May 31, 2017

Vigilantism and personal choices

[ Tongam Rina ]
What we eat, wear and who we love and regard should have been a personal choice. But in the society we live in today, eating food of our choice, more specifically meat of our choice is certainly not a personal decision anymore. Instead of doctors telling us, it is the people and organizations, given a free hand by the central government who are telling us what we should not eat. One tends to laugh of such silly vigilantism, orchestrated by the rightwing BJP but then eating beef is a matter of life and death in India as we have seen in so many instances since the party came to power in 2014.
The centre has legitimized violence by various groups representing the BJP by regulating sale of cattle. In a notification last week, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 to ensure that the sale of cattle is not meant for slaughter purposes across India, allowing only farmland owners to trade at animal markets.
The notification covers bulls, bullocks, cows, buffalos, steers, heifers and calves, as well as the camel trade. The notification prompted yours truly to ask Google if animals, grouped under cattle are endangered in India and the realization that they forgot to add the mithuns in the list.
The debate on slaughter of any animal, right from chicken to elephant have been ongoing between the animal lovers and those who eat meat and those who love animals yet eat meat but to have the government tell us what to eat, to slaughter to be specific is infringement on livelihood issues and eating habits. Agreed that cows are revered by most Hindus – 80 percent of billion odd Indians but India is also the land of those who necessarily do not think that cow is a mother, a sister, an aunt or a niece. For many, it is just an animal that does it work in the fields and from who we steal milk to keep our bones healthy while their calves bleat themselves to sleep out of hunger.
Now, the Madras High Court has put on hold the Centre’s restrictions for four weeks as it asked for a response why its order should not be scrapped.
Tamil Nadu is one of the few states in the country where beef consumption is not banned but cow, calf slaughter is banned and violation can lead up to three years in jail and fine.
According to the reports in newspapers, Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court heard a petition on Tuesday that stated that the Centre’s new order violates the basic right of a person to choose what to eat and that the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets impinges upon people’s right to practice their profession or trade.
At least 24 states in the country have various regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows.
In the North East, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim have no restrictions on animal slaughter or eating beef, while Assam and Manipur has restrictions. But like elsewhere in the region, in Assam and Manipur too, food habit, including eating beef is a choice.
Interestingly, the district administration of Capital of Arunachal has issued an executive order prohibiting display and selling of meat along the National Highway.
Apparently, meat shops along the highway not only give a bad look to the city but is also a health risk as it is exposed to dust and smoke released by the vehicles! While issuing the order, the DC seems to have forgotten the faces of those, mostly tribal women who sell meat to be economically independent. Who, if there were other options that are economically viable would make a choice to slaughter animal and handle meat that stinks of blood whole day? No one likes a bloody affair.
Agreed, that meat is a gory sight, but in the name of beautification, no one should be forced to lose their source of income. It is advisable that state government under who the DC works, instead of issuing such orders ensure that these meat sellers have place to do their business. To follow the purposeless centrally sponsored vigilantism by the state administration, undermining livelihood issues of tribal families is uncalled for and certainly avoidable.



May 24, 2017

Stateless refugees and Arunachal

[ Tongam Rina ]
Like it or not, all the Chakma and Hajong refugees currently in Arunachal will get the Indian citizenship sooner or later. Understandably, they have been in India for too long to be denied citizenship and other entitlements.
One may refer to the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced last year, which seeks to allow illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhist from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, which had no space for illegal immigrants.
There have been protests in Assam since the Bill was introduced as it contradicts the 1985 Assam Accord which says that all illegal migrants that came from Bangladesh to Assam after March 1971 would be deported.
The Bill, if it becomes an Act will allow illegal migrants, based on their religious identities to claim Indian citizenship. If the government is keen to give such a status to the minorities from the neighboring countries, it will be more than ready to extend Indian citizenship to Chakmas and Hajong who are not illegal migrants but refugees that have been living in India for more than five decades.
Forced to flee the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan after submergence of their land by the Kaptai Dam and persecuted because of their religion in a Muslim majority country, the Hindu Hajongs and the Buddhist Chakmas first came to India via Mizoram in the early 60’s. Since then, they have been stateless.
Most of the Chakmas and Hajong living in Arunachal know no other home. For them, the designated camps and the periphery are their homes. In places like Diyun, the moneyed refugees live comfortably, while those at the camps have no facility to speak of, which itself is a violation of basic human rights by the Indian state.
It appears that Arunachalees as such do not oppose grant of Indian citizenships to these refugees but what they oppose is granting rights to live in the state on a permanent basis and Schedule Tribe status. It is unlikely that these refugees will get ST status, if the elected representatives are taking their roles seriously and pursuing the matter with the centre instead of relying on the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union to go to the Court to reiterate the rights given to the people of the state under various provisions of laws.
Though there have been several attempt to give citizenship status to the refugees by the centre, according to records, since 1972, Arunachal has consistently opposed any such move.
As stated earlier, Arunachal Pradesh is protected by many acts and regulations, which make it almost impossible for those who are not scheduled tribes from Arunachal to own land in the state. But Chakma and Hajong refugees who came in between 1964-69 were given land which makes their case so unique. On the other hand, when a child, born to a non Arunachalee father and a tribal mother cannot stake claim to land, and a woman, even if ST from another state is married to a tribal man is not allowed right to own land, it is very unlikely that Arunachalees will ever agree to part their land for the refugees. Patriarchy apart, the centre has to understand this conundrum before they even think of granting ST status to the refugees.
Given all the facts, Arunachal and the centre have to carefully study the issue of the Chakma and Hajong refugees in the state though there seems no immediate solution in sight. In 1994, the state government had declared forceful deportation of these refugees which caught the attention of the international community as well as Assam which sealed the boundaries with Arunachal and gave a shoot at sight order declaring that it will not a be dumping ground of refugees. Since then, in the eyes of the international community, the state and AAPSU has remained the heartless villain giving an absolute upper hand to the refugees to stalk their claims.
While rights of the refugees should be protected and facilities as entitled to residents of India given, but at the same time, if the host state is bitterly opposed to any move to make them permanent citizens of Arunachal, the centre has to think twice before acting anything against the will of the majority of people, the state government and students.
A middle path has to be found somewhere and that will happen only when centre carefully studies the provisions granted to the people of the state under the very Indian law as well as the rights of the stateless refugees.



May 10, 2017

Emerging new class

[ Tongam Rina ]
A gentleman aged about 50, originally from Daporijo and now a resident of Itanagar came to the front office of this daily the other day. He wanted an advertisement printed, but the department could not accept the matter as he could not produce the original government document to back up his claim. The anguished gentleman was sent to the reporting desk where we heard what he had to say.
The gentleman said that he needed money for an important work so he borrowed money from someone with his land in Daporijo as collateral, with the condition that he would return the money within three months. The agreement was counter signed by lawyers and witnesses. In case he fails to return the money on time, the land would be sold by the money lender, read the clause. The borrower had surrendered his land registration/possession papers given by the government to the lender. The gentlemen defaulted on payment.
Even though he had borrowed more money from his relatives and from money lenders at a huge stake to pay off the debt, in most likelihood; he will lose the land.
The amount he borrowed was Rs 14 lakhs, while the land he put as collateral is estimated to be Rs 30 lakhs. Unless he goes to court, which is going to be a lengthy nonstarter, the gentleman is not going to get his land back. A traditional court, which is more logical and less time consuming could have rescued him but then these courts, across the state are not as traditional or fair as they used to be.
There are numerous cases like this in the state, though the amount may vary. Many poor people are signing away their land to the moneyed and powerful.
In another instance, a lady parted away with her plot of land in the village to an officer in exchange of a job for her daughter. The daughter eventually got a government job but then her mother had become landless. In most tribal villages, the stigma of being landless is a heavy burden to carry.
Even within villages, the community lands are being occupied by influential members. The poorer members of the community have absolutely no say.
In most cases, the poor are indebted to the financially and politically influential members of their own villages as they take favours in times of need a trip to the hospital, college and school admissions and buying government jobs. In every district of the state, the landed ones are the politicians or government employees or the ones in various professions dabbling in money making ventures and contractors.
Basically, the moneyed class owns almost all the lands everywhere. Those without steady income rely on their land to bail them out of difficult circumstances. And moneyed ones do not think twice when exploiting the situation of those hapless ones.
While it is a private matter to buy or sell land, in the long run, the situation is not going to be as smooth as it is now. With the cultivable community land slowly being grabbed by the rich and influential, soon there will be a class who will remain landless. Landlessness will be followed by marginalisation in a society like ours where land is the only source of livelihood.
Those days of being poor yet equal are already over in this tribal state with advent of education and scary individualisation, most often in the name of a community.
With individualisation, comes the greed to possess; wanting to possess all things, even those revered, which include the streams, the forests and the land.



May 3, 2017

Tawang: indefinite wait for justice

[ Tongam Rina ]
Tawang has taken a long time to heal after the violent 2 May, 2016 police firing that killed Nyima Wangdi, a monk from Tawang Monastery and Tsering Tempa, a newlywed man from Jangda, and injured many more as they protested against the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, a monk who has been consistently demanding that Tawang does not need big power projects but repair of various mini and micro hydro power stations.
Perhaps, Tawang partially healed when the 14th Dalai Lama visited in early April this year. His visit was calming as well as healing to thousands of people who had come out to listen to his teachings, ever so relevant. Those at opposing ends of the spectrum were together to listen to him.
For a visitor, it is difficult to comprehend that Tawang was witness to violent shooting and repression by those in power.
Tawang- where people go out of their way to help, taking out time to tell you the way, make way for other cars on curvy, congested roads, a place where people will give up their seats in restaurants for a visitor and guide you to the monasteries and where monks and nuns serve butter tea and impossibly sweet chini chai with so much sugar, milk and little tea leaves.
Tawang welcomes the highest number of visitors each year. Those who have gone there once will invariably come back-the nature has been extremely kind to Tawang, gifting it numerous lakes, flowers, mountains and valleys as well the people, who are ever so welcoming.
But then, Tawang also is a place where there is deep anger and frustration, for those waiting for justice after the May 2 shooting.
As of now, the investigation seems to be headed nowhere. An officer in the PHQ said charge sheet has not been filled as yet though departmental inquiries into the police’s role in the firing are ongoing.
Even the report of the one man committee headed by Commissioner, Government of Arunachal, Hage Khoda is yet to be made public though the earlier government headed by Kalikho Pul had paid 18 lakhs of rupees to the families of those killed and injured -all these after a year of the horrific shooting.
While the government has kept mum the entire year, the then ADC Jung in his report on violence has clearly stated that the police firing was completely reckless, indiscriminate and unjustified.
“As many as 380 rounds of ammunitions of different categories of weapons were found to have been used in the firing incident” his report read, which has been submitted to the Supreme Court.
The report goes on to say that there were serious procedural lapses while handling fire arms by the IRBn personnel and civil police, Tawang.
The report also clearly specifies when the guard room of the police station caught fire. For long, the protestors had said that the police set it on fire, while the police say that it was set on fire by protestors.
The extract of the report reads, “While examining the statements of police officials and magistrate, it appears that when the police firing stopped and the accused Lobsang Gyatso was taken out from the judicial custody to talk to the crowd with loud hailer for pacifying the mob, then only the guard room caught fire… the fire was immediately extinguished before the fire tender reached the spot… Many police personnel resorted to firing on the pretext that Duty Magistrates had given verbal order for firing when they had not. As per statements of the magistrates, it further reveals that after the firing incident, the police requested all the magistrates to give firing order ex post facto to regularise the firing”.
No one seems to have any response as to why the investigation into the case that shook the entire country is dragging on for a year now.
But someday the state government will have to deal with the truth since the case relating to the firing incident has already been admitted in the Supreme Court.
The government will procrastinate and hope that the firing incident will be forgotten, but with the case in the Supreme Court, it will be difficult, said Colin Gonsalves, the founder and director of Human Rights Law Network, who is taking up the case on behalf of SMRF and families of victims.
“You can’t murder and then pay compensations. Prosecute and then pay compensation”, he said while speaking on the government’s compensation package.
It remains to be seen when there will be closure on the May 2 firing case.



April 19, 2017

A cake called Arunachal

[ Tongam Rina ]
For some community organizations and the state government, Arunachal is like a birthday cake-cut according to the sizes required and be merry. Forget about late comers or the ones who we don’t think are good enough to be on the list of invitees. The select few will have all the cake while the rest will have to content themselves with the idea of having a piece of cake, but unfortunately, they can’t have it because they just don’t have it in them to even ask for it, cornered, outdated and overwhelmingly outnumbered.
The cake analogy is perhaps a very poor one for a state as big as ours with so many tribes-big and small and their many individual and societal aspirations. But sometimes, the societal aspirations clash with the very idea of Arunachal. It threatens the pan Arunachal identity even if the idea itself is a fallacy. But the idea is comforting.
Today we are faced with a situation, where aspirations of a community override the very identity of Arunachal. There was a time when there were demands for Mon and Patkai Autonomous Regions. The Legislative Assembly even passed a resolution but we seem to have forgotten it. But in its place is the growing demand of districts and more districts, based on community identity or on the whims of the inflated egos of politicians and community organizations.
What was the need and reason for creation of Siang or Kra Daadi and Namsai districts? Have common people gotten anything after the creation of the districts apart from fighting over headquarters and acquisition of land by the rich and influential where the headquarters are coming up?
In recent memories, Anjaw was bifurcated out of Lohit, Dibang Valley out of Lower Dibang Valley, Longding out of Tirap. All these, when the government already decentralized the governance by creating numerous administrative units.
Now, there are demands for more districts- Bichum, Pakke-Kessang, Khamle, Namdapha/Rima, Lepa Rada, and Lower Siang , to name a few.
While the demands for creation of most of these districts have been kind of muted, Lower Siang has been a cause of amusement for almost a decade now. It continues even today.
Lower Siang, bifurcating West and East Siang, was first demanded to counter Assam’s encroachment into Arunachal land, mostly in Likabali, Seren- Dipa areas. The encroachment has gone on unabated. Major portion in Likabali has been encroached by Assam, while Galo organizations fought where the headquarters will be as respective governments watched, scared to intervene into the sphere of a major tribal group. And to add to the confusion, the Adis said that it will not part an inch of Adi area for Lower Siang.
Now, no one knows the legitimacy of these demands, but Ramle Banggo area, which aspires to be part of Lower Siang, has seen ugly communal fights between the Adis and the Galos. Both tribes claim ownership of the land. Roads leading to Pasighat, the district headquarters of East Siang were blocked following a hunting expedition by the Adis into the Galo villages. Reaction was, building a road, on self help basis to connect the Upper Ramle Banggo to West Siang for safe passage of the Galos. The road was built during the rainy season when all construction works usually stop in Arunachal. Ideally, it should be inhabitants, who should decide where they want to be, but in proposed Lower Siang, it’s a huge communal issue.
For most of us, it does not matter when all we need is less than six feet of land for eternal rest but its murky and ugly over land.
While there are exceptions, the ugly trend of creation of districts based on community identity is not going to help the state now or later. As major tribal groups, known as Abo Tani group, who can’t see eye to eye on most matters unless it suits them want more districts, Arunachal remains no one’s child. While the majority group will have the cake, rest will either laugh or mourn at the gradual loss of pan Arunachal identity or the idea of it, which is so dear to many.



March 1, 2017

The better of two evils

[ Tongam Rina ]
Pema Khandu government’s decision to hand over all the recruitment process of Group B and C employees to Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (APPSC) have been widely welcomed by many who believe that Commission is more transparent than government departments, if we ignore paper leakages that originate from the commission itself.
The commission has had its share of controversy, mainly because of their inefficiency and leakages. Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service Exams-2013 stretched for the longest time with results declared in 2016 March.
The whole exam process saw leakage of paper and hunger strike by candidates against the administrative loopholes. More than hundred candidates dropped out midway, caught in the uncertainty of the examination process.
With reputations in tatters and lack of human resources, it remains to be seen whether the Commission will be able to live up the expectations of the young people who think government jobs are lucrative and their ticket to making money.
Though there is no statistics to back it up, some of the government officials are the richest in Arunachal. Their life styles are shocking to say the least-children at schools with fees that are unthinkable, multiple houses, families, business establishment and unlimited holidays. Some of the bureaucrats and technocrats literally swing the state politics as they wish as main funders in elections. And if that was not enough, they interfere and decide who gets a government job.
If one did a thorough investigation, half of our government employees in Group A and B certainly will have no explanation to disproportionate asset and beyond known source of income. Ideally, they should be in jail.
But then, we don’t have the time and energy to dig. Do we? For all we know, they are related to us, our clan sister-in-law’s great grandfather’s cousin’s wife’s cousin’s child. It’s confusing as that and you can’t escape. Daring employees-daring enough to get their children government jobs because they know that laid down rules and law as well can be compromised.
So, why ruffle feathers as long as they can recommend a job?
The everyday affairs are managed by few government employees who take their job seriously-some teachers, some clerk, some peon, administrators and some mid level worker who think that this state deserve better. They should be applauded. But then, they probably do not deserve to be recognized because we don’t deserve them.
Under such circumstances, it absolutely make sense that recruitment process is handed over to the lesser evil called APPSC.
But the question remains, will the Commission be able to deal with traffic? There are barely enough government jobs so perhaps, the Commission will be able to do a good job. The way forward would be having more employees in the Commission so that exams are conducted fairly and results announced on time. According to the Annual Employment & Unemployment Survey report for 2013-14, released by Labour Bureau, under Union Ministry of Labour , Sikkim and Arunachal had the highest unemployment rate in the entire country. In absence of private sector or meaningful opportunities provided by the state government, there is not much option left for the young people in the state. Patience is running out even though government does not take unemployment too seriously.
The hope is pinned on APPSC. One can only hope that Commission is able to abide by rules and recruit only those who truly deserve it.
In the meantime, government has announced lateral entry into the APCS from among the govt employees which has already run into controversy. The departments have submitted the names to the screening committee. It probably will end up as the tool of the politicians and bureaucrats to reward those who have serve them well or the have potential to serve them. This one will be pick and choose, no matter what they say. It’s not as transparent as yet as one is made to believe.
But while they figure out who can serve best-making an entry into coveted APCS, one hope that Chief Minister Pema Khandu is really serious in implementing what he announced. Anything government take ages to be processed so the onus is on him to walk the talk. Hopefully, he will deliver where his technocrats and bureaucrats failed so miserably.



February 15, 2017

Arunachal and Pul’s Mere Vichar

[Tongam Rina]
Barely six months after former Chief Minister Kalikho Pul died, his much discussed note “Mere Vichar” was made public by the web portal, The Wire. Though there were hundreds of shares on social networking sites, which had made the former Chief Minister a hero, the reaction, otherwise has been muted, a typical Arunachalee reaction, where people go silent when they should be speaking up. Baring few organizations, the job of speaking up has been left to Dangwimsai Pul, first wife of Late CM who has called for a CBI probe into her husband’s death.
For months, this daily has been trying to get hold of the note but it was told that the notes were kept sealed. When the notes were finally published, couriered from Itanagar to various media houses in the country, like everyone else in the state, we were taken by surprise. But it had to come out in the open one day or the other from a different source and not from the government or its police department, because the outcome of the police investigation was going nowhere.
The investigation by the police based on the complaint by the Personal Security Officer of Pul took a little more than two months. The details were submitted on October 24, 2016. While the police did its job, there was silence and more silence. The government kept mum and even now, it has refused to speak on the issue.
The investigation makes it very clear under what circumstances Pul took his life while the doctors at the Tomo Riba State hospital concluded that the death was caused due to “asphyxia resulting from hanging by ligature and suicidal in nature”. The toxicological examination by FSL, Guwahati ruled out poisoning.
There was another complaint by the three wives where they mention that Pul hanged himself because of depression caused by the corrupt leaders. While there is no specific mention about who the leaders were in the complaint, the now published notes has made it amply clear who he meant. The judiciary is not spared nor the All India Congress Committee, Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein and former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, among others.
It is very unlikely that those named in the notes will ever be investigated or the note itself will have any validity in the court of law. Perhaps, the note will be dismissed as writing by a depressed man who could not cope with betrayal by his MLA colleagues that led him to lose his chair.
While going through the police report and Pul’s notes, one thing that stands out is his patience. He knew what he was doing right from ensuring that Mere Vichar was typed in Hindi and multiple copies made and moving a table to the room where he took his life a week later.
This reminds of a press conference that Pul had held more than a decade ago when he was the Finance Minister. Alleged of financial mismanagement, he called the press over to his residence, with a lunch thrown in, to clarify his stand. It went on for more than six hours, complete with a map and power point presentation. In the conference, he implicated everyone while absolving himself, the same as the note. He had the patience as well clarity on the issue in that long press conference as he in Mere Vichar, his last dying statement.
What next? Perhaps there will be nothing. Politicians will sleep in peace, without remorse and nightmares because citizens have gotten over the shock of his death and the content of the notes, without any reaction or demand. Such is the tragic situation. Pul’s death was tragic. Lack of reaction, even after publication of his notes, by the same citizens who made him a hero, making him forget that MLAs make a chief minister, not the common people and his trusted coterie, ultimately leading to his ouster, makes it much more tragic. The lack of respect for the dead and lack of self respect of those who are alive and can make a difference is the reflection of the society we have become; uncaring, unaccountable and speak out when it serves our selfish motives.
While writing this, yours truly had to ignore the unwritten Arunachalee tribal diktat that one should not talk anything about the ones who are gone forever because they can’t defend themselves.



February 8, 2017

The festivals for few

[Tongam Rina]
Come winter, the state witnesses numerous state sponsored festivals where local alcoholic brews flow like the flooded rivers in monsoon, rendering many unsteady.
The state spends some crores on these festivals- Adventure@Mechukha, Buddha Festival, Tawang Festival, Orange Festival of Music and Adventure, Pangsau Pass Winter Festival, partly funded Ziro Festival of Music. Arunachal Festival-the grandmother of all festivals is celebrated in Itanagar amidst the dust, mostly generated by the vehicles of VIPs, who act as if walking few metres to the IG Park from the parking lot will land them in a hospital bed. While we deal with dust allergies and mutter few curses, these VIPs, mostly elected representatives and government employees, also have separate enclosures for themselves, surrounded by LED displays, served with the best food and beverages by young girls dressed in their best traditional attires.
But that’s price the entertainment starved are happy paying as long as we get to listen to some out of work Bollywood singers entertain us with out of tune songs. We are even happy to pay for the utterly overpriced food and drinks. Arunachalees are easy to please.
Now, compare Arunachal Festival with the Hornbill Festival hosted by Nagaland, where some amount of VIP culture is seen only during the inauguration.
The festival attracts thousands of tourists from the country and abroad. At the hugely popular night bazaar in Kohima, few kilometers away from the main ground, more than a kilometer of road is filled with people who are out to enjoy the festival and food. The entire stretch of road cordoned off with no vehicles allowed. Even the Governor was seen walking and stopping for a snack. One can’t imagine such a scene in Arunachal, obsessed with VIPs.
Perhaps, the only exception is Ziro Festival of Music; partly state funded which is touted as one of the best music festivals in the world with hundreds of tourists from India and abroad.
The Adventure@ Mechuka has the potential to attract tourists but the road is in such a bad shape that only a hardcore adventurist will think of reaching there.
Most of these festivals are aimed at inviting tourists but if a tourist is forced to take two days to recover from the journey, it would be foolish to even expect them to come to these festivals.
Look at the tourism amenities, which are mostly out of the way of the tourists and more an opportunity for the contractors, at the wish of the politicians to make money. The state government will know how miserably the tourist lodges and other amenities have failed while the privately run hotels and lodges are doing better.
With so much to offer, Arunachal is a dream destination if marketed well and local people can make a living. One step forward is to help people open their homes to host the few brave tourists. Homestays not only help families to make money, but they also give tourists a chance of a lifetime to experience the indigenous way of living.
So perhaps, it makes sense to outsource the entire tourism business to private operators, the backbone of the tourism industry in the state and local communities.
The fear of tourism industry gone wrong is always there but if at all the government is seriously thinking about attracting tourists, involve the local communities.
Oken Tayeng of Abor Country Travels and Expeditions, who won the best tour operator award in recently held Arunachal Tourism Awards says that most of those who come to Arunachal are interested in the culture of the state.
These tourism festivals have nothing to offer in terms of culture, but if a start is made, with a clear vision to attract tourists, there is nothing stopping us from being the next tourist destination that will contribute to the economy of the local people and the state.



February 1, 2017

Mankota: a silent village by the Yangsang Chu

[ Tongam Rina ]
Mankota is a beautiful, self sufficient village between Tuting and Singa in Upper Siang near the Indo-China border.
No one seems to know the actual distance from Tuting. Its three hours by Tata Sumo, five hours by Mahindra tractor and nine hours by foot. We took the easiest way out when we decided to visit the small village by hiring a Sumo. Six thousand Rs for three hours journey. We rolled our eyes when we heard the price and almost took the crowded tractor that was standing nearby. But thankfully, the team leader decided that we take the Sumo since the journey from Itanagar to Tuting to take us to Mankota had been grueling.
“ Yeh kaisa rasta hain, jaha rasta mey rasta dundhna parta hain” said the exasperated driver as we got stuck soon after we started from Tuting. The team managed to push the car out of the mud every time it got stuck but by the end of it, the colour of their jackets had changed remarkably.
We spent rest of the journey in absolute silence, with occasional nervous smiles as we huddled inside the car looking at the beautiful high mountains and flowers while the sun played hide and seek.
We have reached the village, announced our guide and host, Michung Khamba, a govt school teacher.
From where we stood, we saw the village- beautiful wooden houses adorned with prayer flags. Many orange trees and more lai pattas. During our one week of stay, we learnt that only thing that does not grow in Mankota is salt. “Nimak ka bijon milne se woh bhi humlog yaha ugaiga” (If we get seedlings for salt, we will grow that too), said one of the villagers.
Salt is expensive and precious. In Mankota, a packet of salt is more than Rs 70. There are no shops so villagers rely on occasional tractor that comes to the village to transport salt. Otherwise, they rely on head load-per kilo is 50 Rupees. Tractor is recent. For more than a century, the Khambas of Mankota have been walking to Tuting and elsewhere to get salt.
During our stay, we saw many households busy stock salt for summers, when new road will disappear.
What happens to the villagers who are sick?
“We carry the not so serious ones on our back to the nearest hospital in Tuting, nine hours by foot. Serious ones die even before we reach the hospital. Don’t ask such difficult questions, says a villager.
The village is being connected by a new road under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna. It’s easy to figure out that the road won’t last one season but that did not deter many who had hopped onto the tractor to come home to welcome the New Year. We joined the villagers at a grand party by the majestic Yangsang Chu. The celebration with some 40 people was the first in more than 30 years, thanks to the tractor. Most young people from Mankota have migrated to nearby Tuting or elsewhere in the country and abroad in the last three decades. There are 19 houses in the village. Three houses are completely deserted while some are kept locked for most of the year. In the rest of the houses, there are hardly any young people and barely any children. Even the school has been abandoned for the last two years because there are no students. Within three days after we welcomed the New Year, the village was more or less deserted.
Perhaps, the situation will change in the next few years; if at all the road becomes all weather.
But as of now, young ones have ventured out of the village to find better education and healthcare. Mankota is a very silent village, guarding the Indian border where only the old ones live by the Yangsang Chu, surrounded by the high snow clad mountains.
(The journalist joined a team of researchers – Dr Jumyir Basar, Jombi Bagra and Tage Yamang of the Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies, Rajiv Gandhi University for the sponsored trip to Mankota.)