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“Jhum Cultivation … With Us”: Clarification

Mr. Th Mangminthang Gangte, at the outset, I express my gratitude for your rejoinder to my article “Jhum Cultivation must stay with us” published in The Sangai Express on 10/02/2011. Hadn’t you put up such rejoinder, this piece of article might not be written for public reading. I feel, you and I are among the few who think seriously for the betterment of tribal people who are excruciating and struggling in the hill areas of Manipur. To locate myself, I belong to Poumai Naga tribe who lives in the interior-most part of Senapati District and therefore one who experiences the hard reality of tribal life. I am, by profession, a Christian minister, and presently pursuing theological studies. Mr. Gangte, although we both have the same concern, our location (place of settlement) and profession possibly will make a big difference in our worldview. While appreciating your views, I still believe that even without replacing jhum cultivation in its entirety, there are ways and means to enhance the economy of the tribal people and subsequently raise their living standard.

Tribal people’s method of cultivation may appear to be ‘crude’ and ‘undeveloped’. But it has sustained life since time immemorial. I have not heard of tribal people who had died of starvation and hunger. I have not heard of ‘beggar’ in tribal society. Although each year’s harvest is crucial, this economic system keeps them alive at all times. I fully agree with you that time has changed and along with it increased human population and hence needs. However, to believe that jhum cultivation is the only means that tribal people depend to meet their daily needs is wrong. No tribal community spent 365 days in Jhum field. They have other sources of income to meet their needs. They domesticate animals and birds. They involve in various types of handicraft and weaving. They have lots of forest products too. In Jhum field, rice is not the only crop grown but varieties of vegetables—chilly, millet, cucumber, jowar, pumpkin, cabbage, mustard leaves, garlic, leeks, various types of beans and potatoes, yam, carrot, tubers, etc. So jhum cultivation is not just about a ‘few bushels of paddy’ but much more.

The State Government must construct good transportation system connecting all the hill areas so that villagers can bring their surplus to the market, sell their produce and get what they need. In this way, jhum cultivation, although may not be able to meet all their expenses, continue to form part of their food security.

Mr. Gangte, I think there are two ways to look at large scale deforestation and commercialization of medicinal plants, herbs, flowers, in the tribal areas. The first, I would say, is due to State’s negligence towards the tribal people. No worth-mentioning Government school exists in the hill areas. Education is privatized and marketised. People buy education. There is no good Government-run hospital in the hill areas. When a person gets sick, s/he has to be taken to hospital which is either in Kohima or Imphal. To meet all these mammoth expenses and other needs, tribal people were forced to cut down trees and sell. With no regular electricity in the hill areas, trees were cut down as the main source of energy for household fuel and to keep them warm. Hence, jhum cultivation is not the sole agent of deforestation in the hill areas.

The second factor of deforestation and commercialization of natural resources is due to changed attitude of the tribals in the course of time. I have no doubt in saying that tribal people have great sense of respect for nature. Tribal religion (call it animism?), as practiced in my place, believes that spirit(s) inhibits in all things. If any person wants to break a big stone, pull a monolith or cut down a big tree or a part of jungle, prior permission is sought from the inhibiting spirit. Nature was part and parcel of their life. They only take what is required from nature and give time for regeneration. However, tribal’s worldview on nature was changed by dualistic teaching of Christianity and by modern education that devalued traditional knowledge system. This has (unconsciously) prepared ground for tribal people to exploit and commercialize mercilessly their resources that were their livelihood. Hence, the problem today.

Mr. Gangte, corruption among the elite groups—politicians, engineers, contractors and powerful people—is a cause of great concern as far development of tribal people is concerned. Whatever funds or schemes granted by the Central Government hardly reaches the targeted people/group. I think tribal people suffered the most of this disease. Think of Public Distribution System (PDS) in Manipur. Is it effective? States like Tamil Nadu, provides 35kg of rice to all BPL household per month at Re 1 per kg. Other essential commodities such as sugar, edible oil, kerosene, etc are also provided at discounted price. In Kerala, old-age pension salary is increased to Rs 2000 per month. What’s our State Government doing for the poor, the vulnerable and the tribals? Various welfare schemes and entitlements exist only in paper in Manipur.

The economy of Manipur is also hampered by various underground movements. Millions of Rupees is spent by various underground groups in procuring arms and ammunitions. If that amount is diverted for procuring food items, no one will go hungry. Apart from collecting various taxes from people, frequent clashes among the underground groups and with Indian armed forces have restricted economic activity. The State sponsored AFSPA had stabbed to the very core of Manipur’s economy by creating war-like situation and hence insecurity—politically, economically and socially. Everywhere in the world where there is conflict and war, people remain poor.

Another disturbing trend that is haunting tribal people is the State imposed Autonomous District Council. By turning ADC into a toothless tiger, the State Government is trying to control completely all the hill areas. The present ADC of Manipur is based on The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971, which unlike ADC under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, has no legislative, executive and judicial powers vested upon ADC members. What would happen to the food security of the tribal people if all their natural resources come under the complete control of State Government?

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that tribal people can maintain food self-sufficiency even without giving up traditional form of jhum cultivation, if the State Government sincerely utilizes all funds meant for the tribal people and if all food entitlements and other welfare schemes reach to the tribal people in the hill areas. The State also must ensure that Govt schools and hospitals run effectively. All types of corruption need to be dealt with iron hand. The continuous pressure of neo-liberal globalization (capitalism) towards the State to back out from various welfare programs and schemes is one of the greatest threats to both economic and social security today. Livelihood security needs both the active participation of the State and local people. We must join hands and fight together for the rights of the excruciating tribal people in the hill areas of Manipur so that coming generations do not suffer like we do!

*The opinion is written by ZK Pahrü Pou.

*The writer can be reached at zkpahr@gmail.com

*You can read the original article here

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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