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Woman bureaucrat brings social miracle, hailed as ”Mother Goddess”

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By Nityanand Shukla

Ranchi: In a primitive Jharkhand tribe, a woman bureaucrat has effected a social miracle. In this village, women had crafted artifacts but there was no market for them. Because of her efforts, this woman bureaucrat is worshipped as ”Mother Goddess” in more than 25 villages of the area.

Suchitra Sinha, currently Jharkhand’s tourism director, is worshipped as “Devi Maa” with her photograph occupying a prominent place among the other gods and goddesses in the prayer room of tribal homes.

“She is our mother. Our Devi mother. We have not seen God but for us this mother has always stood by us whenever we have needed her,” Manju, a Sabar tribe woman who resides in Samanpur village of Nimdih block, some 135 km from Jharkhand capital Ranchi, told a visiting agency correspondent through a translator. It’s not just the 250 families of Samanpur village but also those of Makula, Bhangad, Bindubeda, Biridudih, Chirubeda, Bereda and other villages where Sinha is venerated.
The reason for this lay in a huge hall behind the village school where large numbers of men and women were hard at work making artefacts and other items of daily use from forest produce.

“It is maa (Mother) who has made sure that food is prepared in our homes, our children are fed and the male members were put on the right track of life,” Manju explained.

Sinha had cleared the Bihar Public Service Commission examination (Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar) in 1988 and was familiar with the underdeveloped area that was a hotbed of Maoist rebels as well from the time she as posted as Jamshedpur’s deputy collector in 1990. However, her visit to Samanpur village in 1996 for attending an event was the turning point.

She took up the matter with the Deputy Development Commissioner (DDC), who, instead of hearing her out, suggested she concentrate on her official duties. Jeeringly, he said it was naive to believe that the villagers could be pulled out of the state of intoxication they lived in for most of the time.

Even Sinha’s family members laughed at her intentions.

However, this did not deter Sinha and she made repeat visits to Samanpur village, speaking to the men to turn a new leaf, making the women realise their exceptional talent and soon earned their trust.

Gradually, people started listening to her; even the youths started to associate with Her. She suffered a setback when she was transferred to New Delhi but she was committed to ensuring that her efforts see the light of the day.

Sinha took the items made by the villagers to the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts and informed him about the talent of the villagers. The commissioner encouraged her and also suggested that the villagers be trained in modern techniques.

By now, word of Sinha’s mission had spread and the residents of other villagers too began to enthusiastically join in.

She later formed a self-help group named Amabalika and in groups of 10, the villagers were brought to New Delhi, where they were trained at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). These villagers, in turn, trained others in their own villages and the rest, as they say, is history.

Her efforts translated into reality and soon the handicrafts started getting markets for themselves.

In all this, Sinha is extremely self-effacing. “Please do not highlight me. Highlight the problems of the primitive tribes who need immediate help. I will be happy if corporate houses adopt the villages and develop basic infrastructure in the area. The area lacks electricity, roads and basic facilities. We are planning to develop the area and develop the craft village,” Sinha said.

“I do not want to be worshipped as a goddess; neither do I want to be in the limelight. I have just made sure that the members of the Sabar tribe, who are on the verge of extinction, get economic benefits through their skills,” she said.

Asked whether family responsibilities have come in her way, Sinha said she has beautifully managed to strike a balance between her roles as a wife, daughter-in-law and mother and is fully supported by her family members in her efforts.

Her husband, an Indian Revenue Service officer, is posted in New Delhi and her children are settled. She lives alone in Ranchi and wants to continue her work for the betterment of the Sabar tribals. (IANS) (Nityanand Shukla can be contacted at nityanand.s@ians.in)

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Pacific Northwest Tribes: Remove Three Major Hydroelectric Dams on Columbia River

The Yakama and Lummi nations made the demand of the U.S. government on Indigenous Peoples Day, a designation that's part of a trend

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Tribes, Hydroelectric, Dams
JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, speaks with the Columbia River in the background near The Dalles, Oregon, Oct. 14, 2019. VOA

Two Pacific Northwest tribes on Monday demanded the removal of three major hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River to save migrating salmon and starving orcas and restore fishing sites that were guaranteed to the tribes in a treaty more than 150 years ago.

The Yakama and Lummi nations made the demand of the U.S. government on Indigenous Peoples Day, a designation that’s part of a trend to move away from a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus.

For decades, people have debated whether to remove four big dams on the Lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, but breaching the Columbia dams, which are a much more significant source of power, has never been seriously discussed.

Proposals to merely curtail operations, let alone remove the structures, are controversial, and the prospects of the Columbia dams being demolished any time soon appear nonexistent.

Tribes, Hydroelectric, Dams
FILE – Water flows through the Dalles Dam, along the Columbia River, in The Dalles, Oregon, June 3, 2011. VOA

Tribal leaders said at a news conference along the Columbia River that the Treaty of 1855, in which 14 tribes and bands ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States, was based on the inaccurate belief that the U.S. had a right to take the land.

Under the treaty, the Yakama Tribe retained the right to fish at all their traditional sites. But construction of the massive concrete dams decades later along the lower Columbia River to generate power for the booming region destroyed critical fishing spots and made it impossible for salmon to complete their migration.

After a song of prayer, Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy spoke Monday at the site of now-vanished Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Oregon, and said the placid Columbia River behind him looked “like a lake where we once saw a free-flowing river.”

“We have a choice and it’s one or the other: dams or salmon,” he said. “Our ancestors tell us to look as far into the future as we can. Will we be the generation that forgot those who are coming behind us, those yet unborn?”

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Celilo Falls was a traditional salmon-fishing site for the Yakama for centuries, but it was swallowed by the river in 1957 after the construction of The Dalles Dam.

Support for dams

The three dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are a critical part of a complex hydroelectric network strung along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that powers the entire region.

Government officials were unavailable for further comment Monday due to the holiday.

Tribes, Hydroelectric, Dams
FILE – Water flows through the Bonneville Dam near Cascade, Oregon, June 27, 2012. VOA

Supporters of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers note the vast amount of clean energy they produce and their usefulness for irrigation and transportation. For example, they allow farmers to ship about half of U.S. wheat exports by barge instead of by truck or rail. According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, about 40,000 local jobs are dependent on shipping on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Salmon, orcas 

The Lummi Nation is in northwestern Washington state, far from the Columbia River, but it has also been touched by construction of the dams, said Jeremiah Julius, Lummi Nation chairman.

Chinook salmon are the preferred prey of endangered orcas but just 73 resident orcas remain in the Pacific Northwest — the lowest number in three decades — because of a lack of chinook, as well as toxic contamination and vessel noise. The orcas were hunted for food for generations by the Lummi Nation in the Salish Sea, he said.

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“We are in a constant battle … to leave future generations a lifeway promised our ancestors 164 years ago,” he said. “Our people understand that the salmon, like the orca, are the miner’s canary for the health of the Salish Sea and for all its children.

“I choose salmon,” he added. “I will always choose salmon.”

Fish ladders built into the dams allow for the passage of migrating salmon, and migrating fish are hand-counted as they pass through. But the number of salmon making the arduous journey to the Pacific Ocean and back to their natal streams has declined steeply in recent decades.

The Columbia River Basin once produced between 10 million and 16 million salmon a year. Now there are about 1 million a year.

The Bonneville Dam was constructed in the mid-1930s and generates enough electricity to power about 900,000 homes — roughly the size of Portland, Oregon. The Dalles Dam followed in the 1950s and John Day Dam was completed in 1972.

Environmental groups applauded the tribes’ demand and said efforts to save salmon without removing the dams aren’t working because without the free flow of the Columbia, the entire river ecosystem is out of balance.

“The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water, and climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the nonprofit group Columbia Riverkeeper. “The system is broken, but we can fix it.” (VOA)