Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Domestic Brain Drain - Antidote to Progress !

There is a question that is troubling me for some months now. What made me decide to build my career outside my home - Assam?

This is an important question. If some of us believe that Assam can be a happy prosperous place by becoming sovereign or otherwise, it would not be possible if we decide to leave Assam in hordes at the slightest possible assumption of trouble or opportunity?

15 years back, I don't even remember if I even gave a thought to the option of staying in Assam. My parents always wanted me to explore. It was obviously certain to me at that time that I was not doing my Masters in Assam. It was obvious that grass is greener in Delhi (or Mumbai).

Today, I don't seem to understand why was it so obvious that it was easier to build a career in a city which I had never seen and known? Was it the influence of media that we read, saw and heard? Was it the greed for a good life as portrayed by the media? Was it just cooler to look part of the happening cities?  Or was it just hopelessness that nothing can happen in Assam?

Today after spending 12 years in Mumbai, I am not sure if it was easier in Mumbai or if I am better today? Yes I am richer than my parents hoped.

On the flip-side, I am 37. I am divorced. I have no kids. My parents are alone in Assam. I am in a place which I can't call my own. I can't relate to mischal-pao, coconut gravy, and bada-pav. I don't have neighbours, khura-khuri, borma-jethai.  I don't understand the local language and culture to relate to Ganapati, Navratri etc. Husori nedekha bohu bosor hol (Its been years that I celebrated Bihu).

Also, I see that many of my friends, brothers and sisters in Mumbai are not as lucky. They are struggling hard to survive the city, with the hope that things will be better some day. There are 'strugglers' in the television and film industry. There are security gaurds, waiters, salesman...and the list goes on... with just hope.

Is it that hope that brings us out of Assam? Is there no hope that rupohi axom (beautiful Assam), as Dr. Bhupen Hazarika had said, will ever be a reality? Or is it that we don't have the vision to build Assam, as we work hard to build our individual careers? It is evident that if we just work hard individually building our own careers in Assam, Rupohi Axom will be built.

That didn't struck me when I was growing up. We all get suck up to the lure of migration, which is nothing but brain-drain. I didn't think that I have to earn 5 times more in Mumbai (or Delhi) to live the same life, as I was living in Assam. I didn't understand the pain of living away from your school friends, family and parents, of our kids learning Hindi more prominently than Assamese, of missing the smell of the wet earth of Assam.

I would like to say in BOLD that its not TRUE that staying back in Assam is a regressive thought. And making a career in Mumbai (or any metro) is any easier. 

It is time that we bring talent, knowledge and resources back to our home states. Internet and Mobile is bringing the world closer, and enabling opportunities for everyone. Businesses have become easier to operate.

Assam is rich in many natural resources and has a relatively healthy literacy rate of 73.18% as per the 2011 census. The wage cost of labour is also lower. It has a few infrastructural bottle-necks such as road and electricity, but that would improve once citizens of the state become productive economically.

With FDI in multi-brand retail, Assam can garner investments to have cold storage facilities, giving a boost to organic farming and the food processing industry. Likewise, there are opportunities that can be tapped in various out-sourcing models of business (BPO, KPOs, MPOs etc). Technology related outsourcing (software development, search marketing etc) can also be taken by the youth of the state, to bring in finances into the state.

It is a high time that all of us staying and working outside Assam should help in this cause and drain our brains a bit to start the economic engine of the state of Assam. Migration of labour into the other states has to stop, and like the earlier days, every Assamese village, cities and towns should become self sufficient, flourishing and happy.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

I went and saw Kokrajhar, and then Assam.

I thought I would be a happy man after giving the much needed clothes, utensils, toiletries and other such relief items to the affected victims of the Kokrajhar violence.

I was wrong. I have actually become an angry man. It is heartening to see all the lost faces with no hope and aspiration for the future. I had gone to a camp which had Bodo people from 4 neighbouring villages. Three of the four villages were burnt down by supposedly Bangladeshi Muslim settlers. The fourth village came to the camp out of fear. Understandably, bodos are a minority in that area.

When I asked one of the youths to elaborate what actually happened, he told me the most disturbing story ever. He said, "they burnt our huts, took our cattle in vehicles that came from the cities, and killed all our pigs. They even took everything that we could have used to build new huts."

There were 75 families whose houses were burnt. If we assume that they must have had around 75 cows or goats, then somebody has actually planned to move 75 cows or goats to another location. Transporting 75 cows or goats would require over 5 big covered trucks!

One of the accused by the common word of mouth is the President of the main opposition party - Assam United Democratic Front, Maulana Baharuddin Ajmal. Although he is known as the perfume baron having retail presence in whole of the middle east, it is common speak that one of his businesses is exporting cattle meat slaughtered in Bangladesh and Assam to the middle east.

Is it possible that the cattle of these violence affected Bodo villages are ending up as exports? If that is reality, then there are reasons for concern, anger and frustration for the majority population of the state.

If we go down memory lane, it looks as if these violence were destined to happen. It is not a problem of today. Even the British rulers had warned about the dangers of the socio-political-economic impact of the influx of immigrants from East Bengal into Assam. In 1931, SC Mullan, Census Superintendent of Assam, wrote: "Probably the most important event in the province during the last 25 years — an event, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than did the Burmese invaders of 1829 — has been the invasion of a vast horde of land hungry Bengali immigrants; mostly Muslims, from the districts of Eastern Bengal…".

It was a correct prediction. Assamese people have shown repeated disgust over this immigration issue, the worst being the Nellie massacre of 1983 that left 3,000 people including children dead. With the AGP Government elected on the context of this immigration issue, failing to deliver on the promise; and ULFA dis-integrating due to fear, greed and politics, forcing the top leadership to take shelter in the very Bangladesh, the bad blood and frustrations in the minds of the people of Assam, have been building silently.

Today, Bengali speaking Muslims are a greater force in Assam than what the census highlights. More pronounced is their religious identity and sentiments. When I was growing up in the eighties, I don't remember seeing any of my Muslim friends, uncles and brothers wearing their traditional white cap, and trying to grow a beard. It was very rare that one could see a group of Muslim men or women only, except on a Friday in front of a mosque. I don't remember any of my Muslim friends learning Arabic and the Koran at home. Not that it is bad to learn Arabic or the Koran, please dont mis-understand. I am only referring to the change of attitude.

Today, as we drove around the major cities of Assam including Jorhat and Sibsagar, we could clearly see a sizable population of distinguishable Muslims in polarised groups. They were wearing the traditional dress and the white cap. I met a principal of a local college who is a Muslim born to a Brahmin woman, and married to a Hindu woman. I was shocked to hear that he is being forced to teach his daughters Arabic and the Koran. He himself has never gone to the Mosque. He is the typical Assamese Muslim completely mingled with the Assamese society that I was used to seeing in Assam.

The day we came back to Guwahati from Kokrajhar (August 28, 2012), it was an Assam Bandh that was called by the All Assam Muslim Students Union (AAMSU). Assam has not seen a more trouble-some 'bandh' in the recent past.
  1. Houses were burnt in Barpeta after there was a scuffle between AAMSU supporters and shopkeepers
  2. Media was attacked and injured in four different towns - Goalpara, Barpeta, Samaguri and Tezpur.
  3. A police vehicle and another vehicle belonging to a civil servant was burnt in Tezpur
  4. In lot of places, police had to open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas shells to disperse AAMSU supporters which came out onto the streets with sharp objects. 
The bandh was called to press the demand for scrapping Bodoland Territorial Council and arrest of its chief Hagrama Mohilary. It was therefore surprising that the AAMSU supporters were so active and violent in the non BTC regions. In Sibsagar, which is considered as the heart of Assamese culture, the police had to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control when a group of bandh supporters were turning violent in their attempt to impose the bandh.

I have been told by a local reporter that Sibsagar does not have a single AAMSU office. This leads to the question that the rioters during the AAMSU bandh were perhaps not AAMSU members. They were common Muslims, supporting the cause of other Muslims. This indicates the dangerous trend of religious polarisation in a state known for communal tolerance and classless-ness.

It was a black day for Assam. The communal harmony that I knew existed was conclusively becoming a thing of the past.

The bandh was followed by a press meet by ten media associations demanding an apology from the AAMSU leadership. It appealed to all editors of newspapers and news channels to not entertain any kind of news of AAMSU for a period of 3 months. Jorhat and Sibsagar saw people coming out on the streets in thousands shouting anti-foreigners slogans. They went back in time to the early eighties to pluck out slogans like "Aei jui jolise, jolisei, joliboi" (This fire burns... and will), "Bangladeshis go back, go back, go back" and "Bidexi husiyar" (Foreigners beware). The full-throated chant was taken up by banner-waving school students to grandparents, reminiscent of the unending processions taken out by protesters three decades ago.

Niren Sharma, a student leader during the Assam Agitation, said, "The events occurring over the last few days shows that illegal migrants are more organised and strengthened and the problem has become more acute. Because the people have felt this, they have come out in such large numbers without being forced. I cannot say whether only one such procession here will serve the purpose but this has to be hammered into the government". He further added that this protest would make the next generation alive to the gravity of the situation.

Assam, I felt, is gearing towards another rightful agitation phase against the apathy and in-effectiveness of the state and central Government, and the bureaucracy. Pitifully, even the Chief Minister agreed that the centre delayed in taking a decision in the Kokrajhar violence, which could have otherwise averted the disaster.

Assam always had the seed of dissent against the central Government from the pre-independence era and it seems to me that the seed will germinate into a full blown agitation for a sovereign Assam in the pretext of the unsuccessful handling of the Bangladeshi immigration issue by the Congress Government at the state and the centre.

I too hereby join the fight for an immigration-free Assam.

Bidexi Husiyar...
Joi Ai Axom.