Arunachal Diaries – 9

Let’s finish the last leg of the Christianity in the NE region before turning our focus onto the RSS and its sister organisations’ work.

Pooja in the living room.
Pooja posing for a photo in the Father’s living room.

Father Tommy is a clever and imaginative person. He understands the popular psyche well. From Mithun Gate on the highway, the winding road reaches the Church about a km inside – with the bell tower standing tall. All along the road, he has erected many panels depicting Christian legends and myths in mural-form at regular intervals. On days like the Good Friday and other such occasions, local tribal people take this route after the Mass – one by one garlanding the panels – dancing and singing, playing traditional drums in a procession. This has become a kind of a ritual now and has been around for 20 odd years. The road is also unofficially named after Mother Mary. Nowadays Indians seem to have learnt such things – palpable and ritualistic – putting exclusive claim on physical, as if marking their territoriality. This is not the characteristic of Abrahmic religions alone anymore. Such things are put to use by clever persons imaginatively. All that it takes is some social as well as aesthetic understanding of religion and human psyche. And obviously – the persistence, being routed in locality for long enough that the people forget the time before your arrival.

If one thinks, such kind of pradakshina is not actually a Christian practice. Starting from circumambulatory paths around stupas and then Hindu temples, it was also adopted by Sufi saints in the dargahs of their walis and pirs (they call it tawaaf). But this adoption is not an isolated example. There was a huge debate amongst the early Jesuits in India about the strategies to be adopted for conversion (Source – Sumit Sarkar). There emerged two schools. One stressing puritanical approach of religion while other trying to modify the European mores to suit Indian customs by adopting Indian ways – like niranjan and dhoop in front of god’s image, writing pious hymns in Indian metrical styles, adopting local language for mass etc. Puritanical faction opposed such dilution tooth and nail and even filed a complaint with the Vatican or whichever their higher-ups were. How that debate shaped up I don’t know but the later approach sounds logical to me. More than religion, it’s always about a community, a parish. If something new is to be inserted in a pre-existing society, it must morph itself into a form recognizable + palatable to cause minimum disruption.

Minanath, Nikhl, Vineet, Pooja with the Bell.
Minanath, Nikhil, Vineet, Pooja with the Bell. Photo gratuitously taken by the Father.

I was actually a little hesitant to open up the topic of conversion. But Ashishiji had no such qualms. He innocuously asked with all the innocent curiosity of the world on his face whether it’s true that the fathers are monetarily compensated for bringing people into their Church’s fold. Father Tommy was surprisingly free and frank. He neither looked hurt not angry, as if he was expecting this sort of question all the while. After a small pause he said that these are two different issues. Catholic Church, he said, certainly doesn’t encourage any such malpractice because belief in a faith can’t be bought. However they do believe in active conversion. Secondly, he said, there’re some ‘fringe Churches’ of other denominations bringing bad name to the Christianity as a whole damaging its reputation. He then voluntarily started talking about then-in-news ghar wapsi phenomenon. His argument in nutshell was that ghar wapsi is wrong and painful. However, the NE tribes don’t have any religion of their own. Their customs are backward, uncivil. It’s the duty of his Church to help them. And in the process if they choose to become Christian, it can’t be termed as ‘conversion’ because they lack any religion to start with. So, it’s a free market (his words) – all religions should come here and try to convert as many of them as possible. Whoever is better at it will get the most. The spirit of competition..!

I was aghast. I had thought of all people, he would have some respect for native tribal culture and belief system. For all his likeability and affability, he also had some streaks of dogmatism. But he was unabashedly open about his view and was very firm on his stance with all the logical arguments ready. I kind of liked it. His problem was that the tribals who are actually SC are denied the benefits of that status once they convert to Christianity. He wished that tribals should be able to keep the both statuses – SC and Religious minority benefits. Such dual-benefits are opposed from many other quarters. The arguments from both the sides are in public and the debate goes on.

The other people we came in contact with threw some light on not-so-nefarious activities. Kangir bhai said that the strategy adopted by Churches is not generally so much of a monetary allurement as it may cause a backlash sometime somewhere. There are other intelligent ways too. One example was a conversion of the woman in a house first. For some reason which I failed to understand, tribal women are easy to convert. And once they are converted, over time they bring the whole family along with. Women are thus always targeted. There must be some sociological and psychological reason to it, if at all it’s true. Second method he said was building huge and imposing churches in small bastis even if a person or two get converted. A single person in some remote basti actually doesn’t need such huge church and neither can he afford to build one. But he is requested to give some piece of land (as in Arunachal, outsiders can’t own it) on which in a short time a church with all the amenities and facilities is erected. Slowly, over a decade or so, the whole basti comes around. After all, no one gives them facility of any kind in their remote bastis, government hardly reaches there and the local church thus becomes a symbol of strength as well as provider of social services. It becomes the locus of community activity. Nagaland model of ‘communitisation’ is a well known now. There, so strong is their control over the local community and ground-level knowledge so upto-date that even the Government of India runs many of the social sector schemes through the churches for better targeting and reducing leakage. On the darker side however, this gives the church manipulating power and instances of denying government scheme benefits as punishment to those families missing on Sunday mass are not unknown.

The Church of Nyokom Lapang
The Church of Nyokom Lapang

The RSS people moan over the supposed money the church receives from outside. They often compare the suvidha a pracharak gets with those available to father to draw the point home. Whatever that may be. As elsewhere, here too Church is involved in social service as well as conversion. It finally boils down to the motivations and inclinations of individual members of the denomination and thus sweeping generalisations must be avoided. The last thing I would talk here is in the praise of Catholics. This is such a determined and devoted community. Simply see the number of fathers they produce, number of educational and health institutions they run and compare it with their population in India (less than 2%). And they have been doing it for a long time. In the name of religious service if not nation’s service; but it helps the nation nonetheless.

To be continued…
(Next – RSS in Arunachal)

Arunachal Diaries – 8

That was perhaps obvious of any organised religion. Following on…

Father Tommy was a very cordial, suave old uncle-type person. He initially appeared reluctant to give us an audience, agreed only when we approached him via one of his regular Church-attendees who was incidentally our student. He still seemed confused though as he could not gather why random people from far away Pune would want to talk to him. It could either be about Christianity or about Arunachal. Pune, you see, has a very notorious image outside and people coming herefrom are generally presumed to be of persuasion of some shade of right. This kind of suspicion follows by default and I have experienced it more than a few times in Delhi. Getting the Father to agree to talk was itself a difficult thing. But the challenge was to break the ice on good terms. More importantly, he mustn’t be allowed to treat us as ignorant beings and send us off by selling a stump speech as answer to any question – that would be a fruitless exercise with no new information or perspective added. We started with some seriously important questions on theology and social angle (from immanence of god to the use of contraceptives and his position on divorce) – aim being to persuade him of our noble intentions and also to set the level of talks. He slowly came around to believe in our sincerity. From Church in general we shifted gears to Arunachal later, the topic of our interest.

Our main concern was to understand contradiction between Catholic and tribal way of life. Catholics don’t like drinking and the tribals in Arunachal welcome everyone with apong (or raksi if you are in the influence zone of Nepal/Tibet) – may it be a random guest to their home or a child in the world – its a culturally-socially-ecologically sanctioned drink with some alcohol content – locally made. Catholics vehemently denounce the practice of polygamy and most certainly that of polyandry. Here in Arunachal, the picture is of rather free and loose relations – heterodoxy if one can call it so. How could he make the ethical-moral teachings of his faith palatable to such people and still attract them to the Sunday mass? Creating a community of faithful, I wonder, must be a daunting task.

He seems to have not worried much about these things. For him, the strategy was slow inculcation, step by step introduction of non-believers into the fold. It’s not easy to change the world-view in short time, he said. One has to be patient. And social change is the slowest of all. How can that be held against possibl religious change? I found his answer to be very true. Criminalising untouchability by Constitution does not make it disappear overnight. It takes time. The appraoch is peacemeal. Similarly, the introduction of Christianity can’t make sudden upheavel in their lives.

He then invited us to witness Sunday mass the next day. We were told that the mass is held three times – once in English, then in Hindi and at last in Nyishi – the language of locally dominant tribe. I remember that in the US when I was attending the alpha course on the bible at a semi-country parish-kind of place, there were many Chinese in our locality attending the meetings and for them all the instructions were issues in Mandarin in parallel. Its universally accepted trght that language is not only a medium of communication, but a whole culture in itself.

His said the main concern of the Church is service to the people and education is deemed as an efficient tool for moral upliftment. They have opened many churches and schools/colleges in last two and a half decades. Before that, Churches were forbidden from Arunachal. So, many churches sprang up in Assam dotting the border just across Arunachal, back in 1970s and 80s. The prospective and bright students would be sent to Shillong, the main NE centre with many convent establishments since the colonial times. This picture changed after 1990. In fact, the Church of Nyokom Lapang we were visiting was the first Catholic Church in Arunachal. Now more than a hundred Churches dot the region of around 30 km from Bandardeva-Lekhi-Naharlagun-Itanagar – the capital complex. This is obviously because of inter-denominational competition – may it be American Bapstistss or Lutherean or evangelical Pentacostals – each one trying to earn religious merit by winning more converts. So much so that they try to poach each other’s followers for which allegedly there is some material benefit. And the people too keep shifting from one Church to another for better luck… It’s difficult to ascertain the truth in such allegations but these are made by some people of other tribes regularly.

Father Tommy showing us his new project - a new school he was building - in the heart of the capital region. He then urged us to meet the Bishop once before leaving Arunachal.
Father Tommy showing us his new project – a new school he was building – in the heart of the capital region. He then urged us to meet the Bishop once before leaving Arunachal.

Not all the Christian education institutions are operated by the Church. There are wider philanthropic organisations within the whole netwrok like Don Bosco which run many schools/colleges. Unlike their counterparts in Maharashtra however, most of these schools are neither good enough nor reputed for their quality. Even suchlike dedicated people find it difficult to harness a talent in this remote and difficult region. (lets not think of the government services then) Nurturing educational institutions requires long, hard and patient leadership. It seems to be a common theme amongst the more analytical of locals to compare the output of students graduating from RK Mission School (Narottam Nagar/Alo) or VKV schools (Itanagar/Pasighat) with that of Don Bosco and other missionary schools – even the teachers from government colleges engage in this exercise to prove their point. And that point being that though VKV/RKM are relatively less endowed – their students are brighter and make better of their careers.

Not all fathers are probably equally dedicated. Some consider education as means to de-culturise the generation-next while some come across as sincere social workers. Our Father Tommy seems to have belonged to the second category. The college he conceptualised, started and groomed in his previous tenure at Ziro – Saint Claret College – of which he was the dean for many years also – has won all round praise for its quality delivery, even by the RSS people. (We will discuss the education sector in a separate article soon)

As the education sector first started in Pasighat – the region occupied by Adi tribe – these people got an advantage of early starter – by a generation or so. VKV was the first and thus today Adis are less affected by the conversion. And these people are in the various government posts and professional jobs. Nyishi people however, residing in the central part were benefited most by the missionary schools as their area was first opened to the Churches about little less than three decades ago. Today, most of the Nyishis are Christians. Nyishi tribe is also more populous and boasts of controlling the region around the newly settled capital – Itanagar. These people thus control the state politics to a large extent. The incumbent Congress CM – Nabam Tuki – belongs to Nyishi tribe and is a regular attendee of the Church manned by Father Tommy. One bench in the hall was carrying his name as a donor. There were a few names of other MLAs too. Churches thus have a very important role to play in community formation and also act as conduit of political influence.

To the people who are steeped in social custom, religion does not matter much as community ties very strong. They don’t care much about religious sanctions. Father does carry a lot of moral weight but he too can’t be seemed unreasonable. Tobom, a girl belonging to Galo tribe from Upper Siang – said she is a Christian and a child of her father’s second wife – without any regret or inhibition. These things are common and not contradictory for them. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to as long as they are all Galos. This feels strange. Any expansionary religion acquires the folk colours and becomes regionalized in due course of time – the same story is being repeated here. However, the real issues are not these. These are apparently irreconcilable contradiction between allegience to geographically bounded nation-state and world-religions demanding supra-national affiliations – the issue of primacy in short. To many people, this difference is the real basis of the problem. To a liberal opinion nowadays, such exclusive nationalist viewpoint is abhorrent and unnecessarily bellicose, creating rifts. To a typical nationalists, on the contrary, other affiliations must be secondary to the primary relationship with a nation. They seem to think that when the chips are down and the push comes to shove – by dictat of zero-sum game – one has to be chosen over another. And the right choice is not automatic – it has to be nourished in peacetime.

To be continued…

Arunachal Diaries – 7

And here comes the topic of Religious conversion.

It’s a complex topic, with many layers. Personally speaking, I like to remain on the side of the constitution. Who doesn’t? But our constitution is a law on a higher plain. It certainly lays out principles but it also requires contextual interpretations, it’s not as black and white as it may appear. Secondly, there is a vast difference in what we read in national media and what happens on the ground. Attaching motives is easy. I am trying here to paint what I saw and heard. None of it is my own opinion – you may call it a partial perspective at best if you like.

(It’s better to have given such declarations nowadays where labelling someone is a common practice and discourse level is down to the level beneath common sense, muddied in rhetoric, with people having no patience in general)

We all have been hearing/reading about the North Eastern theatre, its importance to missionaries, its geostrategic importance in today’s world and the new Great Game. Ram Guha explained in his book how the Baptists wanted to carve out a separate nation out of it during 1947 negotiations. In the Great Game East, Bertil Lintner talks a lot about NE and its recent history – including China’s support to Naga separatists. GK Pillai, ex-secretary to the home ministry has explained in many articles and speeches about the relevance of conversion in the whole security architecture – he even said that the NSCN people take their cue about talks with the Indian government from the Church outside India. Indian national media is rather naive and apathetic to what all happens there but it’s not entirely their fault (more about it later). In short, in NE, the religion question is not only about individual freedom and community rights of local people – it’s steeped in international games and it can’t be denied. I also feel that it’s a best barometer of Indian Republic – its unity and integrity – as the Preamble deftly calls it.

With Father Tommy of the Church of Nyokom Lapang - the first Catholic Church in Arunachal opened 26 years ago.
With Father Tommy of the Church of Nyokom Lapang – the first Catholic Church in Arunachal opened 26 years ago.

Christianity in the originally almost-tribal NE is a very convoluted subject. Frankly I had my reservations before going there, had imagined some vague picture, some arbitrary idea. While some of it has washed away, and some streaks are strengthened by the field experience. To start with, NE is a huge region with each state having its specificity. And then there is a huge diversity within. Not all Arunachal is animism/totemism following tribal. And most of them are certainly not primitive.

In the west of it (and also at some places in the east of it) there is a Buddhist majority. These people follow Tibetan Buddhism. Tawang Monastery and the claim of China over “Lower Tibet” is a well know topic. The Monpas as they are called are very sweet and peaceful people. They are in Tawang and West Kameng districts. Ranjit and Nitin were in Bomdi La who experienced their culture. I noticed two monasteries in Itanagar – one was of Tibetan style whose foundation stone was laid by His Holiness Dalai Lama about a couple of decades ago. And other was of Hinayana people. It’s said that, like baniyas from Gujarat and Marawari sahukars, these people do such grocery business; indulge in small money-lending business all over. Their problems are different. They are not worried by conversion as their original religion itself is well evolved, institutionalised and strong. They are in more in contact with Guwahati than with Itanagar because of geographic reasons. They already have a world identity.

The conversion issue is with tribal communities. Not all are equally affected. There is inter-tribal power play as well. And there is also inter-denominational competition between the Christianity too. The Father we met was bent on denigrating the Anglicans as false religion to start with and he did it more than once. Probably, it’s a part of the Catholic faith to denounce Anglicans by denying any legitimacy. His name was Father Tommy. A Keralite from Kottayam. Kottayam is kind of Pune of Kerala with the tradition of culture. Kottayam dialect is assumed to be the standard Malyalam benchmark as is Bangalore/Mysore Kannada or Puneri Marathi. Naturally, these people tend to carry some kind of air of cultural superiority and derivative moral authority. Kottayam is also the strong fort of Christianity in Kerala and Kerala is a strong fort of Christianity in India. Many fathers in rest of India are from Kerala and so were many in Arunachal too.

Catholics have their own father-creating colleges called seminaries. These seminaries teach the students about divinity, bible, and history of Christianity, impart them organisational skills and people talking skills. In the end, the students receive a degree, duly authorised by the University in Serampore. There tens of such seminaries all across India, including one in Pune from where I come. It’s called Union Biblical Seminary. Most of the students here are from NE and some from Nepal and Bhutan as well. Anyway. The important thing is their course structure. The whole education goes on for around a decade, in which they are also taught more than basics of other religions. That’s a good thing. I can hardly imagine a Ved-Path-Shala in Pune teaching the disciples about Quran and Old Testament. But the Fathers produced from these seminars are well-equipped with a strong ‘purva-paksha’, well read and knowledgeable. They are transferrable anywhere in India or abroad under the organisaiton manned from Vatican. As India administration has revenue districts and police districts, the Vatican also has divided with world into regions and provinces. Arunachal Pradesh is the only state in India, we were told, to have 2 Archbishops. Most other states have only one. I can only presume it’s because of work load in the remote land.

To be continued…

Arunachal Diaries – 6

As I said, Arunachal State finances are crippled because of lack of any substantial local revenue source. Hydropower generation is thus a very lucrative and attractive solution to put paid to this central assistance dependence. The whole state however seems to be divided over this issue. Many outside interests are involved, some giving well-intentioned support while some giving support only to advance their disguised agenda. Even the opposing parties can be divided into these two categories – concerned opposition and those whose real intentions dressed up as concerns. It’s not very difficult to apply a motive to everyone and huge sums of money are involved. The development as an industry is at exposition with all its trappings of splendour and gloom, hope and dismay.

The question of whether to build huge hydropower dams in the Eastern Himalayan region has many complex dimensions and to answer it in simple yes or no would be a pointless exercise. Firstly the basic question is of structural viability in seismic zone V which Arunachal is. Then there is the questions of water holding capacity and sustainability in the region where there is a lot of annual rain (highest anywhere in the Himalayas) which has caused loosening of the surface soil of this youngest of the alpine mountains. All the rivers carry tons of silt while landslides are frequent. The question of ecological destruction is one and that of project affected displaced villages is another. However, considering the abundance of land and sparsity of population, resettlement should not be a big issue. Social costs will be there for every development project but the mitigation of such costs in Arunachal is possible. The political mobilisation in the state is very different from the other states, its basically either along tribal lines or mostly a student politics. Tribes are geogrophically segregated and thus politically also. Its all manageable.

Famous Hornbill - killed.
Famous Hornbill – killed.

More serious is the problem of infrastructure or lack thereof. Taking huge turbines and other equipments to the actual site locations in the hilly terrain with no roads is not simple. Not everything can be heli-dropped. Moreover, the evacuation infrastrucutre too is virtually absent. The government is hoping for the consequent (presequent?) infra construction. Its a difficult job though. The proposed East-West Industrial Corridor will be at the foothills only. The road along the bank of Siang which goes in the N-W direction is only for one valley and that too is not upto the mark yet (not to forget its seasonality). Modi proposed a new border road from Tawang to Walong but it’s just a new prosoal as of yet. The Trans-Arunachal Highway is supposed to connect 11 district HQs, but it’s only a khayaali-pulao for more than a decade now. Project Beacon in Kashmir is excruciatinly slow but something is moving on the ground at least. In Arunachal, its all in the papers. BRO is good but very sluggish. GREF gets the work done but we all know about its efficiency. Private players find it difficult to come for a variety of reasons. Its primarily a state responsibility and the state has failed miserably.

If any development project is thrusted upon the local populace without its consent, it becomes like Baglihar. Baglihar dam has become something like an icon in JnK where people treat it as a symbol of ‘haughty central government attitude’. They claim (without any factual basis whatsoever) – that all the power generated is being sold to Punjab and Delhi and the locals get pittance in return and the huge power cuts continue in the area around it – one often hears it at corner tea-shops and in drawing rooms. Such animus feeling is very detrimental for future development. In Arunachal, the process has to be of consultation and consensus. However, in democracy, the more we talk, the less we do. Everyone has his own opinion. The ten-headed Ravana laughs while reeling under the pressure of Mount Kailash, nothing moves. All that the open talk shop ensures is delay and possible denial. C Northcote Parkinson in his fantastic caricature of bureaucracy has lampooned this official process. He says that if the bureaucracy doesn’t want to do some things, they talk more and talk public about their intention to do it only to ensure that it gets abandoned in the end. On the other hand, the important things are generally get done in silence.

In a tribal house at Tezu in Lohit district. The practice of shikar is still very common, its an economic need as well as a social compulsion.
In a tribal house at Tezu in Lohit district. The practice of shikar is still very common, its an economic need as well as a social compulsion.

As far as the hydropwer is concerned, Assam has some real issues to grapple with considering it’s a lower riparian state. It fears flooding as well as contraction of water flow. All the water that it receives comes from Arunachal and it does not want to lose control over it to the politicians of the not-so-friendly-neighbouring state.

International dimension of hydropower is also crucially important especially when India does not have any water-sharing treaty with China, neither does China subscribe to international water-sharing regimes. China’s occluding strategy and high-handed behaviour along with its economic might, history of successful top-directed efforts and Tibet imbroglio obfuscate the whole cooperation and breed nothing but suspicion. There are some latest reports of data-sharing and China allowing Indian hydrologists to visit the upper reaches of Yarlung Tsangpo. But these are hardly any cause of optimism and no long term solution. India wants to be an early bird by appropriating as much water as possible in probable future legal battle over the sharing. The battle is on for the future status-qou-ante-bellum. India, however, has to take interests of Bangladesh also in consideration before going ahead. India is not unknown for similar inconsiderate behaviour with her smaller neighbours in the past.

Economic viability is to be considered especially when the upfront cost is huge and about half of the projects are said be constructed by private players with certain kind of risk sharing arrangement with the government. Now this is crucially important. There are other sub-dimensions to it. In the past, it was found that the generation potential of thousands of megawatts was artificially inflated, without any serious, credible and scientific ground survey. Some private companies when reached the place after bidding found it difficult to start their operations. Second is the issue of ILP. Arunachal cant provide hundreds of daily wage labourers. Even the education system there is not well developed and neither is accepted by the society as yet as a necessary component of development (more on it later). Finding full time Arunachali employees as managers and engineers is also again very difficult. Thus any dam building and power-plant construction/maintenance will require it to employ outsider non-tribals. Simply bringing the labours from Assam and Odisha requires ILP. The turnover rate is huge and unpredictable in inhospitable land with unwelcome people. Even if the sufficient labours are found, getting their replacement and then obtaining ILP everytime may put the work to halt for some time. It becomes unsustainable from business point of view. India is not the British Raj anymore where Southern Bihar and upland Tamil country used to be the catchment areas for slaves and girmitiyas.

The city of Itanagar, situated in the hills but sprawling like any other urban space in India. It does not have a single slum. That doesn't however automatically mean that the civic services' provision is in good condition or even present.
The city of Itanagar, situated in the hills but sprawling like any other urban space in India. It does not have a single slum. That doesn’t however automatically mean that the civic services’ provision is in good condition or even present. The city is also witnessing indiscriminate use of the unsatiable JCB earth movers. The hills are being flattened. In the rains, half of it flows away as debris while other half gets covered under landslides, leaving harldy any flat tabled land behind.

This is true of not only hydropower but any future industrial development. ILP, additionally makes it impossible for outsiders to purchase land. An outsider can rent it but can’t purchase it. This has created a kind of rent-economy where in cities, all the shops/apartments are locally owned, but are rented to outsiders for operation. Most of the shops that we saw in Naharlagun-Itanagar belt were being operated by Biharis and Punjabis. Locals hardly want to do regular jobs. For any industry for that matter, it becomes a strenuous job to maintain economic activities ongoing for the lack of property right and rigid labour market.

(The conclusion of our discussion as was – Carpet policy decisions don’t benefit and the solution has to be thought differently for different river valleys. There are five of them with different geographic and social/demographic characters. It’s better to treat them differently. One or two sample mega dams can be built as model and then we can think of the rest of the state with enhanced capacities and accumulated experience. There are other ways also to generate revenue like horticulture and tourism but all of these have their own pros and cons.)

ILP thus has to be revoked say some. There are other dimensions to it as well. Father Tommy from Kottayam was at ease with it. He said it does not matter for him whether ILP remains or not. Most of the fathers come from outside, especially from Kerala but they don’t face any problem. The Churches are built on the lands donated by local tribesmen. The Arunachal Vikas Parishad (AVP) people also came across more concerned about the overall ecological impact and wanted ILP to stay to keep the Arunachal identity intact. I found their interest was more pro-conservation of tribal identity only because the modernisation onslaught was supposedly emanating from the spread of Christianity. The common people seemed to be very conscious of their tribal identity as well. Each tribe has one special word for non-tribals which are partly pejorative as well. Adis refer to outsiders as hareng. Many of them do it innocently. But the lines are drawn. They are afraid that as Bengalis, Biharis and Bangladeshi Muslims have inundated Assam, the same may happen, the Bangladeshi Muslims are stopped in Assam only because of ILP. Once ILP is removed, the land-hungry people will change the whole face of their homeland by altering its demography. This is not an isolated opinion but quite a mainstream, lots of people we talked to expressed this opinion. May be.

To be continued…
(Preview Photo – Sunset in Khonsa, Tirap-Changlang area. Credit – Mr. Aniket Marne)

Arunachal Diaries – 5

View of the Himalayas from Tezu (HQ of Lohit district). Credit - Mr. Gaurav Anap
View of the Himalayas from Tezu (HQ of Lohit district)

Take for example the precarious financial condition of the Arunachal State Government. All and sundry we met were very concerned about this. The issue of ILP and the condition of state economy are intertwined closely.

One fine afternoon we met Mr. Daulat Hawaldar (IAS, AGMUT Cadre) who is Finance Secretary to the State Government. The objective was to understand the problem of state finances. But he actually came across more as a student of social-psychology than a finance secretary. He either dodged the pointed questions as if they were insignificant or diverted some of those to ‘meta’ issues. He was more at ease with discussing philosophical and ethical dimensions. He also seemed verry much interested in dissecting human nature. Sometimes he went on comparing the social psyche of common Goans (most of his postings were in Goa) vis-à-vis that of various Arunachali tribes. Apparently, he was not very happy over his deputation in Arunachal. Very few people are. One DC, who came to inaugurate one of our district centres, openly castigated and ridiculed the locals for their inability to work. The purpose of his visit was to motivate the students to take up to the competitive examinations. On the contrary, he just foredoomed them. This was his frustration speaking.

Before leaving Pune, we were told about the ease with which one can meet and speak to senior government functionaries. It’s true. It’s very difficult for a common man to get into the office of a DC or a DM in Pune. In Arunachal, you can just walk in. As simple as that. And the officials too will entertain you, will engage with you. Half of our group went to the houses of CM and LoP unannounced, without appointment. CM was not at home then but the LoP gave around 30 minutes of his time. He also offered some tea and biscuits.

With Mr. Dault Hawaldar, Secretary Finance, Arunachal Pradesh. (IAS, AGMUT Cadre).
With Mr. Dault Hawaldar, Secretary Finance, Arunachal Pradesh. (IAS, AGMUT Cadre).

Tribal egalitarian culture (not so egalitarian actually but more about it later) may be the factor, I thought. After reaching there, however, I came to realise that other factors are much more dominant. Firstly, the tribals have very less patience with the government machinery. They tend to get their way. Mr. Hawaldar said that by the time the file reaches the top, the people run out of patience. They barge in, and ask the officers in Secretariat to sign on. If denied for the sake of due diligence or even some procrastination is hinted at, they may create a situation. He learnt to understand and solve the problems right away, in front of them, even if on the legal borderline sometimes. It takes a colonial rule after all to inculcate the sarkari habits…:)

Secondly, the officials seemingly don’t have much to work to do. At district places, people don’t come with their problems to the DC. They don’t see the government as their maai-baap. They have their own social system, basti people, tribal chief, kebang and dao to take care of daily problems. There is no single beggar in the whole state. No one is orphan, for the larger family takes care of orphaned children, provides for them. So much so that one small girl we met could not differentiate between her real brother and her neighbour. If some calamity takes place like burning down of bamboo houses (which happens regularly it seems), the whole basti comes to rescue, each family bringing ten-twenty bamboos, and build a new house in two days. Collective efforts at their best. This culture too is fast eroding due to modernisation. Army is also present at many places, creating parallel structures, especially in the eastern and the western districts of Arunachal (and border districts too).

In sum, many officers there don’t have much to do. Shweta/Trupti/Pooja could meet Industry Director of Arunachal State in local Adi Temple during weekly prayers and the very next day they were invited to his office for tea. He gave around one hour of his time. Mind well, this is Itanagar I am speaking about, the state capital. At all the coaching centres in other district places, either local DC or SP came for course-inauguration. Tourism secretary came and talked for over an hour at Itanagar centre while Chief Engineer of Public Health Department gave more than 2 hours for Naharlagun inauguration.

More interesting is the condition of non-Arunachali officers like Hawaldar sir. We secured his appointment by sending him one simple sms only half a day in advance. He asked us to come at 4 o’clock and then called us at 3.45 to ask why we had not reached his place still…! He apparently was standing in the verandah of the state guest house since then and was waiting for us. Incredible…! Away from the family in Goa, he must have felt very alone. And finding someone speaking Marathi was a kind of feast for him. He spoke for two hours, non-stop and kept speaking his mind regardless of our questions. It also indirectly indicates towards how even well-intentioned and capable non-tribal senior officers are received by locals.

We also came across some non-Arunachalis in NGO sector. They had made Arunachal their home, and Arunachalis also had accepted them as their own brethren. May it be Shekharji of RSS, Father Tommy of the Catholic Church at Nyokom Lapang, Kalyan Dutt Sir of PWD, Prof. Prakash Panda of DN College or Vijay Swamy Sir of RIWATCH. These people have devoted major part of their life for Arunachal.

Before going any further let’s first finish other and critically important dimensions of the issue of ILP. I will wind up the ILP in the next article and then move on.

Road to Tezu.  Nature's Bounty.
Road to Tezu.
Nature’s Bounty.