August 30, 2017

Their culture and our languages

[ Tongam Rina ]
The Arunachal Pradesh government has approved creation of Department of Indigenous Faith & Cultural Affairs to “preserve and promote culture and faiths of the indigenous communities of the state.”
Chief Minister PemaKhandu’s cabinet noted that “due to globalization, exposure and external influences, the indigenous communities of the state are fast getting disconnected from rich culture and languages and therefore at the risk of disappearing into oblivion”.
Strong and alarming yet soothing words for the people of a state where Hindi and English languages have replaced our languages, where newer religions have replaced the traditional practices and indigenous knowledge.
So much so that even the devotional songs of Donyi Polo and Rang Frah religions are a poor imitation of Christian hymns and the accompanying rituals are copied unabashedly from Hindu religion. Changing times perhaps calls for changing practices, even if dilution in the name of religion makes it appear very alien to most of us who grew up at a time, when indigenous practices were still part of our lives although many traditional practices made us cringe.
Those were the time, when the traditional priests made prophecies, based on shape of the chicken liver or the egg and dreams. Today, these practices are gone but newer ones have taken over most homes.
A huge dot using black kohl is applied on the forehead of children to ward away evil spirits, which is a classic example of Hinduisation of indigenous practice while the Christian version is not drinking locally brewed beers but acceptance of foreign liquors.
Indigenous culture and practices are prone to changes with changing times, and it’s an individual choice but we still have some time to save our languages from perishing. While the state has not done much to save the languages, there have been efforts by some of the larger communities to document it, as well as come up with scripts that are scientific. But at the same time, in an effort to give a common language, many other languages will die eventually, because it does not fit into the larger identity politics that has gripped the state.
If we are not proud of our languages, the repository of our identity and indigenous knowledge, we have no right to speak about saving indigenous faith and culture, as it is all interlinked.
The coming days will tell us the relevance of the department announced by the government. To start with, the languages in Arunachal need scripts. It is for the younger generation to decide if they want to speak their native languages, while they master foreign languages in order to climb the social ladder. But we can make a start by giving them a platform to learn the languages. We owe it to our children.
The VIPs have already taken over our festivals from our priests and priestess as power and money lure us. The thought itself is agonizing but time is not far, when the traditional chants will be played from mobile phones because there will be no one left to sing the songs and the hymns.



August 9, 2017

Indifferent age

[ Tongam Rina ]
Till few decades ago, when Arunachal was still guided by tribal ethos and responsibility, crimes were few and those who indulged in criminal activities were taken to task by the villagers themselves. Our strong traditional institutions were still independent which meant that trials were not diluted by any pressure. There was basically no escape from these institutions if one committed a crime, from petty to murders. One had to pay fine and in some tribal communities, some criminals, who did not mend their ways, were banished by the families themselves, mostly to the rivers, and no one ever mentioned it. Though covertly, the families had the sanction of the villagers to do so.
People valued tribal prestige and ethos which basically meant that there were few repeat offenders.
One paid fines imposed by the traditional institutions, headed by the learned men, not questioning it once. Some families, unable to deal with shame that followed any criminal activities migrated to other places where they could start a new life.
We have tossed aside all the tribal ethics leading to unimaginable consequences. No one thinks twice before eating up the money meant for mid day meal or textbooks or the food supplied through Public Distribution System for the poorest of the poor tribal and funds meant for helping those facing natural disasters. Today, all these schemes and funds have ended up as pocket money of politicians, their workers and bureaucrats. While villagers slog day in and out, even though there are a lot of policies framed by the central government for their wellbeing, those who gobble up their share are the ones running the state and the government. More crime one commits, more it is ensured that you will climb higher up in the society. Today crime, including corruption of all hues is a badge of honour.
When society accepts crime as a way of life and these criminals in the guise of politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and businessmen and women as their role model, it is no wonder that common citizens have followed suit. Everyone knows that they can get away with all kinds of crimes, including corruption, rapes and murders.
It’s been one year since 2011 batch Arunachal Pradesh Police Service Officer Bomto Kamdak was so mercilessly murdered. One year later, no one knows where Tagyung Yangfo is, named by the police responsible for officer’s killing.
It appears that government, home department and more so the police is not too keen to find out the person who took the life of one of their own. With much fanfare, the government announced Arunachal Ratna for the officer and gave a job to the wife. But is that enough? By not arresting Yangfo, the government and the Police Department is sending a clear message out to the prospective criminals that they can commit any crime and no one will come after them. It is rather saddening that the son of the police officer will never know the details of what happened with his father. As a state, we owe it to the little child, if not ourselves.
2016 was also the year a popular former chief minister Kalikho Pul took his own life. August 9 to be precise.
The elder wife has been knocking every possible door looking for an answer. The government’s responsibility ended when it ensured election of one of the younger wives as an MLA. Agreed that Pul, in his dying declaration implicated everyone while absolving himself in those 60 pages but at least an attempt should have been, even if cursory by the government, to find what led to the suicide.
Sadly, we live in indifferent times.



July 26, 2017

Crumbling law and order

[ Tongam Rina ]
There has been spate of crimes reported from across the state in the last one year. Few have been reported in the media even as the overworked police struggle to contain the growing incidences of violence in the streets of the state.
The twin towns of Itanagar-Naharlagun are the center of violence, where people, mostly undesirable criminals converge from across the state, to make money.
Early in the morning, when normal people are happy and thankful to be alive, someone gets upset because he had to wait as the driver, in another car was taking time to turn the car. Not willing to wait for few more seconds, he shot someone to vent out his anger. Such impunity! Lives are cheap in the streets of Itanagar and no one cares.
A young man goes to a pub with his friends. He never made it home as he is fatally beaten while on his way home. One can only imagine the pain of the family and friends as the Police struggles, trying to find out what happened that night.
A girl goes for a swim with her friends in Senki River. Her friends are beaten up and she is raped. What kind of a society are we heading into where a girl cannot go swimming with her friends without worrying about safety? No one is born a criminal but what makes our young boys think that they can get away with despicable acts of beating and sexual assaults? Have we failed as parents, teachers, and citizens and as a state? Such collective failures are heartbreaking and our young people are the ones who are paying for it, by indulging in crimes and ending up victims themselves.
So far, the Police have been able to make breakthrough in almost all the cases including gun violence, rape, murders and mugging.
But the government led by Pema Khandu and more so the home department led by the Home Minister Kumar Waii has been less than proactive when it comes to law and order in the state.
One year is a short time, but if one has to perform, more so, if you are in charge of safety and security of the people, there has to be some amount of urgency and accountability.
Within the Itanagar and Naharlagun, there are only three police stations with a population of more than one lakh. For that many number of citizens, there are less than 300 police personnel while an equal number has been entrusted on VIP duty.
It’s shameful that such low priority has been accorded to the safety of the people. We can’t put aside all criminal cases as isolated and we have to accept that numbers of criminals are growing each passing day. The Home department can’t live in denial anymore. With massive unemployment and our reluctance to go back to traditional mode of hand to mouth living, it’s going to be worse in days to come. Everybody is going to be a victim of violence.
And the higher ups at the home department have failed incredibly. What else explain the case of an IRBn jawan who managed to steal such an alarming number of arms and ammunitions from Police Training Centre, Banderdewa?
High end pistols, rifles with ammunition were stolen from the custody of the police. One can imagine the security on the streets of state, if that kind of security lapses occurs within a police training centre.
To start with, the Home Minister and Director General of Police need to step out of their comfortable offices and bungalows to visit the Itanagar Police station.
While a new building is coming up, which will take years to complete, the old building is in tatters. The leaking roof is a testimony. The situation is so bad that one can see buckets all over the police station. And one really has to be careful while walking on those wet floor to avoid falling down. If one has to worry about leaking roofs, how do we even expect the police to do their jobs?
The government certainly needs to figure out how to deal with the escalating law and order problem in the state, more so in the bigger towns, if they get time off from launching impractical central schemes.



June 7, 2017

Uncertain educational policy

[ Tongam Rina ]
The abysmal performance by students of Arunachal in the recently declared class 12 exam conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is a pointer to the nonexistent educational policy in the state. Of the 2598 students studying in private schools, 1775 passed taking the pass percentage to 68.32 while government schools faltered massively scoring a pass percentage of just 38.83. Of the total 14016 students from government schools that sat for the exam, only 5443 students managed to pass.
I spoke to couple of government school teachers, both in rural and urban Arunachal to find out the reason behind the worrying performance of the government schools. Almost all the teachers had similar problems to share; lack of teachers and trained quality teachers, lack of classrooms and other facilities including toilets, unruly students at secondary and higher secondary levels, lack of textbooks, lack of housing facilities for teachers in interior places, lack of hostel facilities for students and the problems associated with no detention policy till class 10 under continues comprehensive evaluation.
A government school teacher, posted at an interior school said that children studying in class four were unable to read a complete sentence. Most of the students can’t even do basic maths or understand basic Hindi or English grammar, he said. A science graduate recruited under SSA, the teacher teaches all the subjects including Hindi and English. He said that he read Hindi till class X so he struggles in the class.
He is one of the two teachers in the primary school with an enrollment of 80 students who attends school regularly though there are four teachers posted.
He told me that two of them juggle five classes at a go, sometimes combining two classes of different grades to keep the students inside classrooms.
One of the teachers, who teaches at a higher secondary school in a town, said that very few students at her class were able to write or speak a proper sentence in English though class room teaching is done in English.
She says that the average student enrollment in a class is almost 200 students divided into two sections. She spends at least 15 minutes to register attendance spending only about 30 minutes in teaching. Sometimes, half of that time is spent on students who are unruly she says, adding that taking care of one hundred students at a time is humanly not possible.
The two examples reflect the crisis prevalent across the state in government run schools which has been ignored by the government and the department. For long, transfer and posting of teachers has been discussed. There is huge political interference in posting and transfer, but that should have been a lesser cause of stress unless it is done midsession.
If at all the government has to transfer teachers, post teachers from urban to interior areas instead of mass transfer of teachers, which is meaningless. In any case, the local MLA will decide who goes and who stays, which will be blindly followed by the department so pretentious steps in the name of rationalization of posting and transfer need to be stopped.
It is clear that government do not give the required support and facilities to the students and teachers. The onus is on the government to figure out where it has gone wrong, playing with lives of thousands of students who in the future will be a burden instead of being assets to the state. Most graduates are not able to speak or write a sentence in English or Hindi properly, forget about employable qualities. These same graduates will acquire more degrees and get into the teaching profession and some will end up in govt run institutes that train teachers. It’s a vicious cycle.
The process has to start at recruitment of teachers. How many in-service teachers, both at private and govt intuitions have joined the profession because they genuinely love teaching? Not many.
And to make matters worse, the appointment of teachers are mostly not based on merit as those who have connections, at political and bureaucratic level are appointed as teachers even if they get degrees through questionable open schools and colleges. To start with, the department should look into the number of in-service teachers who have flunked the Arunachal Pradesh Teachers Eligibility Test.