By the Brahmaputra (Vol:5)
(For the quarter January – March 2009)
My daughter Meghna and I have suffered a deep personal tragedy with the passing of Minal. The following is the piece I wrote for the Assam Tribune on 18 April 2009, an expression of how much we depend upon our closest ones to sustain our lives and inspiration. They are also our best critics and best friends. Without them our lives would be unfulfilled and empty…. And are. – Sanjoy Hazarika
Minal Hazarika: a tribute
Minal was a daughter-in-law of Assam. But to many of us, she was far more than that – wife and mother, companion and friend, engineer, a brilliant organizer and investor, inveterate traveller and foodie who excluded warmth, vibrancy, affection and a sense of indestructibility.
A Mumbai girl, she made no secret of her love of the city and every bit of it; initially, she did not particularly enjoy Delhi although she made her home there because I was there but then she developed an enormous circle of friends and professional associates. She travelled frequently to Assam and was a huge hit with all my large circle of relatives, especially the younger cousins, who she was able to strike an instant rapport with.
Minal valued my work and the North-east, but she also spoke her mind – she thought that many of us were impractical with our political and economic demands. She would, with precise and comparative logic, puncture many theories because she was deeply concerned about the hell on earth that we were making for our people in a land of great beauty and resources.
A Gujarati Jain and a vegetarian, Minal was an electrical engineer by training, a media analyst by choice and a deeply compassionate person, especially towards those who were deprived or challenged, by nature. We worked together, in my early journalism days in Bombay in the mid-1970s, in the weekly magazine Himmat.
Minal organised the Viewers’ Forum, a unique network that took in various class groups across the country based on gender sensitivity and enabled them to critique serials, news programs and advertisement campaigns. These had an impact on the way producers and script writers would approach their subjects and she has participated actively in the development of a broadcasting code of conduct. Although not formally trained in the media, she used her formidable intellectual skills and organizing abilities, honed to a point by her engineering background, to press her points forcefully, with logic and clarity.
A very important part of her later work and life, given her basic compassion, was to work with specially challenged children and enable them to find their niche especially in visual media. She developed a network of children who were encouraged to make films on their interests: this may not sound unusual but if I was to explain it better, these were children who in many parts of Assam and the North East would be regarded as physically and mentally incapable of coping with even “normal” schooling. She saw that spark and potential in each person.
We had just celebrated her 56th birthday with her three sisters and brothers-in-law on a wonderful journey through Karnataka after which we took what was our last flight together to Guwahati from Delhi on a crisp January morning. Yet it seems a lifetime ago. We had gone to attend my cousin’s marriage. What was a happy event – there was dinner at the marriage home which Minal brightened up with her usual laughter and energy — turned into a nightmare which has devastated us.
Later that night, we rushed her to the Guwahati Neurological Research Centre suffering from a severe cerebral stroke. That was the beginning of a nearly three month battle to recover from the aneurysm and the infections that harmed her. After a few days at GNRC, we flew her to Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi.
Minal became well enough to leave by the last week of March and we took her to a nursing home near our home that we were familiar with; it was a decision that the doctors and all of us had felt was the best next step since she was now eating semi-solids, had begun physiotherapy and then could be well enough to then be transferred home.
That was not to be: the infections which were hiding under the cover of medicines suddenly resurged and they defied her resistance as well as our prayers and the efforts of the doctors.
These past days, we have been overwhelmed by the words of support and affection from across the world and across the country, a reflection of the lives she touched with sensitivity and care.
– Sanjoy Hazarika
1. Boat Clinics reach out to more districts
|Enthusiastic children at the inaugural health camp in Nalbari on 18 march, 2009.||
The Jorhat Boat Clinic being inaugurated by Joydeep Baruah, Distict Programe Manager, NRHM, at Nimati Ghat Jorhat.
C-NES’ Boat Clinic health initiative has been extended to cover the districts of Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Nalbari and Barpeta. The inaugural camps in these districts had a good response with nearly 1000 patients registering for general check up along with immunization of children and pregnant women. The inaugural camps, which witnessed a huge turn out even from the neighboring villages, were held (simultaneously) on 16 March at Lakhimpur and Barpeta, at Nalbari on 18 March, Jorhat on 23 March and at Sonitpur on 24 March 2009. The earlier districts where the Boat Clinics have been operating are Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Morigaon and Dhubri.
2. Orientation for new staff
Ashok Rao, Programme Manager, speaking at the meet. Seated (from left) Sanjay Sharma, Associate Programme Manager and Dr Joydeep Das, State Facilitator, NRHM.
Preety Rajbhonshi, State Programme Manager,NRHM Assam, giving an overview of NRHM’s programmes and activities at the meeting
An orientation meet was organized by C-NES on 9 March, 2009 at Guwahati for the new team of doctors and district community organizers joining the organization’s Boat Clinic Program which has been up scaled to include 5 more districts- Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Sonitpur, Nalbari and Barpeta from January 2009 taking the total districts to ten. Five District Community Organizers have already been recruited for the clinics in the new districts. C-NES’ Advisory Council Member and Editor, Asom Bani, Dilip Chandan, and NRHM’s State Programme Manager, Preety Rajbonshi and State Facilitator, Dr Joydeep Das were present on the occasion as resource persons.
After the introductory session, the Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika’s message to the new members was read out. Mr Hazarika was unable to be present owing to his wife’s indisposition. A minute’s silence was observed to pray for her speedy recovery.
There were presentations on “Health for all” by Ashok Rao, Programme Manager on “Boat Clinics” by Sanjay Sharma, Associate Programme Manager and on “Conservation and Livelihoods” by Manik Boruah, Assistant Programme Manager. The new community organizers shared their action plan for the districts. The Communications Officer, Bhaswati Goswami highlighted the importance of timely and accurate reporting of the activities of the health camps.
3. Oil India funds new C-NES Boat Clinic
As part of its golden jubilee celebrations this year, Oil India Limited (OIL) has donated Rs. 10 lakhs to C-NES to support its innovative boat clinic initiative in Assam.
“The funds will be used to build a boat clinic in Jorhat district and we hope it will come into operation in a few months, to join other such clinics we are running in other districts to bring sustained health care for the first time in their lives to lakhs of island dwellers on the Brahmaputra, especially women and children,” said Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika.
C-NES has been providing basic health care services, through specially developed boats equipped with laboratories on board as well as pharmacies, to these river islands in five districts of Assam – now up scaled since January 2009 to five more districts, making a total of 10 — through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Government of Assam since 2008. On board also are fully fledged medical teams (two doctors, three nurses as well as lab technicians and pharmacists) which conduct regular camps organized through a network of community health workers and organizers in the district. The goal is to reach 10 lakh persons or one third of the flood-vulnerable population of the state by 2010. Five of the ships have been financed by the financial columnist Swaminathan S Aiyar, and named after members of his family.
4. Jamia Chair for Sanjoy Hazarika
Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee of Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research has been appointed Chair of North East Centre in Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi. He will head the Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair to be located at the Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar Academy of Third World Studies. The Chair has recently been created by the Centenary Committee chaired by Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh. Mr. Hazarika has joined the newly established Centre for North-East Studies, located in the Academy of Third World Studies, as its Director.
The hand writing competition as part of the annual sports and cultural meet in the sapori schools of Dibrugarh district.
The running competition for girl at the sports meet
C-NES has been implementing an education initiative since February 2008 with UNICEF support – that of up scaling education with reference to school dropouts in the char/saporis of Dibrugarh. Children who are dropouts have been identified in the project location. The thrust of the project is on including children from all social groups to mainstream education, working with the community to generate ownership of schools and encouraging community engagements in activities relating to schools and education. The project upon completion of a year has seen a positive response from the local communities who have begun to understood the importance of education and have accordingly started primary level feeder schools in their saporis where students can regularly attend classes. This year(2009) three Upper Primary feeder schools in Harlowa Balua, Lowkiwali and Mohmora sapori were set up with the help of local communities.
Under the initiative an annual sports and cultural meet in the sapori schools of Dibrugarh district was organized for the first time from 20 to 23 January, 2009 with support from the local community. This was an entirely new experience for the children who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. More than 90 of them participated in athletics events and indigenous games. Football and cricket matches were also organized along with hand writing competitions. Cricket is a popular game in the saporis and a number of villagers came to watch the match, the two teams for which were accordingly named “C-NES” and “UNICEF”. The local community appreciated this gesture by C-NES and UNICEF for their children. Snacks, chocolates and fruits were distributed among the children and villagers and prizes were distributed to the winners on the occasion.
The education initiative has been further upscaled recently to include Lakhimpur district
7. ADB – C-NES Partnership
From Left: ADB’s Consultant, Arvind Kumar, Rural Development Specialist, Makiko Watanaber, Manik Boruah, Programme coordinator of C-NES on way to Japoripathar village, Dibrugarh as part of the two month pilot project on Disaster risk management in the flood prone areas of Golaghat and Dibrugarh district.
Arvind Kumar, ADB’s consultant and Manik Boruah, Project Coordinator from C-NES (sitting right) interacting with the local community at Japoripathar village at Dibrugarh as part of the pilot project on Disaster risk management.”
A two months pilot project which the Asian Development Bank is partnering with C-NES on community based Disaster Risk Reduction in the flood prone areas of Golaghat and Dibrugarh district got underway from 14 March 2009. C-NES’ Manik Boruah, who has accordingly been appointed Programme coordinator and Bhaskar Saud as Researcher for the Project, made an initial visit to these two districts for surveying/selecting the pilot villages with ADB’s Makiko Watanabe, Rural Development Specialist and Consultant, Arvind Kumar .
8. Participation in the Dibru Saikhowa Festival
The Tinsukia health team participated in the Dibru-Saikhowa Festival at Guijan during the first week of January 2009 on an invitation from the District Health Society, Tinsukia. The district administration, Tinsukia in collaboration with DRDA conducted this Festival for the first time, on the banks of the Brahmaputra. There was a stall for first aid and emergency services where doctors from the Boat Clinic with paramedical staff demonstrated their services.
9. Health camp with Forest department
In January 2009, the Tinsukia Boat Clinic conducted a camp at Erashuti in collaboration with the Forest Department to attend to the villages lying on the fringes of the forest areas. The health team provided the technical support and the forest department provided the medicine, conveyance and food.
10. Health Team joins in festivity
Through continuous visits and regular interactions the health teams have become familiar with the local communities who now have confidence and trust in the team. During a regular visit to Laika Phasidia/Rigbi for a health camp the Tinsukia team joined in the celebration of the the Ali ai Lrigang, the festival of the dominant community here, the Mishings. The village was in a festive mood with the ‘Aoinitom’, the traditional song resonating everywhere. It was a memorable experience for the team who got a lot of invitations to visit individual homes. The team visited the home of Debokanta Regon who has been helping them in conducting the camps.
11. “A River’s Story” at North East Film Festival
The documentary film “A River’s Story- The quest for the Brahmaputra” directed by noted film Director, Jahnu Baruah with the script written by Sanjoy Hazarika, was screened at the North-east Film Festival from Jan 2, 2009 showcasing 34 films- including documentaries, short features and full length feature films from the region at the Shilpagram auditorium near Sankardeva Kalashetra.
The event was organized by the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation under the aegis of the North east Zone Cultural centre, Dimapur.
The film traces the origin of this mighty river from a tiny stream in the Tibetan Plateau to the time it joins the Bay of Bengal brilliantly capturing the many communities and cultures on its banks.
12. New Book by Sanjoy Hazarika
Sanjoy Hazarika’s latest book The State Strikes Back: India and the Naga Insurgency has recently been published by East West Centre, Washington DC, USA. His co-author is the prominent Naga writer Charles Chasie. This is part of the East West Centre’s Policy Studies series which includes studies on Burma, Southern Thailand, and Aceh and two other areas in the north east of India. Hazarika and Chaise have studied the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and its impact in the area. This is Hazarika’s seventh book and the second book in the past few months. The earlier book was published in 2008 by Penguin “Writing on the Wall: Reflections on the North-east“.