Building Institutions

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Building Institutions: the story of NERSWAN and ANT in the North East

NERSWN, Kokrajhar- Asaam

NFI had supported a research organization (Omeo Kr Das Institute of Social Change and Development or OKDISCD) in the Northeast to look empirically at the socio-psychological profile of communities who have been directly or indirectly affected by protracted conflict in the Bodoland area of Assam. The report urged interventions by the civil society in the conflict ridden areas of Bodoland where state government seemed most apathetic and indifferent to minor nationalities and victims of conflict. The head-quarter of Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) came into effect since 2003 as the apex political and governing agency for four autonomous districts of Chirang, Udalguri, Kokrajhar and Baksa in Assam. These districts together are called the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts or BTAD. A visit to the second biggest camp of the six relief camps in BTC exposed the plight of some 1057 Adivasi or Santhal families or 5726 inmates, all of them victims of two most gruesome riots between Bodo and Adivasis in 1996 and 1998. Thirteen years hence, a whole new generation has known the relief camp to be its only home.

Acute poverty and malnutrition have befriended this generation of children and youth well. Lack of education and livelihoods perpetually hound them. Among the camp dweller’s privileges is the government delivery of 10 days stock of rice per family, a lack luster sub centre of the Primary Health Centre and occasional mobile clinics/dispensaries thanks to the recent efforts of National Rural Health Mission. A recent addition is an education centre under the Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) of Government of India. Here more than 250 children huddle under a mud and thatch structure that is passed on as an education centre. The EGS worker is given a measly sum from the government. But it is the camp dwellers who have appointed 4 youth as teachers for teaching their children. And yes, this almost cashless community pays these teachers an honorarium. Families contribute 3 days stock of their rice to be then distributed among the 4 youth. It is under these circumstances that NFI chose to work with North Eastern Research and Social Work Network (NERSWN) that works in Kokrajhar and reflects a vision of an inclusive constructive work that engages all communities and weaves the genuine needs of all communities including Bodos, Adivasis and Muslims who live in the surrounding villages of Adivasi relief camps and are mostly trans-national, illegal migrants from Bangladesh

NERSWN is imparting education and mobilizing the community members of the relief camp into collective groups in order to empower them to resolve many of their problems. They are helping the community appoint five teachers in Sapkata Adivasi Relief Camp with support from NFI. Besides NERSWN is mobilizing women and men groups for engaging them not only with income generating activities but also to advocate for employment, education, sanitation and health through different government programs like NREGA , SSA , TSC and NRHM . In order to accomplish the long term goal of bridging divide by bringing together Muslims, Bodos and Santhal under one roof, various activities on education and livelihoods have a component that is linked to this long term vision of atonement of injustice. These include, for example friendly football matches and drawing competitions between Adivasi and Muslim children from different schools located in Adivasi and Muslim localities, weaving sessions between Bodo and Santhal women etc. While starting with the small initiatives, the NERSWN also wants to deliberately and systematically analyze the situation and thereby intends to develop a pragmatic strategy for long term intervention. Through the long term intervention the organization also wants to engage the influential civil society organization from the diverse communities in building durable peace in the conflict prone region.

Action Northeast Trust (ANT)

NFI, over last nine years, has also helped the Action Northeast Trust (the ant) in Bodoland in seeding itself . Today the ant has developed programs with clarity and consolidated its work on livelihoods and health across 60-70 villages in Bodoland. It grew as an institution and gathered strong vision on peace and development. Direct benefits were visible for hundreds of women weavers who earned reasonable profits out of weaving and selling clothes and for hundreds of women who formed Jagruti (enlightened) groups for social and economic empowerment. Some of these women showed immense leadership qualities and started working as health workers in their villages. There was an indirect benefit too. Women of two different communities that were engaged in ethnic conflicts sat together to weave and learn new skills. In the process they made peace with each other and between communities. While the products churned by them find global markets today, the seeds that were sown for economic benefits now reap peace harvests too. With NFI’s support ‘the ant’ is now running a Northeast based “Development School” (IDeA) that seeks to strengthen the capacities of development workers, state representatives and elected members of local governance systems to address the development challenges of the region. More than 1500 trainees have benefitted so far since 2009. What is encouraging is the establishment of a professional and secular institution at the regional level that has the potential to promote ideas about the role of voluntary organizations in making society non-violent and just, and also build their capacities. It is imperative that in years to come the region’s civil society becomes proactive enough to counter violent and divisive forces and lead both the power-centres and citizenry of the region on a path of constructive engagement with peace.

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