The Stumbling Blocks To Development —The Need To Introspect Within Us—

This piece comes after a flurry of views and counter views exchanged with a fellow writer in this paper (The Sangai Express) recently. For those who come in late, here is the account of what was going then: I wrote that jhum cultivation must be replaced with alternative crops like pineapple, orange, lemon, et al against the backdrop of the many disadvantages it had. A fellow writer, who happens to be a Christian minister, countered that the age-old practice must stay with the tribal as it defines the cultures. The subject, the argument rather, in question covered vast issues from jhum field to culture to blockade to capitalism to AFSPA, to conflict, to globalization to development schemes and whatnots.

While trying to counter his points one by one, the many ills that griped the tribal society at large, to which I’m part and parcel of it, struck my mind and that prompted me to change track on second thought. I must thank Reverend ZK Pahrii Pou for providing me the breaths to express my ‘burdened’ feelings that have been accumulating since long. Besides, we may read this along with the write-ups by erudite scholars, journalists, ‘social workers’, politicians-in-the-making, et cetera, which wolf-downed reams of papers regarding the problems faced by the tribal people of the State.

Inaccessible roads; unreliable and irregular communication link, say like postal service; absence of electrification, not to speak of telephone facilities; want of schools and health centers, were the features of rural areas. Those of us who have an experience of life in rural areas are familiar with such features. But who cares? Of course, we do. Hence the debate. Whom should we blame?

We have the wont to pass the blames to someone instead of pondering where the shoe pinches. We are disinclined to find the problems and the solution within us. The case in point here is the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the hill area. Far from questioning the effectiveness of the system, I would rather say that only a handful of the tribal population has known about it. Similar is the case of other Centrally-sponsored developmental schemes like IAY/PMGSY/GRF, etc. Come to think of it; the last time our village got PDS item (a mere five liters of kerosene, which I am not sure is coming under PDS or any other schemes) was one year back! Ha! The blame for this, I feel, could not only be attributed to the Government or its agencies. Recently, I have learnt that a few barrels of kerosene meant for distribution to the public of our area were sold off by this agent of ours, who got appointment through politicians.

When confronted by some sensible minds, the agent justified his deed though! Likewise, funds for most of the Centrally-sponsored ‘welfare-oriented’ schemes have been embezzled by some ‘leaders’ (by virtue of their connection with politician and bureaucrats) among the tribal themselves.

To cover up their corrupt deeds, these ‘leaders’ resorted to the game of passing the buck to someone else. In the course, they convince some of their likes which resulted in the uninitiated people barking up the wrong trees. We buy health and education indeed. In the absence of good schools and health care centers, tribal people in the hill go to Imphal or other places for basic (no question of ‘better’) health facility.

The Government has set up PHSC/PSC/CHC and schools at some ‘strategic’ places in the hill areas. Yes, there are some employees who refuse to go to their place of posting. But in most of the cases, as far as my knowledge is concerned, it is these professed leaders who reduce the institutions to nothingness. Mind you, these are pseudo-leaders who try to make enough space for corruption, nepotism, partiality, et al to breed ground.

There is no dearth of people who determinedly wet their fingers in anticipation of getting their share from the salary of Government teachers posted in their villages. In the pretext of engaging local teachers in the Government schools, these people would deduct a formidable percentage out of the total salary. They would never miss a chance, like a hungry lion roaring for the next prey, to extract their fair pound of flesh first. The small residue would only go to the ‘hired’ teachers. Believe it or not, it’s a common practice!

Who cares for midday meal? Who cares that children are supposed to get free food and free text books at school? Bags of rice and dal meant for children would fly into thin air. Items under Anganwadi centers are monopolized by the workers. It must be remembered here that ‘outsiders’ were never given a chance to be appointed as workers or helpers in a village. Then, to whom should we fix the blame?

Though all senior citizens are entitled to get pensions under old age pension scheme, the same turns out to be the proverbial ‘sour-grape’ for those who did not have any ‘connection’ (not necessarily with big politicians or bureaucrats) with someone who has the knack or authority.

In an attempt to do justice to this piece of writing, it was also learnt, out of inquisitiveness that the Government is providing assistance for construction of low-cost latrine to every rural household. But who is aware of the scheme? Not long after I came to learn about the scheme, some individuals—fast/advanced minds—have already bootlegged the material assistance meant for it! If I may add, everyone whom this writer talked with in some areas of the State have complained of hitches here and there and moaned of discrepancies in the implementation of MGNREGA; but the irony is that, none dare to lodge any complaint. With exception to some cases, most of the fund meant for tribal development has been drawn even if it doesn’t reach the targeted beneficiaries.

We tribal people are sometimes bandy and at the same time maintaining rigidity. We are adaptive to change in some spheres while we are not in other domains. For instance, the culture of ningol-chakouba or jeans culture has a seized on us unquestionably while there are some quarters who contested the idea of replacing jhum cultivation.

The concern here is the need to free and harness the trapped potentials; to end the blame game. Let the solutions to our problems come from within. That we may introspect when and where the system went wrong. We must diagnose the bug. We must fix it. Along the way, we may find security in every walk of life.

(Courtesy: Th Mangminthang Gangte)

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