By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 13)
(For the quarter January- March 2011)
NE Bandhs and ASEAN:
Will we make it?
What do bandhs have in common with ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, that conglomerate of the energetic nations of SE Asia (although three are LDCs or Least Developed Countries – Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos)? Obviously bandhs and ASEAN don’t go together, although there are some from time to time and Thailand, of course, is disrupted by political agitations frequently. But, take a look around the other countries, there’s little disruption of their economic surge or commercial production by strikes.
I’m not saying that this is a good or bad thing. I’m merely intrigued by the gap in understanding among intellectuals, editors, scholars and politicians in India, especially its North-east, who are desperately pushing for connectivity to SE Asia, but are unable to say or do anything about the frequent bandhs which disrupt daily life and the economy in our region, called by students, political parties and even insurgents.
So the question is not as strange as it appears. There also a gap in credibility, apart from governance. I write this from Jorhat in Upper Assam, one of the main centres of tea production in the country, which has been shut down all day by a bandh called by journalists to protest an alleged threat to one of their own from the relative of a politician. There’s another bandh called by the All Assam Tea Tribes Students Association (AATTSA for short).
No businessman or women worth his or her salt will invest in a place where, in addition to the problems of delivery and security, you also have a constant worry that shipments, production and attendance of workers and staff will be disrupted by a sudden strike, however justified. These are the issues, which as much as anything else – and certainly not big talk — will make an impact on ASEAN visitors and shape the pace of our connectivity. It’s not good enough to hark back to the past but also to show, on the ground, that we have the will to ensure connectivity, not disrupt it.
Last week, the ASEAN show rolled into Delhi, and it was pretty formidable. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN Secretary-General, and one of the most brilliant intellects of Asia, captured the audience with his powerful inaugural address (he’s a hard act to follow: External Affairs Minister SM Krishna spoke after him and, naturally, as is his wont, put everyone in the room to sleep).
Dr. Pitsuwan said that the NE was ‘naturally connected to South East Asia” and noted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a seat from Assam. He was making a political statement – that the connectivity was important also because the country’s top political leader had a constituency there. That evening, the Thai Foreign Minister was even more elaborate: “The foreign ministers of ASEAN propose a trip by road to Myanmar by road and then to Assam,” so that they could understand the opportunities and challenges in traveling through this region. This is part of the “evolving architecture” of Asia, where road and rail connectivity will make travel from Vietnam to Turkey or any part of the world in between — including Central Asia and Russia – a reality. But a top engineer tells me that the new Assam highways are about six years behind schedule: i.e. we are completing 2005-06 roads this year!
The contradictions in our approach to South East Asia were visible at the ASEAN-India partner event in Delhi; not a single political leader from the North-east which is the only part of this country with a direct land and historical link with SE Asia, was there. Agatha Sangma, billed as the “youngest Minister” in the Council of Minister who is Minister for Rural Development, didn’t turn up at her session.
There is another aspect to the new interest in the North-east: it is seen as one of the last “undiscovered” jewels of the world which can be a huge travel destination. The protection of our environment and natural resources needs to be central to our planning and programme implementation. This has hardly found space in all the conferences, summits, seminars as well as the vision documents quoted so extensively.
(Published on 13 March 2011 in Sunday Guardian)
Common Review Mission (CRM) team at Dhemaji Boat Clinic
A Common Review Mission team headed by Dr Kiran Ambwani, Deputy Commissioner, Family Planning, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India (GoI), Dr Loveleen Johri, Senior Consultant, Reproductive Health, U S Aid, Dr Abhijit Das, Director Centre for Health & Social Justice also Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Global Head, University of Washington and Dr Ravinder Kaur, Consultant Maternity Health, MoHFW visited Dhemaji Boat Clinic in December 2010. Members from the NRHM state team and District Health Society besides Block level health officials under Jonia Block PHC were present.
The Dhemaji Boat Clinic, “SB Shahnaz” was anchored at Mazarbari ghat. The health team along with Sanjay Sharma, Associate Program Manager, C-NES welcomed the team. The CRM team boarded the boat and sailed downstream to Churangsiri sapori, a 45 minute journey. The team attended a health camp at Churangsiri sapori which was held at the LP school premises and interacted with the Village health workers (ASHAs) and the villagers who appreciated the health services provided by the Boat Clinic in their remote areas.
Common Review Mission team visits Lakhimpur Boat clinic
A Common Review Mission Team visited the Lakhimpur Boat Clinic to review NRHM health programmes in December 2010. The eight member team comprised of Dr.P.Khanna, National Health Resource Centre (National Institute of Health & Family Welfare), Dr. Partho Jyoty Gogoi, Regional Director, MOH&FW, GOI, Guwahati, P.K.Abdul Karim, Economist, Ministry of Health, Dr. G.C.Doley, Project Coordinator, GFATM and state, district health and NRHM officials. Ashok Rao, Programme Manager, C-NES was present with the Lakhimpur Boat Clinic health team.
The team reached Lakhimpur’s Dhunaguri Ghat at 8:40 am and were escorted to the boat. During the 20 minute boat ride to Aunibari sapori, Dr.P.J.Gogoi enquired about laboratory equipments available. The medicine supply was looked into. The district drug store manager was asked to see that boat clinic receives supply regularly. The nurses were asked about training program they had undergone. On reaching the camp site, the group interacted with the community and also visited the village. The villagers informed the team about how the Boat Clinic has been providing regular health services to them which they were earlier deprived of. Dr. Gogoi stressed that there should be a follow up system from the BPHC as it is not possible for boat clinic to return every fortnight.
Dr. Khanna commented, “Interaction with the beneficiary has revealed the dire need the Boat Clinic is fulfilling”. He further added, “Boat Clinic should also advocate preventive education drive in the villages on a sustained basis, to avoid spread of certain infections and epidemics and to take up studies in the area based on the community’s life style, food habits and nutrition to ascertain some of the unidentified and less reported patterns of diseases”.
Meeting with Managing Trustee at Shillong
Managing Trustee (MT) Sanjoy Hazarika met the newly appointed District Programme Officers (DPOs) of the Boat Clinic health outreach programme at a meeting on 7th December 2010 at the conference hall, Shillong Club, Shillong. The objective of the meeting was to interact with the DPOs of new Boat Clinic Units- to assess their (work) progress, documentation skills, ability to liaison with district administration, District Health Society (DHSs), community mobilization and the challenges they faced. The Boat Clinic Project has (since August 2010) been up scaled to include three new districts and an additional unit each in two existing districts – Goalpara, Bongaigaon and Kamrup are the new districts and existing districts of Dhubri and Barpeta have an additional unit each.
Shortage of medicines and receding water level of the Brahmaputra and the Subansiri (in Lakhimpur) were concerns raised. The teams in most districts are facing problems of access, having to walk long distances as boats are unable to reach many sites during the winter months which were earlier covered. A central point where people can gather for the health camps was suggested by the MT for the winter months along with usage of Google Earth for tracking disappearing and reappearing islands Better communication/ coordination with district administration and health department/ ADC (health) was stressed upon by the MT stressed along with compulsory attendance in DHS meetings.
MT at Kunming
Calling for collaboration in inclusive health care for millions of vulnerable people in NE India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and SW China, Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee, C-NES, made a presentation at Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, China, on the innovative Boat Clinics that the organization runs in partnership with the National Rural Health Mission in 13 districts of Assam in January 2011. Hazarika’s presentation was widely appreciated at the international, multi-track forum known as the BCIM (Bangladesh China India Myanmar) that has been working at an informal Track II basis, involving scholars, former officials as well as media. Hazarika also called for academic exchanges and collaboration between Yunnan’s academic institutions with Jamia Milia Islamia’s Centre for NE Studies that he runs in New Delhi.
MT at panel discussion
Sanjoy Hazarika took part in a panel discussion with other editors and writers from the North-east at the Cultures of Peace festival organized by Zubaan, the feminist publishing house in New Delhi in January 2011. The panel, Stories from a War Zone, was moderated by Urvashi Butalia, publisher of Zubaan, whose editor is Preeti Gill, C-NES Advisory Council member. The event was held at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
Hazarika moderates NE writers at Jaipur Lit Fest
Sanjoy Hazarika moderated a well-attended session by North-east writers who write in English at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2011. Hazarika, a well-known author and documenter of the region guided discussions on the theme ‘These hills called home’ where participating authors Mamang Dai, Prof Temsula Ao and Anjum Hasan spoke and read from their works.
Mr. Chaman Lal, C-NES Trustee and former Special Rapporteur with the National Human Rights Commission was selected for the prestigious Nani Palkhiwala Civil Liberties Award 2010. The award was given to him on 7th February 2011 at Mumbai.
Mr Niketu Iralu, C-NES Trustee and noted social activist from Nagaland was given the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Award for National Integration by the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at Guwahati’s Rabindra Bhawan on 7th February, 2011.
Patricia Mukhim, Trustee,C-NES and editor of The Shillong Times, has been appointed a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Ms. Mukhim is an award winning journalist and was earlier honoured with the Padma Shri and has been one of the region’s most vocal advocates for dialogue, peace processes and women’s rights.
Kalyani Clubs Awards
Seven Kalyani Health Clubs were selected and awarded with a 21 inch colour TV set each in February 2011 at the Doordarshan Kendra(DDK), Guwahati studio by C-NES. The organization has been the state representative of Population Foundation of India (PFI), in the PFI – Kalyani Doordarshan programme in Assam. Kalyani, a popular health series in India, is a joint initiative of the Development Communication Division, Doordarshan and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. PFI and Kalyani have been working together and leveraging on each others resources in the overall goal of dissemination of information. One of the major components of the programme is to conduct competitions among the Kalyani Health Clubs.
The Station Director of DDK- Guwahati, Devendranath Basumotary, Deputy Director (AR), P. M. Buzar Baruah, Assistant Director, Vinod B Desai and Station Engineer Sudip Choudhury represented DDK at the function. Ashok Rao, Programme Manager and Manik Ch. Boruah represented C-NES and handed over prizes to the winners. Twenty one representatives from these 7 clubs were present. The programme was telecast on 28th Feb 2011.
Kalyani Club representatives at the ceremony
UNICEF team at Dibrugarh sapori
Edouard Beigbeder, Chief, Field Services and Lars Ulfkjae, Chief, Budget Management from UNICEF, India Office visited Dibrugarh’s Lowkiwali sapori with the Dibrugarh Boat Clinic team in Feb 2011. They were accompanied by Jeroo Master, Chief Field Office, Assam, Ashish Jain and Vandana Joshi – both Program Officers, Child Development. The Dibrugarh Boat Clinic and Education team of Dibrugarh were present.
On board SB Akha, Jeroo Master highlighted the progress of the boat clinics over the years . Associate Programme Manager Sanjay Sharma who accompanied the team gave a background of the Boat Clinic and education programme.
Beigbeder and Ulfkjae visited the Lowkiwali Feeder School set up by C-NES with community support. It was Saraswati Puja and the children, staff and the villagers were busy arranging for the celebrations. The school was decorated. The visitors interacted with the children, teachers and the villagers who mentioned that the schools needed to have qualified teachers. Mr Edouard mentioned that the villagers should identify children who can be given training on nursing as well as can be given facilities for education up to class 12, who can become teachers in the schools. On health, the villagers mentioned that the regular visits by the Boat Clinic have had a significant effect because no maternal and infant mortality cases have been reported since the last four years in this sapori.
PFI Orientation and Training
A two days orientation cum training of the C-NES- PFI programme was organized at Hotel Alankar, Guwahati on 18th and 19th February 2011. The five district Family Planning Counsellors- – Rithiz Gogoi, Tinsukia , Jugananda Dutta, Dibrugarh, Rinki Moni Shill, Lakhimpur , Bonobithi Das, Sonitpur and Deva Kakoti, FP Counsellor Dhemaji District participated in the programme. Manik Ch. Boruah, Asst Programme Manager, Chandana Bora, State Advocacy and FP Coordinator, Bhaswati Goswami, Communication s Officer, Arindam Gogoi, Office Manager and Mousumi Saikia, Account Assistant were also present.
The objective of the training was to give a clear concept on family planning methods and effective counseling skills to the new FP Counsellors for Lakhimpur and Sonitpur districts and a refresher for the old Counsellors. Emphasize was given on importance of Family planning and the group broadly discussed about the different methods of family planning. Inter Personal Communications skills were also discussed and a mock session conducted. A session was conducted on the filling up of MIS format, reporting and documentation. Proper maintenance of registers for eligible couples, contraceptive distribution and LS and NSV were discussed along with the challenges faced by the team.
From left- Rithiz Gogoi, FP Counsellor ,Tinsukia , Manik Ch Boruah,Asst Programme Manager, Chandana Bora, State Advocacy and FP Coordinator, Jugananda Dutta, Dibrugarh,. Rinki Moni Shill, Lakhimpur ,.Bonobithi Das, Sonitpur and Deva Kakoti, Dhemaji District .
C- NES family bereaved
Gunajit Pathak, an employee of the Boat Clinic, Barpeta Unit II tragically drowned in the Brahmaputra on 11 February, 2011. Gunajit, son of Mukunda Pathak, a resident of Keotkuchi village in Barpeta district was on way from Manikpur Ghat to Aligaon NC with other team members to conduct a health camp when he accidentally slipped onto the river and disappeared before the team members could even come to his rescue.
Workshop on Disaster Management
Manik Boruah, Assistant Programme Manger, C-NES took part in a workshop – Eastern Region Consultation on Post Disaster, Owner Driven Reconstruction at Kolkata in January, 2011. About 40 participants took part in the consultation from the states of Bihar, Gujrat, Orissa, West Bengal, Manipur and Sikkim. Representatives from Bangladesh and Bhutan were also present. Boruah raised the pertinent issues of floods, erosion, displacement and disaster management in Assam at the Consultation.
Stories of Hope
- A baby boy was delivered on 13th February, 2011 at Ghuria sapori in Assam’s Jorhat district, under the supervision of Dr Aaron Momin and Dr Debadip Dey, Medical Officers of the Jorhat Boat Clinic. The Boat Clinic health outreach programme reaches out to the state’s vulnerable population who live on islands on the Brahmaputra with a special focus on women and children, who are the most vulnerable in difficult conditions. Providing ANC, PNC checkups along with advocating institutional deliveries has been priority with all the health teams especially crucial for a state like Assam which has India’s worst Maternal Mortality rate at 480, higher than Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, and a high Infant Mortality Rate. There have been eight successful, safe deliveries conducted on the boat clinics till date – Four in Dibrugarh, two in Dhemaji, one in Barpeta and this latest one in Jorhat.
- A regular patient from Jorhat’s Ghuria sapori, Chandra Hazarika, had suffered a stroke and was paralytic from the past five months. He was under the observation and care of the health team and his condition has gradually improved. Initially he would come supported by his wife and son to the camp, but in January 2011 he was able to come walking unescorted. It was a great achievement for the health team, more so the doctors who were able to improve his condition and build his confidence
RI training at AMCH
A Routine Immunization (RI) training for Boat Clinic Medical Officers and nurses was held at the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH), Dibrugarh in March 2011. 16 Medical Officers and 14 Nurses attended the training. The Joint Director, Health Dibrugarh inaugurated the training and advised the doctors to work sincerely and meet the health needs of the char/sapori communities and to apply the training received to practice. Dr Tulika Goswami Mahanta, coordinating the training from AMCH mentioned that such refresher trainings for MOs and Nurses are important because new protocols are brought in the health sector regularly. Sanjay Sharma, Associate Program Manager and Amrit Kumar Bora, District Program Officer, Dibrugarh were present at the inaugural training . Mr Sharma thanked the Joint Director of Health Services for continuous support to the Boat Clinic programme since 2005 and requested the MOs to utilize the learnings from the training in the field after they return. The Nurses attended both the RI and Neonatal Resuscitations Training (NRT).
Regular awareness sessions are conducted by the health teams. Awareness campaigns on health and hygiene, family planning, safe drinking water and sanitation are organized where people are asked to adopt family planning methods in order to control their large family and to avail of family planning devices available with the boat clinic. Oral Contraceptive Pills and Pills are regularly distributed by the Boat Clinic teams in all districts.
After regular counseling by the DPO and the family planning counselor at Dhemaji 18 women of child bearing age underwent Laparoscopic Surgery at Jonai Block PHC. 10 were from Boria sapori,2 are from Koilawali sapori, 2 are from Kobu Bazar sapori, 2 from Kobu Nepali sapori , 1 from Birbal sapori and 1 from Bera sapori.
A Field worker, family planning, NRHM accompanied the Bongaigaon health team at the health camp at Chatpara NC in January 2011 . The DPO and the Field worker held Focused group discussion (FGD) with the eligible couples on family planning. 4 persons were successfully motivated to go for Laparoscopy and NSV.
Health Awareness Camps
Along with providing basic health services with a focus on mother and child and the elderly and sick, the boat clinic health initiative also works towards creating awareness amongst a largely ignorant population on basic health issues and the need to adopt and promote family planning measures.
An awareness programme was organized at Patakata-II char village in February 2011. The community was informed earlier and the camp was held at Patakata L.P. School where the DPO spoke about C-NES and the Boat Clinic health initiative with NRHM support whose main goal of was to reduce IMR, MMR and TFR . In the char area, population explosion is a major problem so people were asked to adopt family planning methods and control large family sizes and that Family Planning devices were available with the boat clinic .
Dr. Gunajit Deka, MO, Boat Clinic, explained about various childhood diseases and care to be taken during pregnancy. He also explained about IMR, MMR with contemporary data. People expressed their happiness with the services of the Boat Clinic.
A similar awareness camp was held at the EGS centre premises at Morigaon’s Rongrai-I Char in December 2010. People were informed earlier about the camp by the community worker and ASHA. People from the nearby Rongrai-II char also attended the camp. Along with imparting general awareness on health issues like importance of immunization, ante-natal, post-natal care, exclusive breast feeding, family planning, sanitation and personal hygiene, sports events for children was also organized. Video clippings on Breast Feeding, Family Planning, Immunization, Malaria, Polio was shown The meeting was also addressed by Mallika Medhi, Executive Director of NRHM, Assam, who urged the people to take the services of Boat Clinic and to provide a helping hand to the health team smooth running of the camps.
Film screening at Bongaigaon’s Usunger char
For the first time the Bongaiaoan Boat Clinc team which started conducting health camps from September 2010 , screened short educational, informative films on hand washing, education for the girl child and Diarrhea at Usungar char (west) in March 2011. Usungar char under Boitamari BPHC, situated south of Boitamari BPHC is about 30 kms from the BPHC. The char, west of the mighty Brahmaputra is sandy and bare with a population of about 250 people, all fisherman and daily wage earners. The people are mostly illiterate. The nearest health centre is Majeralga S/C and Kachudola at the distance of 8-15 kms respectively from the char, on the north bank of the Brahmaputra.
After the routine health check ups, people went inside the Boat Clinic cabin where the films were to be shown. Around 30 people were present. The response was good. People watched silently with interest and replied to post screening questionnaire which showed that they understood whatever they saw. The CW and ASHA facilitator also explained the same with the help of colorful posters. Among the audience an EGS school teacher of the char said that the people of the char are illiterate and therefore superstitious and it becomes difficult to change their behavior and beliefs through words.
Seminars at Jamia
A national seminar was held on ‘Little known fighters against theRaj: figures from Meghalaya’ in New Delhi in March 2011 at Jamia Millia Islamia, organized by the Saifuddin Kitchlew chair and Centre for NE studies there. Speakers included Prof David Syiemlieh, Pro-Vice Chancellor of North East Hill University, Prof L Gassah, Dean of Social Sciences, NEHU, Prof Imdad Hussain, historian, and Ms. Patricia
Mukhim, C-NES trustee and editor, Shillong Times. The event was organized by Sanjoy Hazarika, who holds the Kitchlew Chair and runs the NE Centre at Jamia apart from heading C-NES. This is an effort to bring specific issues of the NE such as the ‘unknown’ histories of the peoples of the region to the understanding of scholars and policy makers in New Delhi and also weave them into curriculae. The history of the region,s participation in struggles against the British Raj as well as in the freedom movement are not known.
The second Annual Saifuddin Kitchelew Lecture was delivered by Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, Research Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign on ‘Enhancing Security: Lessons of History and Geography in January 2011. The session was chaired by Dr Sayeda .S. Hameed,Member, Planning Commission , the opening remarks were by Mr Najeeb Jung,IAS, Vice -Chancellor,Jamia Millia Islamia and the speakers were introduced by Sanjoy Hazarika, Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair.