Sunday, October 25, 2009


She stepped into my life all of a sudden, stepping into the emptiness of my world one dark night, and there was light. Her beauty illumined the darkness, overwhelming me. She bore dignity ; i could clearly see the marks of violence on her...she must have been a sufferer. Her soft brown eyes spoke of pain so deep of agony, so intense wrung my heart to see her cry. A drop of tear rolled down gently as it caught the crimson streaks of the halogen lights on the dark street outside; and the tear glistened. I could see the streets wear a canopy of clouds overhead... and the tear gleamed, for a moment shredding the darkness. She had uttered no word, yet the tear said it all. Her silent words were familiar, and yet I could not fathom its meaning. In all these years within this car, I have reflected upon many faces: some pretty, some pale; some bright, some brutal. In all these years within this car: I have seen it all...and yet perhaps... I felt I could see in her a rebellion, an insurrection (?). As we moved through the serpentine roads, the driver deftly winding round deserted corners and burning kiosks: my thoughts too veered --before finally halting at the thought of the deaths that were strewn on the streets without. My mind was tormented with myriad questions, but I had no answer...The driver did not know...and nor did she. I was looking at the roads that were leaving us behind; it was my way of life. But she too was looking back. I was a little surprised...but I had no voice to ask. Suddenly, her fair face was turned towards me, glancing at me a moment to tidy a disheveled hair, we were now fast nearing the station. In that fraction of moment, I read her mind: she was only sixteen, and was leaving home, probably, never to return.

Suddenly a pistol crackled somewhere in the dark, a scream rent the still night air, and the girl shrieked. Footsteps could be heard outside, approaching our car, and before I knew what was happening, there was light—the light of a hundred flickering flames. The driver was hauled out by a pair of scarred hands; I could see nothing. The girl had left the car, but I could hear her cry “S-- , S-- ... please leave him brother; I beg of you, please leave him for the Almighty’s sake. It’s not his fault...I persuaded him to come, not he; please don’t kill..............” her voice became fainter. Other voices came wafting across. Hurriedly the ones around me dissolved into the dark night. The driver, beaten mercilessly was groaning outside. The girl was no longer to be heard; while S--, whosoever he was, was probably no more. I felt sorry: but worse was to follow. I could sense a commotion behind me. And suddenly there was light again. I could see the flicker of a hundred flaming torches . A voice was heard: “S--, my brother, what has become of you, O Lord, give me the strength to demolish those infidels. Brothers, I vow hereby, I will not rest until those murderers are killed….” Somebody said, “Hey L--, this is the car which that wench had come, to entice your brother away...And, and that is that driver. You sinner, being one amongst us, you helped the enemy. You scoundrel...” the voice trailed off, but now I could hear fresh sounds of blows, and the driver’s futile cry for mercy….Suddenly there was a large thud,... (ah!) A club fell heavily onto the car. A strong hand, another scarred one, clutched me hard, and with one surge of fury, tore me away from the car, my home....and threw me onto the green grass, now splattered with a bright red ….In a matter of minutes, they had set fire onto the car. Once again, I could do nothing as the bellowing flames glinted on my glassy eye.

Soon it was all over. But would anyone listen ? I had no voice... a mere rearview mirror, I could merely reflect , not speak .

Broken to pieces, I went on reflecting the darkness...

Stuti Goswami

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Vision For Tomorrow

Today being an age of intense competition is one of job scarcity as well: employment avenues are not opening up at the pace in which our colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are churning out graduates and post-graduates. Whether it is in the government sector or in the private sector, it is only the best (in the fray) who can hope to acquire a job in accordance with his/her qualification. However all students are not expected to be equally brilliant nor equally adept in their studies. There are at the same time, many students who nurture interest in fields other than academics. Owing largely to a lack of awareness as well as absence of proper facilities such students are forced to take recourse to the conventional fields of study; and in which (owing largely to their lack of interest and at times inaptitude) time and again they fail to perform at par with their expectations. Though the job market draws in a sizeable portion of the 'qualified' youths, nothing much becomes of the remaining ones; especially those who despite managing to somehow scrap through the portals of college or even universities, have nowhere to go with their kind of percentage/marks. Entrance examinations to many courses are beyond the reach of such pupils. Many of the institutes offering different courses are anything but dupes. Without any worthwhile objective in their minds, such people are the proverbial unemployeds: whiling their time away in meaningless pursuits, or worse still straying towards the wrong side of life. Our theory- based education system often leaves students inept for practical expertise. Critics deem it to be a fall out of the educational policies enunciated by our policy-makers --of post-independent India--(which was) almost a take-off on the British educational system in prevalence during the Raj. As a consequence, over the years we have seen that our educational system has, brewed generations of clerks [both incompetent for manual (menial??) tasks, and seriously lacking in the ethos of dignity of labour]. This is the current state of affairs today, in this twenty-first century when specialization and super specialization is the demand of the hour, in all spheres of activity…Thus in the present, a simple academic degree does not suffice. Nor does remaining fixed in the conventional educational pattern helps as such. In such a situation, the need of the hour is a total revamp of our educational setup with greater emphasis on practical utilization of the knowledge through alternative fields of study. Vocational education can play a significant role in this regard. In addition, such steps ought to be complemented by greater use of IT in education. While many other parts of the country have already woken to this reality and initiating appropriate steps, are already reaping rich dividends, Assam is yet to catch up.
At the same time, there exists, at the other end of the social spectrum, another massive chunk of illiterate and semi-literate young men and women who too are constantly feeding into the burgeoning problem of unemployment. These are the people who belong to the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Poverty forces the young people to leave their studies midway (especially in their adolescence and early teenage), they are easy targets for the anti-social elements who rope them in for their nefarious activities in exchange for a few bundles of notes. In a recent survey, it was reported that out of the estimated twelve-lakh students who are admitted at the primary school level in Assam every year, only about two/three lakh out of which sit for the Matriculation examinations. In other words, there is a student's dropout of nearly 98% from the primary to the secondary levels in the schools of Assam, with the rate of students dropping out in the high school level (from about fifth/sixth standard onwards) being especially high; in fact these figures ranks amongst the highest in the country. It is pertinent that more than the unemployed graduates discussed above, it is this segment of drop-outs/semi-literates that stand greater chances of falling prey to the nefarious circles, which are not few in number. Nine cases out of every ten, these young people are sent to 'work'(by their families and by their situations) usually as child labourers. Despite the many laws framed, till date, the problem of child labour shows no sign of abating, which owes its origin to this problem of poverty. Often, these young children are victims of child abuse which not only has a negative impact on their psyche, but they(as also the environment these young children are exposed to) instill in them seeds of violence and other vices , thus leading them astray, before they finally evolve into anti-social (anti-national?) elements… Rising unrest/strife/crime on all fronts in our society, not to speak of the menace of insurgency offers glaring instances in point. It is this segment of young people, which is in urgent need for a driving force to pull them out of the rut into which they are generally destined to fall once their school education is disbanded. In this regard, vocational education can play a stellar role in ameliorating these menaces, and in the long run in ushering (the youths of our) state into a better and a brighter tomorrow. For it will enable the youth to sustain himself in the present-day world with utmost dignity.
In a way however, this problem is more of self-employment than unemployment. Vocational education provides a many a means of self-employment to the youth. Tourism, event-management, journalism, advertising, gemology, jewellery designing, interior decoration, fashion technology, retail management, handloom industries, pisciculture and other agro-based industries, carpentry, weaving/tailoring, fine arts, mobile repairing, electrician's and beautician courses are a few of the many avenues of self-employment open to the youth; in accordance with his/her interest/aptitude and capability. Given proper guidance and environment/scope, the youth will be able to not only stand upon his own feet, but he can also contribute his bit towards the development of society. Blest with rich bounties of natural resource, many of these avenues serve as excellent foundations on which our youths can carve distinctive and respectable careers through vocational education. However, in spite of its vast prospects, our state is sadly lagging behind the other regions of the country, at least as far as preference and popularity of vocational education is concerned. This is the case despite there being 28 ITIs in different parts of Assam as also vocational education courses at the +2 level in 150 Higher Secondary Schools across the state (which was introduced way back in 1987). Of course the Govt. has already made announcements for opening up more vocational institutes besides upgrading the existing ones. Yet, all this does not suffice in meeting the huge requirements. Also, lack of commercialization, professionalism and the ethos of dignity of labour are only some of the impediments (nay challenges) in the path of popularizing vocational education. Of course, for the youth trying his hand at some or other form of self-employment, initial hiccups are understandable. But then he needs to be determined enough to see through the initial days of struggle and extra hard labour. As a matter of fact, Assam has a long history of entrepreneurship right from the pre-independence days. Maniram Dewan and Lakshminath Bezbaruah were two of our earliest entrepreneurs: while the former was the first Assamese tea planter, the latter was a successful timber merchant. Our youths should take inspiration from these great men who had shown the way, despite all odds…
Today's youth comprise the future of the society. A state in which a considerable chunk of the populace comprises this segment is widely tipped to be one already on the road to progress. Yet it is unfortunate that despite possessing huge reservoirs of natural resources coupled with a treasure-trove of an ethno-historical-culturally enriched human resource. Assam has long remained in the backyard of the nation's socio-economic progress. Though things have looked up in recent times, yet much needs to done. Unemployment has proven itself one of the most potent of the social evils plaguing the state; in addition to providing much needed fodder to the two and a half decade old saga of insurgency in Assam that has virtually crippled the state's economy. All sorts of turmoil have arisen as a consequence of this. It remains with us to vitalize the sphere of vocational education as a means of thwarting this unrest and unhappiness from spreading out further thereby emboldening the vision for a better and a brighter tomorrow.

(**Copyright--Stuti Goswami )

Monday, July 20, 2009


As winter bids adieu, and spring rolls in –accosted by the melody of the cuckoo, the rainbow colours that nature donnes and the aromas that waft the air—life takes on an exciting turn. Bohaag Bihu or Rongali Bihu—that biggest and most colourful of Assamese festivals is celebrated in spring.Being the melting pot of Indo-Burmese, Mongoloid, Austro-Asiatic, Aryan, Dravidian strains of culture, in Assam Bohaag Bihu celebrations reflect the diversity yet the thread of unity that binds all communities in a single strand of harmony…
Underneath we present a brief discussion of the Bohag Bihu celebrations aminds different communities—
Famous for its myriad colours and merriment, 'Baishagu' is generally celebrated in mid-April, Baishagu is the most cherished festival of the Bodo tribe. This festival also marks the beginning of new year for this tribe.
The first day begins with worship of the cow. The next day synchronizes with the first day of the month of 'Bohag' of the Assamese almanac. The presiding deity Bathou is worshipped with offerings of chicken and zou (rice beer). The merriment begins with the young people of each household reverentially bowing down to their parents and elders, seeking their blessings. Bodo women dresed in their colourful dokhna, jwmgra and aronai (attire) perform the Bagurumba or Bardwisikhla dance. The traditional musical instruments played in accompaniment to this dance are kham/madal (drum), serja (a bowed instrument), Jotha (Manjari), Khawbang (Taal), tharkha (a piece of split bamboo), Gogona and Siphung (Flute) etc. It is also customary at the time of closure of the Baishagu festival to offer community prayers at a particular place called 'Garjasali'.
Ali-Ai-Ligang is the spring festival of the Mishing . It commences on the first Wednesday (Ligange lange) of the month of 'Ginmur Polo' (February-March). 'Ali' means root, seed; 'Ai' means fruit and 'Ligang' means to sow. As is apparent from the name, the ceremonial sowing of paddy starts on this day. young boys and girls performed their traditional bihu dance accompanied by the bihu songs that reflect youthful passion and joie-de-vivre.
"Aapong" or rice beer, pork and dried fish are essential for the feast. The Ali-ai-Ligang festival continues for five days ; during which certain taboos are strictly observed—for instance cutting of trees, fishing, ploughing, burning jungles etc.
Bohaggiyo Bishu
This is the springtime festival of the Deori community of Assam, one of the four divisions of the Chutiyas, who are believed to have been members of the great Boro race. 'Bi' means extreme and 'Shu' means 'rejoicing'.
Bohaggiyo Bishu is also observed during mid-April at a stretch for seven days ; which is marked by merrymaking. Unlike other communities the Bishu does not always fall on the Sankranti Day. The Bishu must be preceded by a 'Than puja' and evidently it must start on a Wednesday. Once in every four years a white buffalo is sacrificed which is considered a substitute for the traditional human sacrifice. The Deodhani Nritya, dance is the most important and significant part of the festival. Huchori Hasoti, Hurai Mangoli are other dances associated with this festival.. The 'Deodhani' predicts the prosperity of the village through oracular exercises. The 'Huchori and 'Hurairangoli' , generally sung by the women folk reflect various aspects of a woman's life. 'Aabobo' are the religious songs. According to some people, 'Aabobo' also deal with the origin and culture of the Deoris.

Rajini Gabra & Harni Gabra
This is the annual festival of the Dimasa tribe. Essentially socio-religious in nature, it is generally observed before the initiation of a new cultivation. Rajini Gabra is celebrated during day time. The 'Kunang' or the village headman propitiates the family deity by closing the village gate on the worship date. On the same night 'Harni Gabra' is observed, in which the presiding deity is worshipped for the protection and welfare of the people.
Interestingly, if any outsider enters the village during this festival despite seeing the closed gate, the entire function is considered to be spoilt. The intruder(s) then have to bear the total cost for holding the festival anew.
Rongker and Chomangkan
Rongker and Chomangkan are the two most important festivals of the Karbi tribe.
Rongker is the springtime festival of merriment, celebrated at the beginning of the New Year, i.e. in April. To satisfy the different gods and goddesses for the well being of the entire village, the elderly male folk organise Rongker so that people can be free from diseases and natural calamities for the entire year. They also pray for a good harvest. The women are barred from participating in this festival.
On the other hand, the festival Chomangkan is dedicated to the dead. Primarily a death ceremony, there is no particular time for holding this funeral ceremony. It depends upon the convenience of the people.
There is another colourful tribe in Assam, known as Rabhas. Although the Rabha community does not have any national festival of their own, the different groups celebrate their own festivals. The 'Baikho' or the Springtime festival is celebrated to propitiate the goddess of wealth 'Baikho'. Sadly, the pomp and grandeur of the Baikho festival is almost passé.

Dosa Thoi! Long Nai
This is a very important religious dance performed at the 'Bathou Puja' or worshipping of God-Shiva. In this dance the priestess called Deodhani dances with a bowl of blood of a sacrificed fowl on her head. It is believed that while the Deodhani performs this dance in a trance, Lord Bathou (Shiva) snatches away the bowl and drinks the blood.

They say festivals are the external manifestations of the social behaviour of a people. Scholars have attempted to link ancient beliefs and primitive rituals with the modern festivals. A traditional festival is based on certain rituals ; these rituals which are in themselves enactment of certain myths are based on certain beliefs which aim to take in supernatural aid to ward off evil. Assam is a beautiful instance of an excellent cultural synthesis.
seven days is known by a different name. They are "Goru Bihu","Manuh Bihu",Gonkhai Bihu",Taatar Bihu","Nangalar Bihu","Gharchia Jivar Bihu",and "Chera Bihu" respectively.

(Published in Vivek Jagriti --Bohag Bihu issue April, 2009)

**Copyright--Stuti Goswami