C-NES Newsletter (April-June 2013)

 By the Brahmaputra (Vol 22)
(For the quarter April – June   2013)


The Outsider Syndrome: ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

To say that the news from Meghalaya’s Garo Hills is disturbing is to make an understatement.  It reminds one of the bad, dark days in Assam, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, in the Punjab: ordinary workers lined up and shot; others attacked in the dark of night (in a sudden assault by a mob, you can’t identify the assailants).  The trigger was the alleged rape – subsequently described as a molestation of a mentally challenged girl by non-tribals in Tura. That set off a set of rioting and violence in which at least one person was killed, dozens injured while some 4,000 fled.  A curfew was clamped on Tura, the second largest town of Meghalaya, after Shillong and the bastion of three redoubtable Sangmas, (the late) Capt. Williamson (arguably the founder of Meghalaya and its first Chief Minister), Purno  A (former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and one-time Chief Minister) and Dr. Mukul , the current Chief Minister.

To make matters worse, most of the victims appear to be members of the ‘minority’ community. With the departure of thousands of non-tribals from Tura, the town’s markets have all but shut, the supply of dry fish, a Garo staple, has vanished, vegetable prices have sky-rocketed (onions selling at Rs. 80/ per kilo, I am told) and construction workers who build the houses, shops and roads as well as domestic workers too have left.  Over the past years, extortion by armed groups has become extensive.

A complex but functional society, a quiet land where people are calm, gracious and hospitable, where they have for long lived and worked together has been disrupted, again.  It will take weeks, perhaps months, for the situation to limp back to a real peace and a real normalcy and for those who have fled to return.  Some of those who have been wounded may not come back; they may be too frightened by their experience.

Those who are to blame for the assault on the girl must be dealt with the full force of the law. But the moment that people take the law into their own hands, fuelling ethnic and religious tensions, the situation goes out of control.  Obviously, these problems have been building up for some time.  I recalled the report of an effort to molest a handicapped girl over a month ago in Tura. This followed the series of horrific rape incidents, one when over a dozen youths (many of them juvenile) raped a school girl elsewhere in the Garo Hills; the case is in the courts.  Then the alleged molestation and rape of two sisters by Nurul Islam, a police inspector, in Ampati town; the incidents took place first in the police station and at their home, according to officials. Islam apparently escaped or was allowed to flee by his subordinates when he was taken to Tura after crowds in Ampati bayed for his blood.

But now, as suspicion, anger and mistrust grows – let us remember that ill-will does not grow on one side alone.  The other side also exists; those from the ‘other’ have feelings, families, friends.  They would also nurse grievances and bitterness.  They will be sharing their stories.  Some may be nursing other feelings too: of retaliation and revenge.  This is important to nip in the bud.  Otherwise the cycle of violence will go on and on.  We need to recognize that the ‘other’ community or person transforms into a ‘local’ or part of  their home community when they move across boundaries of nation, state and district to their own locations. What would happen if the districts adjoining Meghalaya decided to call for a rasta roko or a chakka jam for a week? How, then, would people manage on either side?

Business on both sides, the lives of ordinary people on either side especially the daily wage earners, would be hurt; those needing medical attention, or to go to educational institutions or to go to jobs, would not be able to make it.  One recalls the nearly six-month road blockade of Manipur by Naga groups, aided by the Nagaland Government, when the redoubtable Th Muivah, leader of the NSCN (i-M) was prevented from visiting his home in Ukhrul by the government in Imphal. Prices of consumer items skyrocketed but the Meiteis managed because they grew their own rice and vegetables and other staples.  More recently there’s the example of the confrontation in Golaghat district between Nagaland and Assam over a border dispute when an Assamese farmer was killed.

These incidents as well as the displacement of Rengma Nagas from Karbi Anglong following an alleged ‘quit notice’ issued by an armed group, the Karbi Peoples’ Liberation Tigers (KPLT) should also give us cause to ponder on a few issues which affect us regularly.  Residents of  at least two Rengma villages have moved to a relief camp at Chokihola near the Golaghat border.  But what is striking about this situation is that the KPLT has denied issuing any such threat.  So, did people leave out of fear or because a rumour had been fuelled? In addition, the Morung Express of Dimapur writes that the area is so isolated and the people so poor that “they have no mobile phone coverage and no electricity and the 25-kilometer or so of road to Tseguchangri from the nearest police outpost – Chokihola police station – takes more than  three hours by car.”

It is worth asking our MLAs and state Ministers from that district why these conditions exist and have been tolerated for so long? We should remember that the longer such inequity persists, the greater and swifter the lurch towards radicalization; the Maoists will find such territory readymade for their lethal brew. There’s no point blaming them or others if conditions worsen; they would have only taken advantage of conditions manufactured for them by the failure of government, governance and political institutions. What have the elected representatives and the government officials done about it?  What are the plans to improve the situation?  Is there a deadline?  If so, what is it? What has especially the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council, which has been in place for decades, done, especially with the extensive Central funds it receives?

We live in a time when not a day passes without charges being hurled about by one political party or organization against other groups, be they of a different ethnic hue or ideology, Bangladeshis, illegal immigrants and aliens.

And just when one situation seems to improve in our complex land, there’s a jolt and a new set of issues, conflicts and problems emerge from another area. These are the indicators of fragile communities, societies and states, when despite the overwhelming presence of force on the side of the Government, it is unable or unknowledgeable to weave in the networks, connections and conversations that make it possible to nip the problems in the bud.  The trouble in the Garo hills is not a series of isolated incidents; they are a reflection of a larger problem facing the North-east and the core of governability, not just governance – these range from the patronage of political biggies to various groups, including the armed factions, of the powerful coal mafia that fuels exploitation of coal, forests and other natural resources and has politicians and officials on their sides.

Settlements with armed groups may be a way forward.  But we have to move beyond the politics of manufactured consent for these represent short-term goals. They do not resolve the complex problems of ethnicity and land alienation, of identity, boundaries and borders.

For these, we have to delve deeper, involving community leaders, researchers and unprejudiced minds, developing public dialogues and discussions, helping one side to understand and respect the other. Not by threatening with a mailed fist or by bowing on bent knee.

Sanjoy Hazarika
Managing Trustee

(From his regular column in the Assam Tribune published on 26th June, 2013)

Screening of “Where there are no roads”

After an overwhelming response at Delhi, C-NES’ documentary ‘Where there are no roads’ on the Boat Clinics of the Brahmaputra was screened at various other places in the region with an equally good response – twice at Guwahati – on 24th May 2013 at Jyoti Chitabon Studio and on 6th June 2013 at the State Museum Auditorium, at Shillong’s State Central Library hall on 8th June, at Jorhats JB College auditorium on 17th June, at Dibrugarh’s DRDA hall on 19th June and at Sonitpur districts  IMA hall at Tezpur  the 28th June 2013. Government officials and writers, film makers, scholars, health professionals and students were present at the screenings along with C-NES’ district boat clinic teams from the respective units- who take health services to the last mile. Later this month the film will be screened at Vienna and London where the Director and Managing Trustee C-NES will be present and interact with the audience.

Maulee Senapati is the Director and Cinematographer while Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee of C-NES and founder director of the Centre for NE Studies and Policy Research in Jamia Millia Islamia, is the producer and script-writer. The film is about a unique experiment, a major innovative health campaign that reaches some of the most marginalized and poorest communities who live on hundreds of inaccessible islands, called saporis, on the river Brahmaputra.

 Radio Brahmaputra – Stakeholders meeting

Stake holders meeting on Brahmaputra Community Radio Station

Stake holders meeting on Brahmaputra Community Radio Station

At Dibrugarh the screening of “Where There Are No Roads” on 19th June, 2013 preceded a stakeholders meeting on C-NES’ Brahmaputra Community Radio Station supported by UNICEF. The role of Community Radio in various developmental sectors – Health, Education, Financial literacy and cultural activities were analyzed. Panelists from these sectors shared their thoughts. Dr. Bishnu Ram Das, Associate Professor of Community Medicine, AMC&H opined that massages of preventive health care can be effectively disseminated to the people through the community radio station. Mr. Mukul Kachari, district lead bank manager, UBI, Dibrugarh spoke about how the station can link up excluded rural communities with main stream financial services.  Renowned cultural activist Mr. Ashim Sarma spoke about how community radio can be a tool for archiving the disappearing cultural elements of endangered ethnic groups.


World Bank Officials visits Health camp

Mr Onno Ruhl, Head of the World Bank in India and Michael Hanley, Chief of Operations for the Bank in India, accompanied the Kamrup Boat Clinic unit on 6th June 2013 to a health camp at Bhakuamari char to observe the unique work of Boat Clinic in Assam among the island dwellers of the Brahmaputra. Bhakuamari Char/island under Chaygaon Block of Kamrup (rural) district has a population of around 2000 people mostly engaged in agriculture and cattle rearing.  The Managing Trustee C-NES Mr Sanjoy Hazarika, CEO Dr Dipankar Das and Programme Manager Mr Ashok Rao accompanied the team. The camp was held at a pre primary school where the doctor-patient interaction was keenly observed by the international team. The visitors described the camps as the highlight of their visit to Assam and extensively wrote about it in the social media. Ruhl said that not only was it an encouraging experience but he was struck by the efficiency of the unit and community acceptance of programs.

CM dedicates Floating Hospital

C-NES will have India’s first hospital ship (Floating Hospital) supported by the North Eastern Council, Government of India. On 24th May 2013, the Assam Chief Minister Mr Tarun Gogoi dedicated its services, when complete, to the sustained health care of lakhs of people along the Brahmaputra in Assam and the NER. The ship will provide specialized services on the river to island communities, particularly health care services to mothers and children, including safe institutionalized deliveries, as well as conduct operations. The 130-foot-long vessel would be on three levels and equipped with a modern Operation Theater, diagnostic facilities like portable X-Ray, portable ultra sound, laboratory, recovery and delivery rooms, sterilizer room, laundry room and separate wards for male and female with 5 beds each, Cabins for medical personnel and specialists as well as other staff including crew members will be in place. Recreation, kitchen and dining areas have been designed. There are few such Hospital Ships on river courses in the world “When complete, the ship will provide specialized services on the river to island communities, particularly health care services to mothers and children, including safe institutionalized deliveries, as well as conduct operations,” says Mr. Hazarika, C-NES’ Managing Trustee, who praised the NEC for supporting the idea.

UNICEF India Chief, Field Services visits C-NES

Carrie Auer, Chief, Field Services, UNICEF India and by a group of UNICEF officials from Assam including Jeroo Master, Chief Field Office, Assam,Pramila Manoharan, Education Specialist,Veena Kumari, Communication Specialist, Bandana Joshi, Nutrition Specialist and Rashmi (IAS), Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Dibrugarh visited Balichapori to see the feeder school run by C-NES in the village, observe narrowcasting of C-NES’  Brahmaputra Community Radio System(BCRS) team as well as health camps conducted by the Boat Clinic team on 11th April, 2013. The team was accompanied by the Dibrugarh Boat Clinic team, members from BCRS and Manik Ch. Boruah, Associate Programme Manager, C-NES. While at Bali sapori Feeder School, Carrie Auer interacted with the teacher Sameer Singh and students, who were asked to read their lessons and write a few sentences. A radio programme on hand washing with physical demonstration was done with school students and villagers also taking part. The participants happily took part in the interactive and informative session. A quiz session was also conducted among the students. Ms. Auer said she was very happy to see such programmes implemented by C-NES in remote areas like island villages cut off from the mainland and lacking basic facilities. On 12th April, Carrie Auer and her team visited BCRS and observed the process of radio programme production. BCRS Coordinator, Bhaskar Jyoti Bhuyan briefed about the activities/ initiatives and some key achievements of BCRS. She saw a narrowcasting programme on anemia at Maijan TE conducted among adolescent girls. Carrie and the UNICEF team were happy to interact with the group and see the positive changes in the community that have come in due to the radio programmes.

Jason Pegu” arrives

“During our last camp on 1/7/13 we conducted a delivery at Dhemaji’s Koilawali sapori(island) where a heavily pregnant Budheswari Pegu attended the camp. She was under labour. My colleague Dr. Parag Brahma and I examined her. We were monitoring her in our camp and even after she went home,when the pain subsided. Around 8:30pm her husband came and told us that she was having draining p/v with no pain. My colleague and I with nurses Lunashree Hazarika, Ranjana Narah and community worker Dharani Saikia went with him walking through slush and muddy path and came to his house. We examined her and told her husband to inform us if anything occurs. We went back, had dinner but I was tense and worried. At 12:10am her husband again came to us and said that she was now under severe pain. Accompanied by Dharani we went and conducted the delivery with the help of our G.N Ranjana Narah. A healthy male child was born. It was a proud moment when I was asked to name the baby. I named him “Jason Pegu “as they belonged to the Christian faith”

Dr. Rahul Mistry
Medical Officer
Dhemaji Boat clinic


The mother with her new born

The mother with her new born

A baby was delivered by the  Jorhat Boat clinic- Dr Gautam Das, GNM Elizabeth Kom and ANM Riju Hazarika helped by the rest of the team. The pregnant woman was earlier referred to Dibrugarh’s AMCH  by the team as they held camp at at Bhimpara on 20 April

On 21 April after a camp at Ghuria sapori,as the team was preparing to halt the night at Bhimpara, her relatives and  ASHA Majan Borah came to Boat Clinic at 11.45 pm, asking help to conduct the delivery. The MO advised them to arrange for emergency ambulance 108 so that she could have an institutional delivery as there were complications in the case. But the ambulance was not available given the remote location of the village. The team had to accordingly arrange the delivery kit immediately and within 30 minutes arrived at her house aided by torch/ solar lamps. A baby boy was delivered soon after. The condition of the mother was not good however having lost a lot of blood. After struggling for more than three hours, the team was able to stop her bleeding. Finally, Dr Gautam Das declared both mother and child safe. It was 4 am, when the team reached the Boat. “We believe that we were able to reduce one more MMR case in Assam that evening” says Riturekha Baruah the energetic lady District Programme Officer of Jorhat Boat Clinic.

The Jorhat health team with the new born

The Jorhat health team with the new born

Barpeta Unit 2

image005An emergency delivery was conducted by the Barpeta Unit II Boat Clinic team. The camp was held at Chapori Pathar where the village Asha was waiting for the team and informed the team about a pregnant woman undergoing labour pain who needed immediate medical attention. The District Programme Officer accompanied by the Medical officer, ANM and community worker visited the woman at her residence. This being a conservative minority community no male member could attend the house for a check-up. The (male) Medical Officer Dr Saha advised the ANM through the lady DPO Swapna Das during the delivery standing closeby. The Asha and the D.P.O assisted the ANM. A healthy baby girl was born soon after. These are some of the challenges faced by most health teams dealing as they do with isolated communities with their own superstitions and beliefs.

image009  image007
DPO Riturekha Baruah addressing people at Salmora after a health camp even as the Jorhat team conducted camps at Upper Majuli for the first time and met ASHAs, AWWs, Village head and other villagers. Upper Majuli is regularly affected by flood and erosion. These places of upper Majuli are  famous for pottery.


Successful FP counseling 

Laparoscopic camp on 30th May at Mandia BPHC initiated by Barpeta Boat Clinic Unit II,(left) D.P.O counseling beneficiaries on  post operation  care

On 30th May 2013  Barpeta Unit II  was successful in motivating beneficiaries for adopting family planning measures – 3 IUCDs and 6 laparoscopic sterilizations were done at Mandia BPHC under the team’s initiative. The DPO Swapna Das had earlier visited the target beneficiaries from Aligaon N.C and  Dharmapur char village in a house to house visit accompanied by the local Asha and community workers and gave awareness sessions on family planning . After the operations during which the DPO was present at the Block PHC the beneficiaries were taken back home by an ambulance from the PHC to the river bank from where the team arranged for a boat to their homes.

A visitor at Morigaon Boat Clinic

John Hugh Brent Grotrian is a remote paramedic and self-defence instructor who has worked in South Asia for the last seven years in the fields of:  Rural medical services, Non-violent conflict resolution, Community development and Education. He is currently aspiring towards an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies at Sikkim University, focusing on the role of women in rural health security. His paramedic training was in Hereford, UK, under the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and his non-violent martial arts training was in Denver, USA, under Nippon-Kan Aikido. Having watched C-NES’ Boat Clinic documentary “Where there are no roads” at the Guwahati screening he proceeded to Morigaon in central Assam experience a Boat Clinic health camp. He narrates his experiences below

A River Of Courage:

       John Hugh Brent Grotrian looking at medical supplies of the Morigaon halth team onboard

John Hugh Brent Grotrian looking at medical supplies of the Morigaon halth team onboard

While reading this I ask that you please consider that it is only a snap shot.  It represents a limited perception and experience that cannot reflect the much larger picture that is the mobile boat clinics of the Brahmaputra.  If you are not familiar with this project or the magnitude its undertaking, please inform yourself through the resources of the C-NES and the documentary, WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS, detailing its activities.

Firstly, praise for all of the individuals involved is due.  The cooperation of professionals, both skilled and highly dedicated, across vastly different fields of expertise, makes such an impact on so many lives possible.What is it that unites them?  From a vessel’s crew, to medical professionals, to administrators and everyone in between, I witnessed a level of energetics very rarely seen within organizations. It raises the question of how success is measured, when viewed from the perspective of doing what one loves.When faced with a group of such men and women, it is natural to be in awe of such sustained efforts and demonstrable contributions.  But if I may point out, a defining factor in all of this work and arguably what makes its innovations truly a vehicle for well being is a central principle of inclusion.

This brings us to the communities which the mobile boat clinics provide such needed medical services to. “No man is an island, entire of itself…”I have to wonder if E. Hemingway ever visited the thousands of islands doting the breadth and width of the Brahmaputra, where the term remote is an understatement. Extremely isolated geographically, linguistically, economically, politically and technologically would be closer to an accurate description.  These are profoundly resilient, capable, and intelligent communities to whom great admiration is owed.Now, to observe a situation objectively is one thing. But if the same situation is observed within the context of a community’s unique cultural perceptions and norms a very different picture appears.  The point being that the challenges faced by these communities, on the utmost periphery of what many of us take for granted as the 21st century, are being eagerly met. Let us consider the flexibility necessary in adapting to and embracing such profound changes as methods of birth control, family planning, vaccinations and health education to name a few.  And all of this being interfaced between communities and medical teams across differences of language, religion and socio-economic backgrounds.

From one bank of the river travelled a seasoned group of men and women with the intention to help.  On the far bank, they were received by men and women with the readiness and willingness to improve their own well being. A river of courage.

My deepest gratitude to all of the people with whom it was my honour to share this experience.The mobile boat clinics, in operation for … years and numbering 15 vessel at present, bring healthcare services to a catchment area well in excess of one million men, women and children.Very often figures are thrown about flippantly, their enormity can be difficult to grasp.The magnitude of this initiative’s impact is of great significance.


came to know of Professor Sanjoy Hazarika through a former student of his, Dr. Sanghamitra Choudhury, a Professor at Sikkim University.  Upon hearing of his work and the upcoming screening of the documentary WHERE THERE ARE NO ROADS, I immediately made the necessary rearrangements to my work schedule and headed to Assam, post haste.Meeting Professor Hazarika for the first time, one gets the sense of a mind both subtle and highly dynamic. A man who shuns personal praise and focusses the spotlight instead on meaningful action.  In fact, I doubt very much whether Professor Hazarika would approve of the previous statements. That being said, credit is due.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Dipankar Das for sharing some of his extensive experiences in remote medicine with me and for his encouragement  to meet with the clinic in Marigaon.  A more efficient, professional and welcoming team I have yet to encounter.

John Grotrian
June 14 2013

Nurses Training

The first batch of Facility Integrated Counseling and Testing Centres (FICTC) Nurses Induction Training under Indian Nursing Council(INC) was  held  at the Regional College of Nursing, Guwahati from 2nd to 4th May 2013.  Sixteen ANMs from the 15 Boat Clinic units of C-NES took part in the training which focused on HIV, AIDS. The training was residential and intensive. An earlier training of FICTC nurses on new refresher training module for the C-NES’ GNM nurses took place at the same venue from 7th- 9th March 2013.


Sanjoy Hazarika nominated to NEHU Executive Council

The Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India, Department of Higher Education has conveyed the nomination of Sanjoy Hazarika, in his capacity as Director, Centre for North East Studies & Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, to the Executive Council, of NEHU (North Eastern Hill University) by the President of India in terms of the provision laid down under Statute l2(1) (viii) of NEHU, Act. 1973.  Hazarika is also founder and Managing Trustee of C-NES.


CSE Media Workshop

Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami(extreme right) at the   New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) organized  media workshop in Guwahati on Air Quality and Sustainable Transportation Challenge.Next to her is Editor,Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim

Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami(extreme right) at the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) organized media workshop in Guwahati on Air Quality and Sustainable Transportation Challenge.Next to her is Editor,Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim

The New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) organized a media workshop in Guwahati on Air Quality and Sustainable Transportation Challenge on 9th May 2013. The national air quality review carried out by CSE shows that the states in the north east region of India are witnessing rapid increase in air pollution and untamed motorization. They need urgent action to leapfrog vehicle technology, scale up public transport, integrate multi-modal transport options, and encourage car restraint, walking and cycling. The workshop was organised to find solutions to the daunting air pollution and mobility challenges facing urban centres in the region. This was a part of the dialogue series that CSE has initiated across the country to focus on region-specific solutions of local relevance and interest.C-NES’ Communications Officer, Bhaswati Goswami took part at the workshop and shared the findings of the study on impact of air pollution in specific areas of Guwahati and Shillong on vulnerable groups which was conducted by the organization in 2009-2010. Funded by the Foundation for Social Transformation (FST), the study was released in October, 2011 at the Guwahati Press Club at a press conference and was shared with the media .The study says that 40 per cent of the respondents comprised schoolchildren who invariably complained of respiratory, skin and eye problems, mostly attributed to vehicular pollution.Khanapara (Guwahati) and Police Bazaar (Shillong) topped the list of the most air-polluted areas of the respective cities.

The welcome remarks at the workshop were delivered by Souparno Banerjee, Programme Director, Media Resource CSE while Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, CSE spoke on air quality and mobility management. The panel discussion on air pollution and mobility crisis in north eastern region with chair person Anumita Roychowdhury included the Chairman of the Pollution Control Board, Assam, Joyjeet Choudhuri, Deputy Manager,Marketing,Tripura Natural Gas Company Limited, Agartala, Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times, Pradip Kumar Sarmah, founder Rickshaw  Bank and Executive Director Centre for Rural Development,Guwahati, Ramananda Wangkheirakpam,  President, Manipur Cycle Club, Imphal who spoke on cycling initiatives in India and  Bhaswati Goswami,  C-NES. Ms Roychoudhury expressed keenness on a future joint CSE-C-NES  pollution study on the region.


Handcarts distributed

A handcart thela distribution function was organized for the riverine areas of Bongaigaon by the district Boat Clinic unit on 18th, April-2013 at the Satsobigha L.P School. Where roads are very few, access difficult, these light portable  carts come in handy for the inhabitants and are also used to transport serious patients and referral cases to the nearest health centres. The function was presided over by the Joint Director Health Services, Bongaigaon Dr. N. Mudai. Medical officer of Boat Clinic Dr. Sandeep Dey spoke briefly about the purpose of the distribution.  The DPO Monjur H.Mondal spoke about the present health scenario in the river islands and how the boat clinic has been facilitating services to these remote marginalized areas and about preventive measures that need to be taken to avoid common illnesses. Appreciating the service of the Boat Clinic and the dedication of the health team, Dr.Mudai assured support and cooperation to Boat Clinic from the government department.


Awareness camp

Community worker C-NES at the awareness session on heat stroke

Community worker C-NES at the awareness session on heat stroke

Routine awareness sessions are regular features in all Boat Clinic health camps along with health checkups. The Bongaigaon Boat Clinic  held an awareness program on heat stroke at Kochudola on 15th June -2013, with the help of District NRHM and as directed by District Commissioner given the prevailing intensity of heat and extremely uncomfortable weather conditions. Community worker of Boat Clinic explained  about heat stroke,  it cause, the symptoms (throbbing headache, Dizziness and light-headedness, lack of sweating despite the heat, muscle weakness and preventive measures which needs to be taken when temperatures are high. Leaflets on the same were distributed among the people.

Intern from Teri recalls her experience


By: Kaveri Gogoi

  Intern Kaveri Gogoi(left)  with Swapna Das, DPO travelling to a health camp with the Barpeta Unit II

Intern Kaveri Gogoi(left) with Swapna Das, DPO travelling to a health camp with the Barpeta Unit II

For a student pursuing a Post Graduate degree in Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University, I had the unique opportunity to intern with the Centre for North-East Studies and Policy Research this summer of 2013. The entire experience allowed me to utilize all the skills and theoretical leanings of class to better identify and address global challenges of poverty, population, health, conservation, climate change and agricultural productivity in a practical manner. I was delighted to hear from ma’am, Bhaswati Goswami, when she told me that I could join the C- NES Boat Clinic program.

Living in Guwahati, my home town on the banks of the Brahmaputra, I have watched the ebb and rise of the Brahmaputra in different seasons and the effect on the landmass in and around the river. In the monsoon season, as heavy rains descend on the river, it swells and rises to submerge vast areas of land, often with deadly effect on the human population there and local infrastructure being dislocated. In the drier season, the flow ebbs and the river gets shallow revealing the enormous volume of silt dumped by the river and is constantly changing the surrounding landmass.

The combined destruction resulting from successive floods and siltation almost every year by the Brahmaputra has eliminated nearly all efforts for the delivery of services that would provide  the basic needs like electricity, running water, education and healthcare to the inhabitants of the villages on the chars/saporis or river islands. The negative impact upon these secluded communities has been tremendous.

When I was told that I would be working in the Saporis/Chars of Lakhimpur and Barpeta, I had a very different picture in mind. I expected them to be similar to the villages of the mainland. But the moment I set foot in the first Sapori/Char of Lakhimpur, all my preconceived notions about them changed. I was amazed to see such greenery around and suddenly I was transported to a world away from the usual hustle and bustle of modern day life. In this short span of two weeks, I saw an Assam which went beyond the lush green tea gardens and oil fields for which it is so well known; an Assam which I never knew existed.

Medicines being dispensed to the beneficiaries from the Boat Clinic at Barpeta

Medicines being dispensed to the beneficiaries from the Boat Clinic at Barpeta

The river being the only way in which these islands are physically connected to the rest of the world, one seldom sees any outsiders in these villages. I, being a new face for the people there, got different reactions from them- some excited, while others curious, and a few even sceptical about my presence there. They had many questions about me and why I was there. On the whole, the people were very warm and welcoming.

A very peculiar phenomenon which I saw in Lakhimpur was the least dependence on outside markets for goods. At an age where even drinking water can be bought, the people in these islands make almost everything they need by themselves, starting from the utensils they use to the clothes which they wear. It is only the basic things such as salt, which they buy from the weekly haat.

Life in these Saporis/chars is not easy. Monsoon floods have become a part of life here which prevents them from leading a sedentary life. Starting from the kind of houses they live in to the number of belongings they have at home reflect the nomadic life they lead. Even though the people here have learned to cope with floods, such lifestyle has huge setbacks for the people, especially children. The continuous migration hinders the healthy growth of children both physically and mentally. It is difficult to keep moving from one place to another and start life afresh every time their houses and fields are washed away by the river.

But despite all the difficulties faced by the people, they have not stopped fighting. Instead they have found ways to survive such hard circumstances. And that is what this entire experience with the boat clinic has taught me: to value the undying spirit of human nature to overcome problems and to never stop fighting.

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