Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Commerce, Economic Development and Naamghars. #Assam

Economic activity is an essential activity for any active society or community. It is more so in the current times of liberalization and globalization.

Economic activity can be defined as an act of creating or adding transaction value to any commodity or service. Creating or adding value will lead to exchange of money between the seller of value and the buyer of value. According to well-established economic theories, more the exchange of money, the better becomes the standard of living for the whole society. This is one of the postulates of Keynesian Economics as well.

Economy of Assam is steadily taking a turn to the worst.  The private sector in terms of creating value through manufacturing, service industry, outsourcing industry, rural industry, etc. is almost non-existent. The ‘Government investments’ (and the black money it generates) alone cannot augur hope to a state or community. Also, it is not the Government that can be solely blamed for our economic condition. It is the citizens of the society, and not the elected body that is primarily responsible.

Assamese citizens have no inherent biological or genetic problem that is stopping them from progressing like the rest of the world. There are no geological or climatic reasons that are significant to stagnate a civilization. There are no annual catastrophes apart from the floods that trouble our economic production. We are a sharp. We place emphasis on knowledge. We are perhaps not known to be traders, but the citizens of lower Assam proves it otherwise. We perhaps just became complacent due to abundance for a long time, and it became our behavior and attitude.

It is time we realize and get back on track. It is necessary that each one of us engage ourselves in some sort of economic activity. We all have to add value to live a good life, and for Assam to prosper. The common question is ‘what is that economic activity?’ In my various trips to Assam, I have seen the youth of Assam desperately in search of the answer to this question, almost to the point of extreme frustration. It is a state of helplessness. We have to understand that it is obvious in the scenario of any state or country facing economic depression or stagnancy, and lack of honesty in political leadership. The youth is always the most effected.

The possible economic activities get hidden in the dark clouds of depression, ignorance and exploitation. It becomes a ripe environment for the powerful to exploit, giving rise to the perception that exploitation is the only way to lead a good life. The intent of exploiting gives rise to the act of corruption. It is an obvious analogy therefore that corruption has a relation to the perception of the lack of economic opportunities. As we have seen in Africa and East European countries, corruption is always a greater evil in under-developed economies. Without proper economic activity to create wealth, corruption through contacts, muscle power, and political power becomes a norm.

In Assam, as well, we can see this phenomena taking concrete shape. Earning money through corruption, bribes and other morally incorrect ways has entered so deep into us that it is becoming an accepted evil. Bridegrooms are judged basis his ability or Government job position to take bribes or ‘bahira poisa’.

The private sector has hardly developed in Assam. Agriculture except for Tea is primarily done for personal consumption. Private manufacturing sector is almost non-existent. Assam produces 60% of the Bamboo production and has a significant Water Hyacinth production, but it has not become mass business opportunities. Trading of goods and services is a size-able economic activity, but the Marowari immigrant community is predominantly managing it. Apart from its natural wealth, Assam can be a hub for various outsourcing businesses like technology, BPO and KPOs.

So, it is a irrefutable truth that there are a lot of opportunities for creation or addition of value in Assam that can have demand both inside and outside the state of Assam. With the world becoming a smaller place through Internet and other infrastructural progress, and knowledge becoming the key to economic growth, the opportunities are over-whelming.

The actual question therefore is to answer ‘how to create awareness of these opportunities for all of us?

This is where I would like to take the name of our great saint and social reformer - Srimanta Sankaradeva. He instituted the concept of 'Naamghar' ahead of its times as a place of congregation. Naamghars were instituted as a place of purity where communities irrespective of caste, creed and religion, can get together and form the basis of living in peace, prosperity and unity.

Srimanta Sankaradeva always maintained the philosophy that 'To err is human'. He believed that we are mere mortals and it is impossible to conquer all negative thoughts. He believed in controlling the negative thoughts, rather than in expecting a miracle that all of us will become saint-like, truthful and honest. He believed that if we as a community get together in a holy place everyday or frequently, we can control our negative / evil thoughts. This was perhaps the reason why he thought of the concept of Naamghar to be built as extensively as possible. He built naamghars wherever he went through out his living life.

Naamghar is an active institution even today for over 560 years. We see a Naamghar in almost every nook and corner of the state of Assam. It is a place where the community offers prayer (Naam / Kirtaana) as a group. There is an atmosphere of holiness, which can breed positive thinking. 

These naamghars can become our bed of economic activities in Assam, for all of us, for all Assamese people.

Naamghars can bring together people of all ages (wisdom), all professions (knowledge), and all faiths (culture) to create a productive forum of people collaborating and cooperating for the overall progress and development of the village or locality.

Every village and town has its unique strengths, natural resources, skills and opportunities. Secondly, every village and town today has people staying outside of Assam and India. If we give ourselves one hour for compulsory economic discussions and debates in the naamghars, we will automatically come out with ideas and the ways to execute them. We will find out help and support through social network in terms of finances, knowledge, labour etc. and economic activity through collaboration can be started.

I know it is easier said than done. We have various problems today in the way the various naamghars operate in a very non-inclusive way. It has become the place for retired Assamese and the elderlies. Over the years, it has become more of a religious centre for neo-vaishnavite traditions. We have to first list down these problems facing the institution of naamghars, address them and create overall awareness about the great contribution that naamghars can generate for the upliftment of the Assamese society, in a egalitarian and class-less way.

There are examples of Naamghars where participation of youth in its administration process has created wonders for the society. The youth brings in a new perspective in line with the times, and above all brings in enthusiasm in everything a Naamghar stands for.

Assam has one of the largest socio-religious organizations in the world called the Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha. It has over 6000 primary units with a cultural and literary wing. It has recently started bank operations to facilitate micro-credit. It is great news and a step towards economic progress. All the Naamghars of the Sangha are well connected, and can take the lead in the transformation of Assam towards economic progress.

I shall soon start discussing this thought with the Sangha naamghar in Duliajan, Assam. I request all of you who support this thought process to come forward and take this forward in their own villages and towns. You can contact me at for a discussion of how to make this a mass movement.

It is the time of the youth. It is the time of new ideas. It is not long that Assam will again become a developed state with a comfortable standard of living for all its population.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

'Assamese' in transition and the increasing significance of Naamghars

Assamese society is going through a phase of transition. We are moving from the times of abundance to the times of scarcity. We are moving from a phase of harmony to a phase of competition. We are moving away from collective identity to individual identity.

Like any phase of transition, it is a phase of chaos and instability. It is also true that transition or change is the only constant. We have to adapt to the new times and keep on striving ahead as a community, and as a culture.

We cannot get lost in the winds of change. The communities and cultures who did not adapt to the change have all perished. For instance, I had read that the original population of a lot of South East Asian countries have perished, and these countries are now inhabited by people of Chinese origin.

Assamese culture, Assamese language, Assamese people have to survive the wind of change. We can and will survive, if we are prepared, ready, willing and understand the universal truth of continuous evolution. The only way to adapt and evolve is by working as a team, as a community, together inclusively towards the overall good of the community, culture and language. There will be a lot of reasons that will play a divisive role, but we have to get together with a purpose and with a resolve for the greater good. We have to get together in smaller and bigger units, and talk, share and make action plans for the unit. A unit can be a village, a Panchayat, a club or even a Naamghar.

The unit or place of get-together is very critical to this process of inclusive growth. A particular place has to drive this inclusive growth process. That place should have the credibility of being the symbol of progress, unity and together-ness. However much I think on this, the most egalitarian, equalitarian and a place of purity is our revered Naamghar. Naamghar is one of the most representative institutions of the Assamese community for ages, present in almost every village of Assam.

The genesis of naamghar is very significant in this regard. It was Srimanta Sankaradev's immense wisdom and vision to create unity in diversity, and to create a sense of community and belonging-ness. He had built this institution for the same purpose. It was for people to get together, offer community prayers, perform various group cultural activities and to participate in socio-economic discussions. Anybody from any background could come to a naamghar.

It was the ‘Facebook’ of those times. There were groups having their own naamghars, like we have FB groups today. Group members at each naamghar used to get together every evening after their daily jobs to sing the Kirtanas and other scriptures in the praise of the Lord, and then discuss about the problems of the group among themselves.

Naamghar was built as an institution of purity and immense wisdom. Srimanta Sankaradeva believed that regular or periodic visits to any institution of purity and wisdom would help the people of the community in purifying their thought processes from all thoughts and acts of evil, short-sightedness and maleficence (bad intention). He believed in the phrase, 'To err is human'. He said that it is impossible to become completely free of the all vices and evil thoughts, and regular visits to Naamghars would help us in keeping the evils of the mind away to an extent humanly possible. He designed various art forms such as the Ankia Nat and Sankari Dance, to be practiced and performed in and around the naamghars so that the village folks can spend as much time as possible in the naamghars and keep themselves occupied to lead a very inclusive and positive community life.

Also, naamghars are an inclusive institution. Any progress which is not inclusive, is bound to generate divisive sentiments. If a particular age group, sub-community or gender is not coming ahead to participate, we have to do the necessary to include them. Naamghars were designed for everyone, but with time that essense is getting lost and divisive mentality has entered the corridors of naamghars as well. Many naamghars do not allow Muslim people. The young today hardly visit our Naamghars. Absence of youth simply means absence of new ideas. Since the genesis of naamghar had the essense of inclusivity, I believe we can again make naamghars appeal to everybody. The elder folks have to invite the youth and give them responsibilities to make them feel part of the initiative.

The logic of the naamghar system still applies. It will help in the process of continuous evolution. We should collectively start a revolution in our naamghars to help the Assamese society in these times of chaos, to build a new wave of progress and development, unity and peace.

To conclude, I would just say, "Aha ami adda maru goi naamgharat..." and take Assam into the next millenium.