By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 27)
(For the Quarter July – September 2014)
By the Brahmaputra
Smart cities, unsmart living: lessons unlearned
The images of the devastating floods in Jammu and Kashmir that leaped at us from television screens and the front pages of newspapers – especially the aerial views – were eerily similar to the vast submergence that the Assam and Barak Valleys undergo almost every year without fail. One major difference here is that this is a once in a lifetime experiences for most Kashmiris, particularly those in the Vale of Kashmir, a landscape of extraordinary beauty which inspired the intoxication in a Mughal emperor’s prose: ‘If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.’
But for many in Assam who are hit by the floods, it is a daily event during the high water and flood season, which is accompanied by heavy rains and high winds as well as the occasional storm. Indeed, this year’s flood surges have affected not less than 27 lakh people living on the chars and saporis of the Brahmaputra as well as on the river banks. This constitutes the vast flood plain of the river and its fellow rivers (let us not call them tributaries, as they are huge entities in their own right, leaping over hills and lunging through gorges and plains).There is another aspect to the Kashmir floods: the death toll here is significantly higher than anytime in Assam, one daresay, in the past two decades. Hundreds are dead and more are missing, entire buildings was been washed away, hospitals have gone under water as have government offices, rendering them unusable, bridges and roads have collapsed. The gigantic effort by the Indian Army and Air Force as well as the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) is more than herculean, it is an exhausting struggle to save lives –even if some refuse to be evacuated from their homes for fear of looting — and needs to be honoured.
One hopes that Kashmiris, who are so swift to anger and fault finding with the Centre, the security forces and the ‘Idea of India’ –just as we are in the North-east – will remember this life-saving endeavor by the armed forces. I am not so sanguine, however, given the brevity of human memory when good things are obliterated by a single ‘bad’ experience. In Kashmir, rescuers accorded top priority to the vulnerable, especially the old, sick, needy and children. There are heart-warming stories of how ordinary people of all religious denominations have saved neighbours and strangers: this is a celebration, in the worst of times, of the courage of the human spirit and its nobility. But there are also the darker sides to these tragedies, an aspect from which those living in urban conglomerates and burgeoning cities have not learned anything. This is the connection that links utterly disparate urban centers like Guwahati, Srinagar, Jammu, JorhatandShillong, not to forget those pilgrim towns of Uttarakhand wiped away in the 2013 cataclysmic floods, to each other. It is the deadly concrete bond of greed, fuelled by land mafia, a process caught in the tight, reptilinial embrace of collusive politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and contractors as well as the get-rich-quick-by-any-means brigade, who hang on to the coat tails of the last four. It is as if we were mocking nature and the gods themselves, inviting their wrath on us.
For decades – longer perhaps in Guwahati than in Srinagar – city administrators have permitted wetlands to be turned into residential and building mazes, with encroachments and rapid growth of massive concrete structures. In the desperate craze for ‘growth’ – and every major political party in power in Guwahati and individual leader who has held office in Dispur over the past 25 years especially, is squarely to blame here – vast spaces were cannibalized by developers, politicians and officials. Hotels and office spaces, institutional buildings and residential complexes came up without giving a damn for environmental concerns. Those who talked of the latter were criticized as being anti-development. Such nonsense.
The Assam Government has stated on the floor of the state assembly that despite the ongoing efforts to clear and clean SikasauBeel, the hotels and institutions which are located there (including Tata’s Ginger Hotel, the Omeo Kumar Das Institute, an ICSSR funded Centre, and the catering and management institute) were given clearances before the local environmental laws came into being! It was responding to a question about whether these buildings were affecting the city’s drainage and disrupting its storm shelters and what action would be taken. Clearly, in the eyes of government, no action needs to be taken.
What is possible or not possible in these spheres cannot any longer be left to the whims of government. If it was all-knowing, Government would not outsource projects, policy application or invite ideas for better development from ‘outside’ the official system. Surely, instead of demolishing the wetlands and regretting it now, it would have been better to locate these institutions outside the Guwahati area, closer, say, to Sonapur which is such a short drive now and on the North Bank, not far from the IIT? Was this consideration ever raised? An RTI is necessary to ferret out the truth. If the IIT could be located at Uttar Guwahati, why not the other research and learning centers?
Who benefited from this largesse? We need a policy decision to ensure that such institutes, industrial parks and public spaces including shopping malls will not come up within metropolitan area but some distance so that people think twice before going there for a daily jaunt. Instead, such places could be busy and packed over weekends, with recreation facilities, good connectivity and simple, clean furnished accommodation for those wanting a quick getaway.We destroy DeeporBeel, a world Ramsar site for migratory birds with encroachments, official and private, build a recreation facility there but do not use the greatest resource flowing before our eyes: the Brahmaputra? Can there be a greater example of development blindness. We do not seem to be able to connect ecosystems to moderate (not modest) and moderate development. We appear determined to jettison everything that we have been bestowed with, for the sake of making a fast buck, appeasing political constituencies or economic interests. This is true of the once green hills that ringed Guwahati, now teeming with buildings and human activity. The roads are filled with filth and sewage water once there’s a ‘smart’ shower. Today’s Guwahati is a towering monument to ‘unsmart ‘planning and development: lack of vision, non-application of mind, failure to think innovatively.
DeeporBeel, for example, could have been a great place for day hikers, nature tourists and a teaching centre for children of all ages within the precincts of the city; the collusion of politics, bureaucracy and failure of the NGO movement and the forest department has ensured nothing of this sort happened. The human-made disasters are all part of a ‘concrete bond’ that binds Guwahati to Srinagar, Uttarkhand to Shillong, Jammu to Jorhat. Where streams and canals flowed, people have built houses and commercial establishments, blocking the flow of water; roads have expanded and increased, plastic muck, human and industrial waste are untouched and clog the arteries of the cities, once handsome. After decades of abuse, nature – and water – finally strike back. The cost is unimaginable. There’s no point just blaming governments: all of us are to blame.
The situation calls for effective surgery that cleans human detritus. Cracking the politician-business-bureaucracy-technocrat (engineer)-contractor nexus. Is tough, if not impossible. But efforts have to be made. The media and the courts have a role as does the RTI movement. Cleaning up a few streams and destroying some encroachments, whether in Guwahati or Srinagar or Dehra Dun are palliatives. For the long-term health and survival of the patient, surgery and after care are the keys.
(From his regular column in the Assam Tribune published on September 17th 2014)
Rumi Naik addressing the convention
Brahmaputra Community Radio Station
Youth Speak: Voice of Champion from the field
It was a proud moment for C-NES and the organization’s upcoming Brahmaputra Community Radio Station (BCRS) based at the upper Assam tea town of Dibrugarh, very close to where the mighty river flows by at MaijanGhat. Rumi Naik a first time reporter of BCRS was selected to participate in the three day Assam State Convention at Guwahati on “Youth for Child Rights” organized by UNICEF as a Youth Champion from Dibrugarh in recognition of her excellent work towards her community- the tea tribes of Assam.
Rumi presented herself as a youth champion vigorously working towards bringing about a social change in the community where illiteracy and thereby superstitions along with alcoholism abounds. The importance of girls education, prevention of early marriage, the need and significance for proper health and hygiene, clean drinking water, a nutritious diet for the community more so for women and children amongst whom anemia is common has been her focus ,as a community reporter of Radio Brahmaputra 90.4 FM.
There were school and college students from the various parts of the state at the convention. The organizers congratulated her on her achievement and dedication. “Her speech about the activity and contribution of Radio Brahmaputra was influential. She was appreciated by all the dignitaries and fellow participants., said BhaskarJyotiSaikia, Program Coordinator, Child Protection, DRDA, Dibrugarh
The BCRS is an innovative effort to reach the marginalized and poor with new ideas, opportunities, giving them a platform to speak and perform in their own voices and access to better lives as a result of better access to rights and services through clear information, delivered with entertainment and energy. The station is unique in the sense that it caters to the needs and aspirations of people belonging to as many as five communities residing around the area in as many local languages – Shadri(dialect of the tea tribes ), Assamses, Bhojpuri,Bodo and Mising.
Onboard Akha the Dibrugarh Boat Clinic anchored at Maijanghat
Actor Victor Banerjee visits Radio Brahmaputra
The renowned film actor Victor Banerjee visited the boat clinic at Dibrugarhon 25th August 2014 and interacted with the Brahmaputra Community Radio Station team.“I met C-NES Managing Trustee Sanjoy (Hazarika) at Shillong and have seen the documentary ‘Where there are no Roads’, on the Boat Clinics and was very impressed. I am amazed that such good work is being done. I said to Sanjoy, ‘Please use me – what can I do for you?’ He replied, “You come, we will go together….”
Although Mr. Hazarika could not join Mr. Banerjee on this trip, the latter spoke to him by phone and said he was ‘completely bowled over’ by the experience and promised to help in any way possible.During the visit, Mr. Banerjee wrote the following inthe Visitors Book at C-NES’ Dibrugarh Office: “The Boat Clinics are a good example of what the citizen can do for his people”. There is no “Jaat” in the service, he added, because it was “for people in distress.”
Banerjee has acted in major Hindi, Bengali and English language films and has worked for prominent directors such as Roman Polanski, James Ivory, David Lean, Jerry London, MrinalSen, ShyamBenegal, Satyajit Ray and Ram GopalVarma.He visited Akha , C-NES’ first Boat Clinic which was started in 2005, providing essential health services to the most needy in the Brahmaputra river islands in upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district. The boat was anchored along the bank of the river at MaijanGhat and the veteran thespian spent over an hour onboard sharing lunch and ideas with the team including Arup Saikia, C-NES’ District Program Officer, Dr. Juganda Kumar Deori, Medical Officer of the Unit and boat crew followed by a visit to the Radio Station.
After being felicitated with gamosas (traditional Assamese hand woven towels), Mr. Banerjee, had a long discussion with the staff managing the radio station, led by the energetic coordinator of the unit, BhaskarBhuyan and first time reporters, local talents picked up from the communities to which the station would be catering to. Much to their delight, he also shared details from his personal and professional life.Mr. Banerjee has won international recognition as well as awards in India and abroad for his roles in maestro Satyajit Ray’s ShatranjkiKhilari and David Lean’s Passage to India. He runs a family-supported school for the visually challenged at Moran, near Dibrugarh.
BhaswatiGoswami speaking on sustainable development at the BCIM workshop
Consultative Workshop on BCIM
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, in association with the North Eastern Council and the Observer Research Foundation, organized a Stakeholders’ Consultative Workshop to deliberate on “The Role of the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor in Regional Integration”` at Guwahati, on 18 – 19 July, 2014. The opening-up of India’s North Eastern region to trade, commerce and cultural intercourse with the countries in its neighbourhood has been a long-term aspiration for the development of the North Eastern region of the country. It is also integral to the fulfilment of the objectives of India’s Look East Policy. One such connectivity initiative is the proposed “BCIM Economic Corridor” linking south west China and east and north east India through Myanmar and Bangladesh. The proposal, which is the outcome of several years of deliberations in the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Forum for Regional Cooperation and the practical experience of the Kolkata-to-Kunming Car Rally held in February-March 2013, was incorporated in the Joint Statement of the leaders of India and China on the occasion of the official state visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India in May 2013.
Supported by the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, this Consultative Workshop sought to elicit the expert opinion of policy-makers, state government officials, and the business and academic communities of India’s North Eastern Region on the themes outlined above. The emphasis throughout will be on identifying concrete ways and means to translate the proposed BCIM-EC into an instrument of the inclusive and sustainable economic, social and human development of the region. The Inaugural Session was chaired by M P Bezbaruah, Member North Eastern Council,the Welcome Address delivered byRajeetMitterFormer Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh. Others who addressed the session included P K RawatJoint Secretary (East Asia) Ministry of External Affairs, Special Address by AmeisingLuikhamSecretaryNorth Eastern Council Industry perspective by BarunBarpujari,ExecutiveDirectorIndian Oil Corporation Ltd (AOD) and the Vote of thanks by Patricia Uberoi Vice Chairperson, Instituteof Chinese Studies / Member BCIM-EC Joint Study Group
C-NES’ Communications Officer BhaswatiGoswamiwas on the panel on Sustainable Development.The Session chaired by Utpal K De Department of Economics North Eastern Hill University, Shillong was introduced by Nimmi KurianProfessorCentre for Policy Research Others on the panel included Hasina Kharbhih Founder Impulse who spoke on Industry Perspective,Xanzoi Barbora from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and by Bhaswati Goswami who spoke on sustainable development from the perspective of the work that C-NES does for the Brahmaputra river island dwellers.Thesession presented opportunities and the way forwardin sustainable development in BCIM including the potential impacts of climate change, the improvement of local livelihoods.
The Brahmaputra trail
When I was interacting with the staff of the Boat Clinic program in Lakhimpur District, one of the doctors from the Mising community recounted a quote his mother often reiterated. “It takes two men to row a boat”, she said. The quote reflected the dependence of the inhabitants of the chaporis on the river Brahmaputra whose ebb and flow transformed their lives every day. It also reflected attitudes towards family planning that formed an indispensable part of the Boat Clinic’s program. The two weeks with the Boat Clinic Health Program in Lakhimpur and Sonitpur Districts revealed to me some such nuances of life on a river island with the flowing river as both a companion and foe.
Through a study titled the “Marginalization of Women as a result of the Island-Mainland dichotomy”, I sought to establish a distinction between the conditions of women on the islands and the mainland with an emphasis on control over reproductive power and attitudes towards family planning. On the morning of the 26th of July, I began my journey with the C-NES Lakhimpur Team headed by the DPO, Mr. Tapan Borah to the first chapori, Balijan which took us about 2 hours to reach by boat and during which I was able to observe the different levels of erosion along the river side as a result of the fluctuating levels and course of the Subansiri River. The Balijanchapori was a relatively old chapori with a majority of the population being native populations as compared to the other two chaporis I visited at Santipur and Na-aliAunibariThe population of the three chaporis visited in the Lakhimpur District were approximately 800-900 people each with the ethnic composition being the Mising tribe.
The economic mainstay of the islands I visited was agriculture and animal husbandry with fishing contributing to a portion of the livelihood while ownership of oxen was an indicator of wealth. A majority of the agricultural labour was provided by the women as was their skill in weaving. The performance of household activities and child care were claimed as a prerogative of women. The attitudes towards menstruation were generally one of indifference with no social rituals being performed at the attainment of puberty though participation of women in certain religious practices such as the hokamwas seen to be constrained during the period. The general observation was that the beginning of the menstrual cycle was the beginning of the reproductive years for women reflected in the young ages of marriage which ranged from 15-18 years. The ages of conception were almost always automatically after marriage with the first child often being born at 16 years of age. The number of children per household and the willingness to adopt family planning methods seems to have seen a transformation after the establishment of the Boat Clinic which advocates awareness of family planning methods through the indispensable agency of the Asha and Anganwadi workers. The awareness of the use of contraceptive methods, both permanent and temporary, was seen to be more prevalent among the women who preferred IUCD methods with the Copper T being most significant. The general perception was that the woman was responsible for adopting methods of family planning. It was interesting to note the level of change in attitudes over the years of establishing the Boat Clinic Program. The DPO recounted the initial resistance of the island communities which has now progressed to a level of awareness primarily based on the trust in the ASHA workers and the medical staff of the Boat Clinic.
I ventured on a much awaited night trip with the C-NES Sonitpur team on 04/07/2014. We travelled from the Jahajghat at Tezpur to reach the Soraibil Chapori under the Bihoguri Development Block. The chapori had an approximate population of 500 people with 192 male and 308 female populations. I also visited the Rani Tapu ,Tintikia and the GaiTapu chaporis .The mainstay of these chaporis was agriculture, the surplus from which was immense during the khorali season. The main crop grown during this season was corn and the fields were lush with it. The female population was mostly engaged in household work with a few of them working as Asha and Anganwadi workers. The DPO Ms. Moushumi Duwarah and the Family Planning Counsellor Ms. Kabita Nath informed me that religious and superstitious beliefs served as a primary obstacle to family planning campaigns on these chaporis which was observed by me again during the interviews with male and female populations on the islands. The early ages of marriage and conception resulting in high rates of anemia, low menstrual flows and inability to detect pregnancies was observed on the four chaporis reflecting the complexities in maternal health care which have seen gradual progress, especially in relation to the use of contraceptives, over the period of establishment of the Boat Clinic Program.
An attempt to compare the conditions of the chaporis with that of the mainland proved to be extremely revealing as a greater conformity towards menstrual taboos and an ignorance of family planning methods was noticed in the mainland areas. It was especially revealing for me to see the living conditions of the island populations which though minimal and uncertain were taken in great stride and spirit by them. Their wants were few and their subsistence mainly from the land which they inhabited though economic practices from the mainland were trickling into the islands evident in the form of a bangle seller and a construction worker on the GaiTapuchapori. It was especially interesting to observe the social rituals prevalent among the communities such as the tying of the hair in an intricate knot after marriage or the significance of weaving in the life of a young girl in the Mising community. I noticed the fascination that the young and the old alike had for the boat clinic as they thronged it from dawn to dusk on the Sonitpur islands where it docked. The fascination was almost one born of trust in the clinic as well as a new source of excitement amidst their routine lives dictated by the ripples of the river. The visit to the chaporis helped me realize the need for a historical documentation of the riverine populations of which I noticed a dearth and a desire to pursue the same in the future.
The experience I had with the C-NES teams in Lakhimpur and Sonitpur was one I had been anticipating for a long time. The initial wariness of the island populations replaced gradually by a fascination and friendliness on their part and a revelation for me made my time with the Boat Clinic a unique one. The internship was made more comfortable for me by the extremely friendly teams in both the districts with both the DPOs going out of the way to guide me. I am extremely grateful to Mr. Tapan Borah, DPO ,Lakhimpur Boat clinic for his enthusiasm for my project as well as his help in accessing distant areas of Lakhimpur mainland such as the Panigaon Police station. It was heartwarming to notice the camaraderie the teams enjoyed and their close knit structure. I spent more time with the Sonitpur Team which proved to be extremely enjoyable with the cheerful banter of the nurses, the carom games and the scrumptious meals served by Mr. Nath. I got my first lesson in maneuvering a boat as well as an in depth knowledge of the intricacies of life on the islands through endless talks with the DPO, Mrs. Moushumi Dwarah whose passion for the Boat Clinic and her interest in the lives of the island communities shone through in her words and actions. Above all, I would like to thank the C-NES management for the opportunity to witness the struggles as well as the passion of the Boat Clinic teams whose stories of the turbulent river and periods away from the mainland on the boats inspired me. The two nights I spent along the Brahmaputra with the countless stars above and the clean breeze that blew along the changing moods of the river made me feel a sense of freedom and an increased desire to explore these areas in the future.
History, IInd year
Lady Shri Ram College For Women
Workshop on Susceptibilities of Healthcare Infrastructure
International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) and the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, JMI, Delhi initiated a workshop on “Susceptibilities of Healthcare infrastructure and challenges to access” on 12 th September,2014, at the India International Centre, New Delhi for North East Indian states in order to frame a strategy to safeguard healthcare in emergencies and prolonged conflict situations.
The participants who attended were medical professionals, administrators and field officers engaged in the delivery of healthcare service mainly from the North East region. Resource persons who deliberated were from ICRC, C-NES, Doctors for You (DFY), ANT, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) and Centre for study on political violence OP Jindal Global University.
The workshop started with a short film by ICRC, which showed violence and destruction during conflict/civil war (Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq) and the tremendous risk that healthcare workers have to take in order to provide health care service to the wounded and the sick. Ground conditions where health workers have to provide service and care for the patients even without having the basic supplies and logistics. Clip was shown of a medical graduation ceremony in Africa where almost all the graduating doctors were blown apart by a bomb. The pathetic conditions of bombarded hospital where doctors had to use spoons and knives during operation.
This film was an eye opener to all the participants for the deliberations that followed. India in comparison has to deal with emergencies in a much smaller scale. The North East India specially, has a different type of a situation, which is complex in nature, though with one or two extreme cases in some areas. The insurgency and ethnic conflict situation is a chronic problem where many different groups are fighting either for sovereignty or more autonomy and identity. This leads to road blocks, riots, bandhs, kidnappings, extortions, killings, etc. Normally direct attack on health infrastructure and health workers is rare. Long bandhs and road blocks are situations which leads to disruption of health care delivery system. Supplies and other logistics are cut off leading to a crisis situation. Kidnapping and extortion also acts as a barrier as health workers are reluctant to serve in these areas. There are few cases where health infrastructure and health workers are attacked, which is mainly due to death of a family member, lack of proper treatment, medical facility not provided, doctors not attending patient in time etc.
The topics that were discussed and deliberated upon by the different speakers were: Denial to access, Disruption of health system, establishment of legal framework, Framework for operation, Protection of Health workers and establishment, misuse of medical facility, Medical ethics, Responsibilities and rights of Health care workers, maintaining quality health service even in conflict situation, educating society to minimize disasters, interstate processes to provide logistics and manpower, deployment of volunteers, Trauma counseling, deliberate violation by armed forces, educating the field level workers in humanitarian laws, need for moral negotiation with conflict actors, declaring health establishments as peace zones, continuation of health service provision regardless of upheavals, perception of impartiality, provision of protection under IHL & HRL and violation, awareness of Act’s and legal implications.
Participants from the different states, especially Assam, Manipur and Nagaland highlighted the ground realities and the conflict scenario within their state. The panel discussion which followed tried to develop strategies that could safeguard health workers in the North Eastern states. When health care is in danger, three groups are normally involved, the care giver, the care receiver and the obstructer (group/situation that obstructs the service). In order to safe guard health workers and establishments in the North East, framing laws to provide legal protection to health workers and patients at the state level (“THE ASSAM MEDICARE SERVICE PERSONS AND MEDICARE SERVICE INSTITUTIONS (PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE AND DAMAGE TO PROPERTY) ACT, 2011), declare all health establishments as peace zones, generate awareness of the legal provisions and violation among the people , develop regional platform and generate civil society support system, involve ICRC and Red Cross.
In conclusion the workshop adopted to hold a consultation in a much larger scale in the North East where a platform could be initiated involving, civil society groups, related state departments, medical professionals, SDMA, Red Cross and ICRC and the media.
Report by: Ashok Rao, Programme Manager
Bhasati Goswami (right) at the introductory session
IWRM workshop, Delhi
The International Workshop on Resource Mobilization (IWRM) Asia 2014 was held from 19-22 August at New Delhi.. Communications Officer,C-NES Bhaswati Goswami participated in the workshop. The IWRM Asia is a yearly workshop for learning about fundraising. A set of practical skills including insight into best practice in local resource mobilization from a line-up of leading fundraising experts and practitioners from around the world with experience of the Asian market, exposure to new techniques, successful case studies and what works in the Asian environment, clear communication strategy for institutional donors, the government, and business communities in the participant’s respective country- to strengthen support for civil society and the organization were taught
This year, the IWRM Asia offered three Masterclass tracks and four Fundraising Clinics. The Masterclass (six hours spread over two days) tracks included: Raising funds through social media,Building better corporate partnerships Finding and winning grants from institutions Creating an effective fundraising strategy.
The workshop brought together speakers and trainers passionate about promoting fundraising and with relevant experience of the Asian market. Many, over the years, have made a profound change to fundraising. Among these were:Maj. Gen. Surat Sandhu – Chair, The Resource Alliance (India)UshaMenon – Usha Management Consultants from Singapore – easily one of the most experienced fundraising consultants and practitioners in Asia Dr Gwendolyn Pang – Secretary General, Philippines Red Cross Bernard Ross – Management Centre, UK Francesco Ambrogetti – Regional Resource Mobilisation and Partnership Adviser, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Fred Fournier – Director General, Optimus, France NeelamMakhijani-National Director of Child Fund India
Journalists Sanchita Sharma from the Hindustan times, Dr. M.H. Ghazali, Editor-UNN Rashme Sehgal ( Editor- Science & Technology, Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age), along with the, State Child Health consultant , UNICEF, Assam Field Office and member of District Health Society visited a camp conducted by the Nalbari Boat Clinicon 6th August 2014.The camp was organized at Bagnaputa Balarchar. The Boat came from Mukalmua and picked up the team from Kaplabari ghat. After a one and half hour journey, the team reached the ghat from where they walked for another half an hour to the location of the camp. They observed the health camp and interacted with the beneficiaries and local people. The previous day the team of journalists accompanied by the Jt. Director of Health, visited the Nalbari C-NES office. The District Programme Officer of the unit Parvis Ahmed gave a brief presentation about the Boat Clinic programme and the challenges it faces. The journalists thereupon decided to visit a camp and observe how it was conducted.
The link to the article on the Boat Clinics on 23rd August, 2014 in the Hindustan Times:
Workshop on Sustainable Urban Transport
Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami participated at a Workshop on Sustainable Urban Transport – Policy, Planning and Design on August 5th in Guwahati by the Delhi based CMSR Consultants partnered by Institute of Urban Transport (IUT) and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation (SSEF). IIT Delhi, TRIPP, ITrans and SG Architects. The workshop focused on the dissemination of National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) as well as discussed about NMT in Urban Transport Policy, Non Motorised Transport Planning & Design Guideline and NMT Evaluation Using Cycling Level of Service (CYLOS) Tools. Officials from the transport and urban development departments, engineers, urban planners, designers, technical consultants including CSO’s and NGO’s working in road transport and NMT sector were present. The urgent need to renew efforts towards developing an environmentally sound, climate-friendly and energy-efficient transport planning system was emphasized.in the country. Prominent speakers in the workshop were MeghaAggrawal, Transport Planner, Institute of Urban Transport (IUT),DrAnvita Arora, CEO, iTrans, RuchiVarma, SG Architects and Sandeep Gandhi, SG Architects.It was in 2006 that the Government of India (GoI) for the first time laid down a policy framework on urban transport. The policy is popularly known as “National Urban Transport Policy, 2006 (NUTP, 2006)”. With the growing population and expanding urbanization, new challenges were thrown in the realm of urban transport. Hence a need was felt to make a review of existing policy (NUTP, 2006) so as to bring it in consonance with the existing realities and challenges.This workshop was last in the series of four consultation workshops organised this year by Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation (SSEF) and Institute of Urban Transport (IUT). The previous three workshops were organised in Bhopal, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.
PFI Training Programme
A two day capacity building training program on family planning & reproductive health was held on 5th and 6th September 2014 at Morigaon at the GNM training school supported by the Population Foundation of India(PFI), where 19 ASHA workers, 6 Anganwadi workers, 2 link workers from different char villages took part along with MorigaonBoat Clinic team members. The inaugural session was attended by Addl.CM&HO Dr. BiplobGohain, District Program Manager,DijenKalita, District Community Mobilizer Maipak Singh, District Family Planning Coordinator SaminaKhatun, District Media Expert NilakhiMedhi, and Dietician Kangkana Borah from the District Health Society, Morigaon along with CommunicationsOfficer BhaswatiGoswami and State Family Planning Advocacy Chandana Bora from C-NES regional officeGuwahati. The district officials were happy to take part in the program where they got a rare opportunity to interact with the health worker from remote inaccessible islands serviced by the Boat Clinic and appreciated the effort of the organization for offering such a platform.
The objective of the traning, importance of family planning, methods of family planning, challenges and govt. facilities for family planning were discussed in details. Group discussions were also conducted on different aspects of family planning for enhancement of knowledge.The groups later made their own presentations.On the second day the role of ASHA in mobilizing community was discussed. The dietician from the district nutritional rehabilitation shared ideas and tools of identifying a malnurished child and ask them to refer such a child to the rehabilitation centre for better care and services.
Stories from the field:
The three sisters
Tinsukia: Harlua Baluasapori
“Sir, have you met Minu and Binu? How are they? Have Anu and Sunu been vaccinated?” asked Tinu with eager eyes and her ever smiling face. Dr. Bhaben Bora, Medical officer of Dibrugarh boat clinic unit who was examining a patient, smiled back, as he saw his familiar patient. Tinu, Minu and Binu are three sisters, originally from Charkholiasapori, one of the oldest saporis of Dibrugarh district in upper Assam. Tinu is the eldest of the three. She was 16 when she first attended a health camp in 2008. That very year her marriage was arranged and the information was passed on to the boat clinic team by the community worker of the unit in a review meeting of the team while discussing the issue of early marriage in the river island areas. Yasoda Devi, mother of these three girls is a dynamic lady despite her illiteracy who has helped the boat clinic team in the initial phase of the boat clinic intervention, particularly in motivating women in the reproductive age group to attend health camps because of the conservative nature of the society. She also went to other villages to help the boat clinic unit. The boat clinic unit was therefore surprised that she decided to get her own daughter married off so early and decided to discuss the matter with her.
It was however not so easy, Yasoda Devi negated the request, her husband TaranathYadav asked the health team not to interfere in their family matter. Probably the fact the couple has two more daughters to get married made them come to that decision. The boat clinic unit then took the help of local panchayat leader, anganwadi worker, teachers of the local schools to take up the issue and discuss the matter with the family.In the meantime an awareness camp was organized on the issue of early marriage-covering physical and psychological impacts on a girl due to marriage at earlier age. The multiple efforts worked. Only after two years,in 2010 Tinu got married to a school teacher from HarluaBaluasapori. In 2011 Tinu became a mother. Tinu expresses her gratitude to the boat clinic unit every time she comes for the health camps. She is a regular visitor. This was a major event and its impact was felt in the neighbouring villages as well and people here have now made it a rule to arrange marriage of girls only at 18 years or later.
A lost childhood
Minuti Khatun with her children at Kasimpur
Ajmal Hoque, 27 is a graduate from lower Assam’s Kasimpur island village of Barpeta district. Circumstances forced him to take up agriculture rather than seek a “decent earning government job. In awareness camp on 27th June, 2014 organized by the Barpeta Unit I at Kasimpur, (some two and half hour journey across the Brahmaputra by boat from Barpeta), the normally reserved Hoque showed a keen interest on the topic discussed—“Child Marriage and Family Planning”. At the end he seemed to have a never ending list of questions for the team. He participated in the question & answers session too and gave us valuable feedback. After the session, Ajmal took me to his house nearby to meet MinutiKhatun, his sister in law. Minuti was.in her mid-twenties but looked seemed much older. She was married to his elder brother when she was just 12 years old. A couple of years later, she was pregnant, and lost the child at birth. The following year, she delivered a baby girl, who grew up to one and half year but tragically drowned in the mighty river Brahmaputra. By 22 she had another two children – a boy and a girl.
Within a span of 8 years, Minuti had delivered 5 children, 3 when she herself was a child. She never got a chance to go to school. The constrained societal norms had cost her dearly, she had lost her childhood, added to which was the despair of having lost her children in quick succession. Repeated childbirth when her body was still tender for motherhood had taken its toll. Since the birth of her last child, Minuti has been on temporary family planning methods. She and her husband are not willing to take up permanent methods, afraid that they might lose their surviving children.
A progressive minded Ajmal said that like Minuti, many women from these areas suffer an early set back getting married when they are still very young. . They are anaemic, weak and suffer from many diseases at early age. He said, “There are no scopes for informative discussions like we had one today. Had we had such talks, discussions and opportunities more often and ready to use contraceptive devices quickly available within reach in the past, many of our women would have been much healthier. I am thankful that I have been able to learn so much today. I know it is late but I shall try and pass whatever I have learnt to everyone else who would seek for advice.”
As for Minuti, she said she will discuss with her husband about using Copper-T (contraceptive device) and inform us within a month or two. We are sure we can motivate the couple.
Report by Mohd. Abdul Halim, District Program Officer, Barpeta Unit I
Laika Sapori, Tinsukia: Dedicated team
As most people residing in the river island’s locally called saporis in upper Assam are farmers belonging to ethnic tribes, with the onset of monsoon, they get busy with activities in the paddy field. The health team at upper Assam’s Tinsukia district on visiting the remote LaikaSapori on 28th June,2014,found that most womenfolk were missing from home. The infants were being looked after by their older siblings, mostly girls. They have a way of carrying babies in a sling across their back made with a part of their woven garments. Very few children go to school in any case. When they told to ask their mothers to bring the immunization cards of the infants, they replied that there was no one at home as the mothers were busy harvesting The team had to wait till evening for their return from paddy field. Such is the dedication of the health teams.
Family Planning Initiatives
During a routine visit by the Goalpara Boat Clinic teamto the village of Birshing I, AmbiyaKhatun, mother of three was motivated by the team led by DPO Begum Zareefato undergo Laparoscopic Sterilization.Her husband supported the decision as well. Three days prior to the LS camp however, the unit’s communityworkers (CWs) were informed that she was opting out of the operation due to the fear of social exclusion and pressure from her parents in law. The community she belongs to does not support family planning. CWs Shohidul Islam and Monnaf Ali went to Birshing I on the morning of the operation and met the village head man, an influential figure in the village, convinced him and then went to the beneficiary’s house to convince the family.The counseling worked.AmbiyaKhatunhad the LS done. She was taken to BPHC from the char by the CWs and in the evening Ambulance service was provided to drop her back to theghat and subsequently to her home. For every LS case, the team has to struggle and convince beneficiaries. The role of ASHA is also mention worthy in this context.The teams know the significance of involvingreligious leaders (Moulvis) and village heads in the awareness programme for a positive community response. The key to successful community intervention such as this one is moving from awareness to acceptance, acceptance to mobilization and then to sustained work
A tragic plight
Mominpuris a new char village covered by the Barpeta II Boat Clinic Unit. Most people here have moved from the nearby Sayedpur char after massiveerosionsthelast two years. From Digir Pam ghatthe team has to travel over one hour to reachMominpur.When the team met the villagers they informed that while they were serviced by the Boat Clinic atSayedpur char, after coming to this char the were not getting any services. Awoman of about 20 years attended the camp for HCG test which tested und positive, she was twomonths pregnant.
Aftercounselingit was foundthat shewas married just three months agoand tragically her husband expired the previous month while fishing by boat at night asstrong winds overthrew the boat. They were unable to even locate his dead body. There are plenty cases like this where the river takes away precious lives. The District Programme Officer asked her about her future plans. She replied with tears in her eyes “Decision will be depend on Allah”. Early marriage with no formal education make the women totally dependent on male members of the family to sustain themselves much to their mental agony and often physical hardship.
Passing the good word…
Bahir Bhelengi, Barpeta
Left to right- Saimona, 26, mother of 2, Joyful Nessa, 27, mother of 4 children and Anna Khatun 28 years old with 3 children. whether they should go for it or not.
At a laparoscopy camp organized by the District Health Society, Barpeta,33 of the 59 beneficiaries were motivated by Boat Clinic Unit 1 for adoption of family planning methods,no mean feat in a community where family planning is a taboo. 6 belonged to BahirBhelengi village, the highest on a single day, from any single village till date under boat clinics in the district. A noteworthy thing about the adoptions (in January 2014) is that the team cannot alone claim credit for motivating the beneficiaries- 3* were motivated by a beneficiary from the same village who had adopted laparoscopy during September 2013. A shy JayfulNessa, 27 year old, mother of 4, said that she often talked to her friends about laparoscopy after her adoption. She cleared their misconceptions, encouraged them and spoke about health benefit. The team met her and congratulated her on her work. “I am happy that I could help these women and their husbands decide on something early so that they could lead a healthy and happy married life.”It may be mentioned that the BarpetaBoat Clinic Unit 1 has started conducting IUCD insertion in the boat since August 2014- 3 IUCDs were conducted during the month.
Voluntary services by Sengelisuti people
The Boat clinic at Jorhat “Nahar” conducted 16 camps in July2014 of the 20 camps planned due to the boat undergoing repairs. The first trips after the repair was at the major immunization sites of Baruahchuk, Kachikata, Kankur, Kerker, Missamora and Sengelisuti. Not seeing the boat for so long, people were anxious and waiting for its visit. The team had to explain about the reason behind theabsence.Such is the growing dependence of the people on the Boat Clinic.
According to the team, Kankurmukhgaon and Sengelisuti gaon are under massive erosion. Kankurmukh L.P School precariously placed,with the river nearly touching it, may get eroded within a month or two .
Due to drastic rise in soil erosion, villagers from various localities in Sengelisuti sapori rendered voluntary service. Erosion started at Sengelisuti from 2008. There has been no respite. Last year in 2013, even the Sengelisuti school got eroded.
Camp at Kachikata and screening organised at Kerker
The documentary on the Boat Clinics ’Where there are no roads’’ was shown to the people of Kerker. Parts of the documentary was shot in the banks of Kerkersapori. People were waiting to see it therefore.The Boat Clinic team arranged the screening in the evening after a routing camp. Villagers were delighted to see themselves on the screen.
Training on livelihood at Besamora
The Jorhat team also organized a training programmealong with a health camp with a local organization called ‘’Amar Astha’’ whose president Prakash Baruah conducted a training on agricultural development programs of the islands of Majuli. Mr. Baruah spoke on problems like access to markets, storage and irrigation and farmers could adopt these scientific techniques. It was felt that scientists from the agriculture department could come to see these places. It has been observed that are always problems in seed distribution.
Livelihood training conducted by Mr. Prakash Baruah at Bhakat sapori
Bongaigaon: Family Planning campaign
Group discussions on Family Planning at Bongaigaon
The Bongaigaon Boat Clinic organized a six day campaign programme/ group discussions on population control with the help of District Health Society(DHS) from 16th July to 24th July during camp days in different target areas of Boat Clinic. Audio Visuals slides provided by the DHS were used to motivate the community to adopt family planning measures. After each camp as many as four group discussions were held in different locations of the village. Community workers played an important part in successfully organizing the programme. Community feedback was provided to the DHS. The Boat Clinic Medical Officers spoke on population control and family planning
From the Boat Clinics: A photo story
Photo Credit: Md Abdul Halim, District Programme Officer, Barpeta Unit I