Archive for the ‘Meghalaya’ Category

Rights Group Exposes Children Mining Scandal in Meghalaya

June 8, 2010

8mining1 Kazuko Ito (left) with Hasina Kharbhih at the press conference in New Delhi

New Delhi, Jun 8 : At least 70,000 children, mainly from Bangladesh and Nepal, are working in hazardous and inhumane conditions in mines in the Jaintia Hills area of Meghalaya in northeastern India.

An international human rights group and an Indian NGO have urged national and international bodies to investigate.

India has many mechanisms to address child labor but they are ineffective in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, Kazuko Ito, secretary general of Human Rights Now (HRN), a Tokyo-based international human rights group.

Meghalaya comprises three hills districts – Garo, Jaintia and Khasi.

An HRN team collaborated with the Impulse NGO Network, a Meghalaya-based NGO, to study the child labor situation in the Jaintia Hills from May 31-June 2. The team visited three coal mines and interviewed 45 people, including child workers.

Ito said they found most children below 14. A 12-year-old boy told them he has worked there since he was eight.

The children also work in extreme danger with few safety measures. They cut coal in deep underground holes with little air supply.

Ito said her team felt suffocated and made a hasty retreat after going some 1000 meters into a coalmine hole.

The team quoted some elders as saying middlemen duped the children promising easy money for simple tasks.

Hasina Kharbhih of the Impulse NGO Network alleged that the mine owners are also guilty of extrajudicial killings as they lock up children in closed mines as punishment and many die.

She said her group has worked in the Hills for the past five years and had reported the matter to the federal Social Welfare Department and National Human Rights Commission, but so far no action has been taken.

The NGOs want international monitoring bodies such as Commission of Inquiry of ILO and UN Special Rapportuers to look into child trafficking and extrajudicial killings in the Jaintia Hills.

They also want the Indian government to sign a bilateral agreement with Nepal and Bangladesh to prevent child trafficking and prosecute offenders.

The groups also want international business communities to stop buying coal from Meghalaya until the mine owners stop using child labor.

[ via ucanews ]

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Kids in The Pits

June 6, 2010

By Sanjib Kr Baruah

coal mines meghalaya Shillong, Jun 6 : At 13, Badal Rai’s days are filled with nightmares. Every day, early in the morning, he lowers himself into a one-metre-diameter hole in the ground and descends deep into the darkness below. With a torchlight fitted to one side of his head, the frail-framed boy crawls and starts digging with his pickaxe for coal – for Rs 200 a day. Welcome to the hellish world of Meghalaya’s rat-hole mines, a place where the sun never rises.

Claustrophobia is a non-issue. Rai’s fears are whether the deep burrow will cave in to bury him alive or whether he will be able to gasp for breath when water fills the narrow tunnel. In vain are his dreams of going back home with enough money to his parents in Nepal.

Tales of frequent accidents and deaths due to cave-ins of mine walls, sudden floods, falls in the pits and suffocation abound in these death holes, as do stories of quiet burials.

“In my five years here, I have seen and heard about countless accidents which occur with alarming regularity. Deaths are commonplace. There is no one to keep track. Everything is given a quiet burial here,” says Purno Lama, a 34-year-old mine manager from Lad Rymbai, about 19 km away from Jowai, the district HQ of Jaintia Hills. “Children are preferred because the rat holes are small in size and it is not easy for large-sized adults to enter these tunnels,” he says.

While the local media have often reported such accidents, it is difficult to quantify these accidents. The reason: coal mining is an unregulated activity in Meghalaya because of Sixth Schedule laws that permit private ownership. There are no registration laws for the labour employed nor are antecedents of the miners verified. With no documenting authority and lack of health facilities, almost all deaths and accidents go unreported.

“Getting the exact figure of deaths or accidents is impossible as none of the mines are government-registered. Whatever we know has come out through interactions with child miners and managers working in the coal pits,” says Hasina Kharbhih, team leader of the Shillong-based Impulse NGO Network that has been doing seminal work on the child miners.

“During my last visit to a coal mine near 8 Kilo in Jaintia Hills on April 22, it was a child miner who passed on the information that an accident in his mine had killed a teenager just three days prior to my visit,” she says.

Meghalaya is estimated to contain about 600 million tonnes of coal reserves. There are approximately 5,000 rat-mines, most of them located in the coal-rich Jaintia Hills in places like Lad Rymbai, Lad Sutnga, Bapung, Lakadong and Khliehriat.

The mines are of various shapes and sizes. Some are just a small and crude opening of one-metre diameter where Rai works, some have big openings of about 36 sq metres and are equipped with creaky bamboo ladders to the bottom of the shaft which can be about 500 feet deep with four rat-hole tunnels leading away at the bottom. It is to these narrow burrows that child miners are made to crawl to chip away at a coal seam.

These primitive rat holes pockmark much of Jaintia Hills’ undulating landscape which must have been a sight to behold before the mad rush for coal raped the lush green region of its natural beauty.

“The inhuman conditions in the mines have to be seen to be believed. No medical facilities exist and safety equipment for the child miners is something never heard of. There is no water supply, no sanitation facilities,” says Kharbhih.

Robbed of their childhood, the child miners are a submissive lot here because of threats, beatings and corporal punishments like being locked away in mine shafts in the darkness for long periods of time. In many cases, these children have been sold by their own relatives for as little as Rs 5,000.

Mine-owners deny the use of children in the mines. “No children are employed in the mines. They are like our own children, why will we push them to the mines,” asks Wonderful Shullai, an owner of five working mines. But he keeps mum on being asked if he can vouch the same for all the mines.

[ via Hindustan Times ]

No Power Cuts During FIFA World Cup, Promises Meghalaya Govt

June 3, 2010

fifa 2010 logo Shillong, Jun 3 : Meghalaya Power Minister A.T. Mondal Wednesday promised that there will be no power cuts during the FIFA World Cup matches to start in South Africa June 11.

“We are concerned with the sentiments of soccer lovers and football players. Soccer lovers can enjoy the World Cup matches,” Mondal told legislators during question hour in the assembly.

Mondal urged the people of the state to pray for more rain so it improves the power situation in this mountainous state.

Meghalaya, which was once a power surplus state, has now become power deficit. The state could generate only 175 MW against the peak hour demand of 650 MW, which is exclusively hydel-based power generation.

The state witnesses load shedding daily after the water level at Umiam dam reservoir dropped due to scanty rainfall.

The minister said the load shedding in various district headquarters and in Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya, is fixed as per the quantum of power available in the area.

“The load shedding will continue until the power availability improves,” Mondal said in reply to a question.

The 84 MW Myntdu Leshka hydro electric project is also expected to be commissioned to ease the state power deficit.

This Health Minister Can’t Tell AIDS From HIV

June 2, 2010

Rowell Lyngdoh Shillong, Jun 2 : Meghalaya Health and Family Welfare Minister Rowell Lyngdoh on Tuesday admitted that he did not know the difference between AIDS and HIV.

“These are technical terms. I require notice for the reply,” Lyngdoh told legislators during question hour in the assembly, when Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator James K Sangma asked him the difference between HIV and AIDS.

Lyngdoh is a senior Congress legislator and deputy chief minister in the Mukul Sangma-led ministry.

While Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus, AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the disease caused by HIV.

Adviser Pariong, who is a parliamentary secretary in the government, also challenged the minister on cases of HIV/AIDS in the West Khasi Hills district.

And what prompted Adviser — that is his name — to ask a supplementary question was that one of his close friends was an HIV victim.

Taken aback by the ignorance of his minister on HIV/AIDS status in West Khasi Hills, Adviser stood up and asked several questions on HIV/AIDS, which the minister could not reply.

Earlier, Lyngdoh informed the assembly that 330 HIV cases, including 131  HIV positive females, have been detected between 2002 and 2009 in the state.

“East Khasi Hills district has recorded the highest number of cases at 279, followed by Jaintia Hills 25 and West Garo Hills 23,” the health minister said.

On measures being given for treating those affected, Lyngdoh said: “If they are found to be HIV positive, they are provided psycho-social support and linked to treatment and care through anti-retroviral treatment, but their identity is kept secret as per NACO guidelines.”

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma was nonplussed when Leader of Opposition Conrad K Sangma sought for his intervention after his deputy fumbled on several occasions.

However, it was Independent legislator Manas Chaudhuri who came to the minister’s rescue by saying that it had been hardly one month since he took over as health minister.

India Urged to Ensure Safety of Nepali-Speaking Populace in Meghalaya

June 1, 2010

By Kosh R. Koirala

meghalaya bandh Kathmandu, Jun 1 : Nepal Government has urged the India to take urgent measures for the safety and security of the Nepali community in the bordering areas of the Indian states of Assam and Meghalaya.

Issuing a press statement on Monday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) regretted the killings and eviction of Nepalis living and working in Langpih area on the border of the two Indian states. The Ministry Spokesperson Durga Prasad Bhattarai urged the Indian government to act immediately for the security of Nepali community living in the areas.

The MoFA’s call to the southern neighbor comes in the wake of the alleged communal violence and a standing ultimatum to the minority Nepali speaking community by the indigenous Khasi community in Langpih area on the border of Assam and Meghalaya. Reports said at least 17 Nepali-speaking people were killed and thousand others were forced to flee following a series of attacks in the communal violence in the third week of May.

Langpih village, about 60 km from Guwahati in Assam and 140 km from Shillong, has been a bone of contention between Assam and Meghalaya. The area has often hit the headlines since the Assam government laid the cornerstone for a health center there in July 2008.

Latest series of violence ensued after four people were killed and several others injured in firing by Assam police personnel at Langpih village on May 14, following a clash between tribal Khasis with Nepali nationals at a weekly market.

The MoFA spokesperson Bhattarai said Nepal government has already taken up the issue of the alleged communal violence against Nepali community with the Indian government and is closely assessing the situation there.

Various organizations in Nepal have protested the alleged killing and eviction of Nepali-speaking population in the troubled Langpih areas. On Monday, Youth Federation Nepal, the youth wing of the ruling CPN-UML, submitted a memorandum to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, demanding security of the Nepali-speaking populace in the area.

[ via Asian Tribune ]

‘Lookout Notice’ Against Publisher Over Jesus Image

May 31, 2010

smoking-jesus Shillong, May 31 : A ‘lookout notice’ has been issued against the owner of a publishing house that printed a blasphemous image of Jesus Christ in a school textbook, the Meghalaya government said Monday.

Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh told the state assembly that the notice was issued after the government declared Indra Mohan Jha an absconder.

The owner has been on the run since the Shillong bench of the Gauhati High Court terminated his interim bail March 15 and directed him to surrender to the authorities.

Lyngdoh said that the government had registered a criminal case against the publisher.

The objectionable pictures of Jesus Christ were found in the cursive writing exercise copies at a private school in Shillong and was brought to the notice of the church in February.

The New Delhi-based Skyline Publication had produced books meant for Class 1 students.

The controversial picture created a furore in Meghalaya. Several Church organizations and NGOs denounced the publisher.

The Great Mother of Hills

May 30, 2010

By Ranjita Biswas

A treasure trove for anthropologists, ethnographers, and nature lovers — that is how India’s Northeast has often been described.

tribals Khasi women performing a traditional dance.It is the home of numerous tribes and sub-tribes in the surrounding hills and the Brahmaputra Valley and scholars are still trying to unravel the origin of many tribes, the roots of their social customs, and their individual languages.

Even taking into account this vast diversity, the Khasi and Jaintia people of Meghalaya, literally the land in the clouds, stand out with some unique features. For example, their matrilineal social structure and megaliths erected in memory of the dead. 

As you drive up to Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital (formerly it was known as Khasi and Jaintia hills, part of Assam, and now it includes Garo hills too) the beauty of the landscape  enthralls the city-bred soul. Dotting the road are eateries and small shops where Khasi women wearing their traditional dress, Jainsems, sell pineapples and bananas. Now added are cash crops like strawberries.

But the nagging thought remains, why their social structure is matrilineal (the Garo hills has this tradition too), something apart from other tribal societies around though admittedly, their women too enjoy a better social status than their counterpart in the Gangetic valley. However, customs like property rights going to the daughter instead of the son set the Meghalaya society apart. There might be a clue in the word Khasi itself.

Linguists say it is a combination of two words: kha (born) and si (ancient) mother. In short, born of the ancient mother.   

Another difference is in their language. Khasis, like many tribal societies in this region did not have a written script and the oral tradition (ki parom) continued through centuries till the British came. The Christian missionaries introduced the Roman script to give shape to the Khasi written word (1841). However, those familiar with the Northeast also comment that the language sounds different from languages used by most tribals here.

To unravel these two mysteries one has to fall back on what the pundits say. Renowned linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji, PR Gurdon (The Khasis), J H Hutton — all of whom had worked widely in this region found interesting insight into the uniqueness of the people of the Khasi hills.

Their research shows that the Khasis had migrated from somewhere in the Cambodia region and the great plains of the Mekong river. “The Khasi people belong to one of the earliest groups of races migrating to Northeast India,” writes Hamlet Bareh in The History and Culture of the Khasi People. They came through the traditional route of migration from South East Asia to the fertile valley of the Brahmaputra that is through the Patkai Hills in the east near today’s Nagaland. “It is interesting to note that there is a matriarchal tribe called Khasi in Laos which is associated with the Moi and Rade Jarai groups of clans,” Bareh writes.  

Social anthropologists trace matrilineal social customs to parts of Sumatra, Cambodia, among Khasoas of Laos, and parts of Vietnam, linking migration of the Khasis to the Northeast.

Gurdon too found many affinities among the Khasis and Mon-Khmers of the Far East.

Because the belief is strong that they are all descendents of the ancient mother divided into individual clans, traditionally, marriage within the same clan is prohibited. In Garo hills, where clans are divided into maharis, a man is not supposed to marry a girl of the same mahari. Some pundits believe it was ordained so that there is no intermarriage and weakening of the race.  

The language is another clue to the Khasis’ origin. Most of the tribals who also migrated to this region, for example, the Bodos, speak a Tibeto-Burman language but the Khasi language is affiliated to the Palaung dialect prevailing in Myanmar and Indo-China belonging to the Mon-Khmers, a branch of the Austro-Asiatic society.

With the arrival of the missionaries a majority of the Khasis converted to Christianity  but the Jaintias had long been followers of Hindu religion. The word Jaintia seems to be Aryanization of the original word Synteng (children of  ancient mother) into Zaitein and then Jaintia.

Interestingly, as early as the middle of the eighth century reference is found  of a kingdom of stri-rajya, literally kingdom of women, which is identified as the Jaintia kingdom (Calcutta Review, 1867).  

From Shillong on way to Cherrapunji, the wettest place in the world, one comes across unusual megaliths or menhirs dotting the countryside. As they jut out to the sky they paint a sombre and awesome sight. They are often compared to the Stonehenge erections in England, though they are far apart geographically. However, Hutton drew attention to groups of stone ossuaries in North Cachar Hills in central Assam, now renamed Karbi Anglong district, and concluded that this is the way the Khasi migrants travelled en route before finally settling down in the present location. Megaliths or funeral burial urns had once been widespread in Tonkin, Indonesia and Myanmar and Hutton concluded that the practice was brought along by the Khasis to this region.

Because of these traditions, a visitor from outside finds these hills a little ‘different’. One of the best times to get introduced to the local culture is during the autumn dance festival of Nongkrem. People congregate at a place called Smit, off Shillong, to enjoy the festivities which celebrates a good harvest and pays homage to Ka Blei Synshar, the ruling goddess of crops. The Nongkrem dance is actually a part of the pom-blang (goat killing ceremony) performed by the Siem (king) of Khyrim (or Nongkrem)

In an open field, a group of 22 men with sword, shields and chowries (fly-flaps or whisks) perform Ka Shad Mastieh (dance of men) to the accompaniment of tangmuri (pipes) and drums. They dress gaily in black and white attires of dhotis, full sleeved shirts, embroidered sleeveless coats and turbans which are adorned with cock feathers (u thuiyah).

The women, usually unmarried girls, dance at the centre taking tiny steps, hardly lifting their feet from the ground. Their dance is called Ka Shad Kynthei. They hold down their arms to their sides and have their eyes are demurely cast down. Rich silk clothes and silver or gold crowns adorn them. The Tiew Lasubon (a rare sweet scented golden coloured flower found only in the deep jungles), worn on the crown indicates the purity of women. The hair is worn tied in a knot behind the head but with a long tail hanging down and adorned with silver ornaments at the end. They also wear silver and gold chains, coral beads, bracelets and earrings. These days, young girls often borrow heavy family heirloom jewellery from older people as making them afresh can be prohibitively expensive.

Watching the Nongkrem dance, the mind suddenly flies off to the distant Mekong Valley.

Indeed, in many ways the richness of the ethnic culture of the Northeast is intermingled with the history of migration and its linkage to South East Asia.

The Torrential Luxury

May 26, 2010

By Patrick Bryson

Cherrapunji Raindrops keep falling A pragmatic pedestrian with a makeshift cover on the streets of Cherrapunji

Forget the beaches of Goa, the French architecture in Puducherry or the old school charm of Kolkata. For once, I want a week-long break where there are no photos, no tourists and no landmarks to visit. that’s my idea of bliss.

I first went up to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya when I came to Shillong to get married, five years ago. each time we come home I make the trip up there at least once.

Known in India and around the world more as a piece of trivia — as the wettest place on earth — surprisingly few visitors ever see Sohra (as Cherapunji is known to locals) in that state. the height of the tourist season in Meghalaya — the December- January period — coincides with winter. And from October through to March it actually has a shortage of water.

So the bulk of the tourists, mostly Bengalis or other northeasterners, see Sohra when it is at its driest: cue group family photos around the rusty-yellow the Wettest Place on earth sign, with blue skies and no clouds in the background. then there are the whiners; I have a good friend who said it was false advertising and still complains about the time we took him to Cherrapunji when it didn’t rain.

That’s why I prefer to time my visit with the thick of the rains. there are barely any tourists, and you get to see why Sohra is so famous. the weather is truly old testament in its magnitude. For my first time, in the monsoon, the jeep had to travel from Shillong at jogging pace — with visibility almost zero. As we inched closer the mist grew thicker, the sky got darker and then it hit us.

The sound of so much water collapsing on you like that really has to be experienced first-hand. Just when you adjust to the noise, and you think that it can’t get any louder, Mother Nature turns it up a notch, and then does so again, and again.

TRIFLES
Cherrapunji is home to a bioengineering marvel: living bridges. These are bridges built by ‘guiding’ the huge roots of rubber fig trees across chasms and streams
Nearest airport: Guwahati, Assam

When we finally made it, we headed straight for the local met office. Just stepping out of the jeep and running the few steps to the veranda soaked us, before the officer on duty said that the rain had been sheeting down like that for 17 days, without a break.

Think of the luxury a week of torrential rain like that gives you. I’d take along a well-stocked iPod — think Leonard Cohen, the Clash, some Frank Sinatra — my Kindle, and no phone. they’ve got an old government bungalow up there that would be just perfect for it.

I wouldn’t need to worry about organizing an itinerary, as we’d be staying in. the one day-trip that I might force on myself would be to some of the various waterfalls that populate the area. A glance at the tide vaulting over the cliffs is enough to confirm why flooding is such a problem for our plains-dwelling neighbors. rain that falls in Sohra is said to flow down-stream and across the border into Bangladesh within half an hour.

But on second thoughts I’d rather stay in, and spend the time with my wife. those Shillong-born, like her, absolutely adore the rain. People really do get excited here at the prospect of a good downpour. You’ll never call it gloomy weather again, after witnessing the monsoon in Sohra.

**Australian writer currently residing in Shillong, Meghalaya

[ via Tehelka ]

When Backpackers Came in as ‘Ganja Tourists’!

May 24, 2010

By Raju Das

ganja Shillong, May 24
: Think cannabis. Think anti-drug laws world over. Flashback, sitting blissfully on the banks of Malana river near the Himalayas, high on Malana cream as ‘ganja tourists’.

India’s ancient philosophy, culture and tradition has always fascinated and baffled the world and been the subject of debates and discussions, and Malana cream is just one of them.

“Malana cream is a high quality cannabis extract (hashish/charas) that is named after this remote ancient village in Himachal Pradesh in Kullu valley where it is produced,” Director General of Narcotic Control Bureau, OPS Malik told The Assam Tribune.

Asked if it is legal to take this drug and Malik’s answer is intoxicatingly subdued. “We (NCB) are a drug trafficking control agency. We don’t disturb cultural traditions. So long the use of these substances does not lead to business and trafficking.”

Malik walks a tightrope between his professional callings and India’s age old tradition. “We don’t allow movement of drugs from one part to the other,” he said mildly.

Malana Cream, considered the world’s best Hash or Hashish, at one point of time became so popular that hoards of backpackers crossed continents heaving 3,029 feet above the sea level to Malana village, often dubbed as “Ganja tourists,” for the drug. One Tola (about 11 grams) of Malana Cream costs above Rs 2,000. However, fakes from Nepal now comes much cheaper.

Its not that Malanis are addicts, but use of the drug is closely associated with the socio-cultural practices of these ancient people, who some say, are the oldest practitioners of democracy in the world.

Not just in Malana, use of Cannabis or Marijuana has been closely associated with the socio-cultural lives of Indians, for thousands of years now.

In the West, there has been a growing debate on Cannabis’ medicinal properties, although it has not been proved beyond doubt, only that this plant induces euphoria amongst users. Prolonged use of the drug can cause mental disorders.

“There is research going on about the medicinal properties of Cannabis, but nothing has been proved beyond doubt so far,” Malik said.

NCB, meanwhile, has been conducting raids and seizures and busting international cartels involved in smuggling of Cannabis and other banned substances across India, Malik said.

Each year, India seizes around 1,000 kg of Heroin and 4,000 kg of Cannabis extracts like Hashish and Charas. “There has been a steady decline in the use of Hashish and Charas in India and hence lesser seizures over the years,” he informed.

[ via Assam Tribune ]

Lasubun Festival Celebrated in Shillong

May 21, 2010

By D. Henpilen

Mawphlang Shillong (Meghalaya), May 21
: A large number of people celebrated Shillong’s two-day Lasubun Festival in style, with the objective of promoting the region as a tourist-friendly destination.

Hundreds of visitors thronged the Mawphlang sacred grove to join in the festivities.

Stalls showcasing flowers, pottery, beekeeping, loofah processing, weaving, local food and zorbing were set up. The state’s art and culture was on display for the visitors.

Edward Pakyntein, a visitor, said: “There are lots of traditional items that are shown from the Garo Hills, the Khasi Hills and other art and craft forms from our state. Also music and other things were really up to the mark.”

The Government of Meghalaya’s Department of Tourism promoted the event. Visitors also appreciated a fashion show and a rock concert that formed part of the event.

Syrpai Khonglah, another visitor, said: “We all support tourism in urban Shillong and people really do not get to see real tourism. The main idea of tourism is seeing landscapes and other things, including culture and art. This is a true way pf promoting tourism. We see the beauty and take part and find that entire combination is fantastic.

The festival provided the people of Shillong a chance to experience both traditional and contemporary art forms on a single platform.