her marriage.

She swore in the affidavit that all three were the same person here. The tribunal did not accept the affidavit.

Reuters reviewed copies of at least two other recent tribunal judgements in which people had been declared foreigners because of name and age-related errors and in which affidavits were not accepted.

“Not Against Muslims”

Much of the over 2,500-mile-long border between India and Bangladesh is porous, through which hundreds of thousands of people fled from Bangladesh during its India-backed war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

India Citizenship
A man, whose name is left off of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft, stands in a line to collect forms to file appeals at an NRC Sewa Kendra (NSK) in Guwahati. VOA

To be recognized as Indian citizens, all residents of Assam have had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971.

New Delhi said in 2016 that around 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants were living in India. Activists who filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 to expel such immigrants alleged over 4 million of them had been included in Assam’s 2006 voter list.

Also Read: High Cholesterol Level Increased Risk of Death, Even In Healthy People

“For 38 years, we’ve been fighting to protect the language, culture and identity of our indigenous people in our own motherland,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, an adviser to the All Assam Students Union (AASU), an organization that has spearheaded the campaign against illegal immigrants.

But Bhattacharya said the NRC was not biased against any community.

“It’s not against Muslims, it is not against Hindus, it is not against Bengalis,” Bhattacharya said. “It’s against illegal Bangladeshis. It is a question of citizens and non-citizens.” (VOA)