Sunday, February 28, 2010

Life on the line .

The new barbed wire fencing India has erected for security reasons along the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura has caused homes to be demolished, people’s movements and employment to be restricted, and compensation, as usual, has been inadequate or non-existent

Fifteen days before Jahanara gave birth to her daughter in 2005, her mud house in Navadweepchandranagar, a village near the India-Bangladesh international border in West Tripura district, was shattered by the Border Security Force (BSF). The BSF told her that barbed wire fencing had to be erected there to check cross-border infiltration and smuggling.
“One morning labourers came in trucks escorted by olive green-clad gun-toting BSF personnel. We were surprised because we were not given any notice that our house would be demolished. They were not ready to listen to us. We were driven out of our house. I was carrying my baby,” said 30-year old Jahanara Begum.
“The house – a thatched roof on mud walls -- which gave me shelter since my marriage 12 years ago, was built by my husband himself. The house was demolished so fast that we did not even have time to shift our belongings. I had no shelter. I was standing before the ruins of my house with a swollen belly, which prompted them (security personnel) to laugh. My husband built a make-shift house quickly -- it’s no better than a cow shed -- where I gave birth to the baby 15 days later,” she told a group of visiting journalists.
Jahanara alleged that her husband Yasin Mia, a farm hand, did not get any compensation for the damage to their house.
Jahanara’s house, like that of scores of others, stood in the way of a barbed wire fence that the Indian government began building in 2003 in North Tripura district and in 2005 in West Tripura district. The fencing came up 150 metres away from the open international border.
While security is undoubtedly a concern so should be the lives of ordinary folk like 70-year-old Salimuddi Seikh, who now spends sleepless nights as his house was demolished in one day. “My four sons, all of them daily labourers, lived with me, but now two of them are living in other places and we are living in one temporary house. The house was built by our own hands. All these things were waiting for me to see before death,” said Salimuddi sadly.
The concrete base of the barbed wire fencing runs through the 300-year-old graveyard of the village, which is something the people find really painful.
The fencing had to be erected 150 yards from the international border, in accordance with the Indira-Mujib pact signed in 1971, which said no permanent construction can be made within a radius of 150 yards from the zero line. The ‘Border Guidelines’ signed in 1975 between the border guards of the two countries, the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), reiterated this.
The fencing was required, according to the Indian government, because the international border is too porous. It is a man-made border with no natural barrier like a range of hills or a river between the two countries. It was drawn by the Ratcliff Commission in 1947 without ever visiting the area and seeing the situation on the ground.
As a result, you get absurdities like the international border running right through the house of Abdul Matin at Joypur village, 1.5 km from the capital, Agartala. Matin’s drawing room and bedrooms are in India, while his kitchen is in Bangladesh. While Matin is a citizen of India, his sister who lives in a house 10 feet away, is a citizen of Bangladesh. Abdul’s 10-year-old daughter crosses the international border at least 20 times a day to see her aunt in Bangladesh.
There are thousands of similarly divided houses and farmlands in Tripura as its border with Bangladesh is 856 km long.
A farmer tilling his land in between Indo-Bangla border and barbed wire fencing. at Lankamura
BSF officials say this complicated situation made it difficult to guard the border and check smuggling and infiltration, hence the need for the properly guarded barbed wire fencing.
The fencing though has not only caused homes to be demolished, it has also created huge problems for people living in the 150-metre twilight zone between the fence and the international border.
The homestead and farm of Swapan Mia of Boxanagar in the state’s west district have fallen outside the fencing. As a result, he and his family are confined to this space from evening, when the gates in the fenced barrier are shut, to dawn when they are opened.
“The BSF personnel close the gates in the fencing in the evening and open it only in the morning. So we cannot go to the shops or markets or to consult a doctor at night,” Mia said.
Abdul Sattar, a local journalist, says that in many cases the fencing runs between the homestead and the agricultural land and farmers can enter into their own lands only after the gate opens and must return before dusk.
“There was an instance where a villager could not even go to hospital following a cardiac attack. They had to go to Comilla in Bangladesh for a doctor, where the patient died,” Sattar said.
BSF sources said that such stray incidents might have occurred but usually BSF personnel remain on duty near the gate and they open it in case of need.
Five temples, four mosques, two schools, 13 government institutions, 44 irrigation projects and many markets near the border are now outside the fencing.
According to official records, there are about 8,800 families throughout the state who live outside the fencing and so far they have not been helped with any rehabilitation measures.
A house in Lankamura village in West Tripura district is sliced by barbed wire fencing
The state government says it cannot resettle these people because it doesn’t have the money. Finance Minister Badal Chowdhury told reporters recently that the state government had sent a proposal to the centre for Rs 9 crore in aid for the rehabilitation a long time ago, but has got no response.
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar recently informed the Tripura Assembly that the state government has spent Rs 10 crore in rehabilitation and compensation for 3,900 families. But while some people have got some monetary compensation, which they deem insufficient, they have not got any land.
At a recent public hearing held by the Tripura Human Rights Organisation (THRO), Bhopal Ghosh, a correspondent of Dainik Arohan, a vernacular daily, highlighted another aspect of what it is like to live on the border.
“People living in three border villages in Khowai subdivision – Chamu Basti, Asharambari and Banbazar – have hoisted the Bangladesh flag for the last two years because they live on the other side of the fence and are dependent on the neighbouring country for marketing and treatment at the Habiganj district hospital. These people are from the tea tribe community and the area they are living in is infested with insurgents who use the soil of Bangladesh to launch attacks against India. The BSF harasses the people of these villages, suspecting that they are insurgents or collaborators. So they do not cross the barbed wire fencing,” he told the hearing.
Nearly 700 km of Tripura’s 856 km border with Bangladesh has been fenced and work is now in progress in the remaining portion. Those who are on the right side of the fence naturally welcome it. Sudhir Das, a farmer in Singerbil, a border village in West Tripura district, no longer has to sleep during the daytime and stay awake at night to guard against dacoits and rustlers from Bangladesh. The barbed wire fence keeps these elements out.
“There were Village Defence Groups (VDG) in all the villages in this area, formed with the help of the police,” said Sunil Das, a youth of this village.
A senior BSF official said that border crimes such as smuggling, infiltration, dacoity and cattle-lifting, and movement of Indian insurgents and members of Bangladeshi fundamentalist outfits have reduced considerably since the fence went up.
Purushottam Roy Burman, secretary of the THRO, has raised some pertinent questions: Why should the people living near the international border suffer when the fencing was made in the national interest? Why are they not adequately compensated? Why is their movement restricted?
The Director General of BSF, Raman Srivastava, who visited the border in Tripura on November 23 and 24, 2009 told reporters that the BSF was considering issuing special identity cards for the people who have their homes or agricultural lands on the other side of the fencing.
Fenced off and forgotten
The barbed wire border may be necessary, but to have erected it without giving a thought to the people whose lives it has made difficult is appalling. On September 24, 2009, the Tripura Human Rights Organisation (THRO) held a mass hearing of affected people in the state capital, Agartala.
Here’s what some of them had to say about the manner in which the fence has divided their lives:
Sixty-year-old Sachitra Debbarma from South Sonarai village of Dhalai district: “My mother died on February 22 this year. We used to burn our family members in our own ancestral burning ghat on our own land which now falls on the other side of the fencing. The BSF did not allow us to perform the last rites of my mother on the plea that it would hamper the patrolling of the jawans.
“It has now become mandatory to show our identity cards and list all belongings including number of ploughs, cattle etc. The gate is supposed to open at 6 am but often it opens at 8 am. We are compelled to vacate our lands before the sun sets. When the time of harvesting comes we cannot work in a fixed time frame because animals like wild boars or birds or monkeys damage our crops and we are needed to guard the crops. A fear psychosis has gripped the women in the hilly hamlets as they cannot move easily in the presence of uniformed jawans.”
Manir Hussain of Mia Para (Kamalasagar area) of West Tripura district, a mason, said the fencing has come in the way of his earning a livelihood. “Even if the gate opens before I go to my place of work, I cannot return before it closes. So, now I do not get jobs.”
Mazibal Haque of the same village has been living with his family on khas land for 45 years, so he and his family members do not have the mandatory identity card because cards are only issued to those who own land. “I live near the border, but cannot enter homes and farmlands on the other side for work. My livelihood is at stake,” he said.
Mithun Debnath, a resident of Gopalnagar, a border village of Sadar sub-division: “If cattle from Bangladesh damage my crops or the crop is harvested by Bangladeshis, the BSF does not intervene on the ruse that they have no order from their higher-ups to enter the place.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Living with the Spectacle monkey (contd.)

This Spectacle Monkey considered as 'vulnerable' with total conservation priotiy rating at "five". In Tripura the state government has established Gomati wild life protected area special for this primate's conservation.
For conservation risk this species of Phayer's langur has been placed under Schedule 1 of the Wild Life protection Act 1972/1991.

It is high time that the species is identified as "highly endangered" since its population is decreasing steadily following destruction of its habitat

When the dawn breaks in the winter, the monkeys stay on top branches of trees to get the warmth of the morning sun. Because, the whole night they had to spend under open sky in tree branches.

When it becomes slightly warm at about 6-30 A.M in the morning they start eating the green leaves of trees. It was also observed that the leaves of rubber plants are delicious to them.

Many groups of these monkeys stay only in rubber gardens and eat rubber leaves.
At noon, at around 12 to 12-30 they take rest.
It is also a time for making love. One monkey shows affection to it’s opposite counterpart and even at times they engage themselves in intercourse.
When the sun starts turning red from the dazzling yellow, the groups of spectacle monkeys start selecting their sites of stay at night.

They continue to eat leaves and cross one place to another to find the suitable place. The entire group finally come close and assembles in near by trees.

The monkeys have extreme love for their kids. Generally babies are born from the month of January to March. A one day old monkey grasps tightly his or her mother, who jumps from one tree to another. All the group members show affections to the offspring and like human being the baby is transferred from one lap to another monkey’s lap.

They become furious when any one attempts to attack their kids.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Living with the Spectacle monkey

Even monkeys sport spectacle and they are very special type of primate . It seems funny, but they happen to be the Spectacle Langur of Tripura. Commonly known as chasma Bandar and are found only in Tripura and adjoining parts of Assam and Mizoram.

These small, agile langurs were named as Spectacle monkey because of white rings encircling their eyes giving an appearance of wiring spectacles.

Last winter I stayed for about a fort night in Sipahijala sanctuary, nuzzled in India’s North Eastern state of Tripura, about only 22 K.M from the capital Agartala.

Shivering in the morning, during my hour long morning walk, the ups and downs of the sanctuary, I used to see the monkeys eating rubber leaves.

They live on tree tops and hardly come on the ground- even for drinking water. And whenever any one approaches, they just take flight to dense forest. It is really a typical monkey business, indeed.

Scientists call them Phayre's Langur and local people also call them ‘Dhudhmukhi bandar' because of a pale white patch surrounding their mouth.

Though male and female all wear "specs", they do not like the same "frame", of course. While white and round patch frame around the eyes is the distinguishing mark for males and triangular or cone shaped markings identify the langurs as female.

However, like human being, the specs are absent among the kids.

Like other langurs they also have long tails, spend most of their times in tree tops and eat leaf as staple food compared to the other monkeys.

The tail is blacker at the base but lighter distally. The ventral surface is distinctly white or whitish yellow.

Adult females are slightly larger than their male counterparts. They are lean and thin having a height of about two feet. The weight of the adults varies between six to nine KGs.

The monkeys always live in a group of 8-22, prefer to hang on trees and come down to earth only when they need to negotiate with tree canopy, and well of course, if they want to have a 'walk'.

Researchers say, three South East Asian sub species of T. phayrei are distributed in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

According to Dr Atul K Gupta, IFS, who has done extensive research on the primates here and in the country Phayer's langurs are confined to three north eastern states Tripura, adjoining Assam and Mizoram only, the largest population being in Tripura.

It is likely that Phayer's langurs might have migrated to Cachar in Assam and Dampa wild life sanctuary in Mizoram from Tripura only in recent past.

These areas are close to Tripura and connected by dense ever green forest.
Since of late the forest cover is being lost and canopy contiguity is disrupted the migration seems to have also stopped.

Despite having the similar habitat, presence of these primates were not reported from any where in the region which does not have any land connection with the state.

This fact only strengthens the idea that these bespectacled langurs were orginally from Tripura.
Even in Tripura though the Chashma Bandar is reported from all over the state, they are mainly found in South district than the other three --north, west and Dhalai.

Dr Gupta during his survey of the primates in 1989 found 899 Phayer's langurs from 56 groups in the state.

If the figures of Siphajiala and Gumti wild life sanctuaries are included then the total number of these primates would be more than 1000.

The groups of Phayer's langurs with 8 to 22 members each having their own home range, seem to be very male dominant family. Usually a group comprises of one adult male, 3 to 6 adult females and sub adults, juveniles and infants.

Mother monkey gives birth to her golden brown baby between November and March and she devotes almost all the day for rearing the baby.

The father prefers to either jumping or yawing away his day on tree top and , if alarmed, makes calls sounding similar to 'kha kha kha' . Experts say : these primates have four different types of calls expressing different meanings in their social life.

Although the Phayer's langurs have their definite home range they do not mind if other sympatric species like capped langur, rhesus macaque, slow lorris or hoolock gibbon come to their homes.

Study on these langurs find they mainly feed on leaves of koroi, Harish, acacia and Krishnachura.

to be Continued ..........................

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pilak - A symbol of Hindu-Buddhist cultural affinity

Nestled in Jolaibari, a small town of Tripura’s South District, Pilak, an 8th-12th century archaeological site, stand mute as an eloquent symbol of Hindu-Buddhist cultural affinity as much as the glorious cultural past of the State.

Stone engravings and statues of Shiva, Surya, Baishnabi and Mahishashurmardini stand alongside the statues of Lord Buddha in different places like Shyam Sundar Tilla, Deb Bari, Thakurani Tilla, Balir Pathar, Basudeb Bari and others in a three square kilometer site.

The dominant form and style of the rock-cut images and the sculptures in Pilak carried the influence of Palas and Guptas of Bengal, influence of the Arakan in Mynamer (formerly Burma) and local style, Jawahar Achariya, a historian and numismatist, said.

The number of rock-cut images and terracotta plaques lie scattered in various places of the area, which has been under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, speaking of the State’s past cultural glory.

“The moulded terracotta plaques bear resemblance with moulded plaques recovered from Paharpur and Mainamati in Bangladesh”, Achariya, who studied the history of the site, said.

Thaikhai Chowdhury, an official of the Information Department of Tripura and a Mog tribal said, “ There is a reference of Pilak as Pilakko in the stone inscriptions at Mruhang, the ancient capital of the old Arakan Kingdom in present Myanmar”.

He said that according to the folklore and oral history,there was close cultural link between ‘Pilakko” and Arakan via Chittagong Hill Tracts of Present Bnagladesh.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had taken over the site since 1999 and is now under protected under the provisions of the Government of India’s relevant Act of 1958.

A senior conservation assistant of the ASI, Narayan Chandra Debnath said, a new stupa was excavated at Sundari tilla.

Explaining the importance of the newly excavated site, Debnath says this is a full size Buddhist stupa built in 11th century on the pattern of architecture during the reign of ‘Palas of Bengal”.

Debnath who was in-charge of the Pilak site since 1999, said the stupa had been excavated under the supervision of ASI Superintendent, P Kumaran since Jan 1999 and completed in March 2006.

He pointed out that the stone image of meditating Buddha found in the sanctum of the stupa had “very close affinity to the tribal feature on the mouth”.

A top official of the state government said that government had plans to develop the site for Buddhist tourists of South-East Asia and other places and for this a project of Rs. 150 crore has been submitted to the centre.

The centre will seek financial assistance from the government of Japan, he said. The state government has already developed the site as a tourist spot by setting up a cafeteria and providing other facilities for visitors from outside.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Solar power lights up villages in Tripura

Perched on Killa hill, Tobakla, a remote tribal hamlet in Tripura's south district now shines in the dark with a non-conventional solar power plant supplying energy under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vaidyutikaran Yojana.
A septuagenarian, Bikram Singh Jamatiya is a delighted man today. ''My village is remote which can be approached only on foot. We lived in darkness at night. Now it is different," he told a group of visiting journalists.
"Earlier, we saw electric lights only when we went to Udaipur, the district town, which is about 25 km from the village," he said.
Bikram Singh is not alone. 62 tribal families of the village under Kochigang panchayat of Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) are now beneficiaries of this non-conventional energy source.
The solar photovoltaic plant with a capacity of 10 Kilo Watt has been installed there at an investment of Rs.40 lakh.
''After sunset the village wore a ghostly look as the only sources of light were kerosene lanterns, but we have bid farewell to darkness,'' said Chandrasandha Jamatiya of the village.
The Science and Technology Department, the nodal agency for electrifying the remote villages with non-conventional energy, had initially granted only two bulbs for lighting each family's house.
But with the gaon panchayat approving a fan and a tv set, the department agreed to supply energy for a charge of Rs 10 per item, said Abhabananda Jamatiya, sarpanch of Kochigang Panchayat.
Tripura Power minister, Manik Dey said, "solar energy is being given to remote villages where conventional power is yet to reach. We want to electrify all villages in the state."
He said, the Left Front government was implementing the centrally sponsored 'Kuthir Jyoti programme'.Betweeb 1993 to 2007, electricity consumers increased to 3,54,500 under the programme of which 52,852 families were from rural poor and tribals. 50 per cent rural people were benefited by the programme, he said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unakoti - Ankor Vat of the Northeast?

Unakoti, it’s name meaning one less than a crore, dating back to the 8th or 9th century, is one of the biggest bas relief sculptures in India of gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology and scenes depicting the life of Lord Shiva.
Unakoti, is a 178 km drive from the state capital of Tripura nestled on the Raghunandan hills of Kailasahar subdivision of North Tripura district.
According to Hindu mythology, when Lord Shiva was proceeding to Kashi along with a crore of gods and goddesses he made a night halt at Unakoti.
Shiva instructed the gods and goddesses to wake up before dawn and proceed to Kashi.
In the morning when none except he got up, forcing him to set out for Kashi alone, Shiva cursed the gods and goddesses turned them to stone.
Therefore, ‘Unakoti’ acquired its name—one less than one crore.
According to the Archeological Survey of India, Unakoti dates back to the 8th or 9th century, if not earlier and is the biggest bas-relief sculpture in India.
“Unakoti is the Ankor vat of the Northeast, “said Panna Lal Roy, a scholar and self taught historian ,who extensively studied the archeological site.
“We can compare it with Ankor Vat, because we find an amalgamation of Hindu and Buddhist influences in the rockcut carvings though it is essentially a Hindu religious site with thousands of statues of Hindu god and goddesses”.
These sculptures include figures of Lord Shiva, Shri Ram, Hanuman and Ganapati.
The images are of two types – rock carved figures and stone images.
Among the rock cut carvings, there is a 30 feet high image of Lord Shiva in grey stone carved into the vertical rock face.
A small, rock strewn stream flows besides the figure of Shiva.
The central Shiva known as ‘Unokotiswara Kal Bhairava’ is about 30 feet high including a 10 feet high embroidered head dress.
On each side are two full size female figures—one of Goddess Durga standing astride a lion and another female figure.
There are also three ‘Nandi’ bulls half buried in the ground.
Just about fifty metres downstream, are three imposing images of Lord Ganesha.
There is a gigantic four- armed seated Ganesha and on its side two standing figures of Sarabhuja Ganesha with three tusks and the Ashtabhuja Ganesha with four tusks.
The central Shiva and the gigantic Ganesha are masterpieces.
Sources in the ASI said, some statues were still undiscovered in the jungles which needed to be preserved, while many were taken away by local people for worship at home.
There is talk of UNESCO declaring Unakoti as a world heritage site, the sources said.
There is another myth associated with this enchanting place, according to which Unakoti was the unfinished dream of a sculptor, who wished to make it a place of pilgrimage for a crore of deities.
His dream remained incomplete, as one image was short, thus it came to be kjnown as Unakoti.
Huge religious fairs are held here on Makar Sankranti and Ashokastami with thousands of people arriving and also taking holy dips in Kundas.
There is a tourist lodge in area. Tripura tourist corporation would soon announce some package tours to attract more tourists.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Woman footballer from back water to international field

Gulti Chowdhury, a girl of a remote Brahmacherra village in Tripura’s West district has made her village proud by acquiring a berth in the Indian women’s football team and representing the country twice.

Gulti, who happily joined the rough and tumble of playing football with boys in her teens is the sole woman international footballer of Tripura.
"I love to play football. So I played with boys, because girls did not play football in my village", she said

Born in a poor farmer’s family she was the youngest of five children she was brought up uncared, but had a dream of playing football for the country.

"My aim in life was to play football for country. So, I worked hard in the field and tried to play like a boy", she said.

Gulti was spotted as a footballer by Sunil Sarkar, Physical Instructor of Teliamura School in 1999 while playing an exhibition match at Khowai town.
“Ranjan sir selected me for his team New Millennium Soccer Club. This was turning point of my life", Gulti said.

Gulti played first time in Women Football Tournament at Agartala in 2000. Her daring foot work led to her being selected her as a member of Tripura team.

"When I got selection for state team, I set my target to represent our country. I was very confident of hitting the target”, the woman footballer said.
In 2005, Gulti was selected first time for Indian Junior team for Asian Women Football Tournament in Seoul, South Korea.

"I was delighted because it was my dream which came true. I can’t forget this moment of my life", Gulti added.

After two years, Gulti represented Indian Senior team for Asian Tournament in 2007. She Said. ‘I want to play for my country".