A True Son Of The Soil
|Sanjoy Hazarika |
" I think one ought to give back something to the land that has given him/her everything ," believes Sanjoy Hazarika. And it is the North -East that he is talking about. For that's where he belongs. It would not be wrong to say that this bearded, bespectacled and soft spoken gentleman knows the north-east region almost like the back of his hand. His is a familiar face on the small screen whenever major issues concerning the North- East are tabled for discussions. Hazarika seems to have his fingers in too many pies at one time.
An Assamese by birth, Sanjoy was born and brought up in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. After finishing his high school studies with flying colours, he was fortunate enough to get himself enrolled at the prestigious London School of Journalism. Thereafter he embarked on his fairly long stint in journalism, and has been in the arena for nearly three decades now. He has the distinction of having worked with some of the most reputed publications in India and abroad, namely New York Times, Associated Press, Statesman, Hindustan Times Amar Ujala, besides columns published in regional papers.
For nearly six years now, Sanjoy has been intricately associated with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a highly prestigious research institution located in the capital.
Sanjoy is in fact highly fascinated with the mighty Brahmaputra, which happens to be the lifeline of the state of Assam. He teamed up with noted film director Jahnu Barua to successfully complete a film, A River's Story, the quest for the Brahmaputra, a documentary film on the river. He also has several other documentaries to his credit, all of which have been broadcast on Doordarshan.
There was a feather added to his cap when his book Rites Of Passage was brought out by Viking/Penguin about two years ago. The book extensively focuses on the ongoing illegal migration between Bangladesh and the north-eastern parts of India. Sanjoy has five other books to his credit, all dealing with the various calamities that befell the nation as well certain problems, the solution to which are yet to be found.
Talking with Sanjoy about the North East, would certainly help one to get an in -depth insight into the lifestyle, social hierarchy, customs, traditions,and culture of the entire area. Though based in Delhi, Sanjoy perpetually remains in touch with the NE, travelling there frequently. We at National Network of Education
, finally caught up with Sanjoy Hazarika in the midst of a busy schedule and garnered a wealth of information about the obscure north-east. Excerpts from the interview.You started out as a journalist. How did you shift your focus to the migration problem?
My work on the migration problem is an extension of what I do as a journalist. I don't do too many new stories. What I write on is a natural consequence of my own belief. You see if you happen to suggest an idea, you must have the basis for the idea. What propelled me to write was the need of a realistic policy in terms of the migration going on between India and Bangladesh. It was inside me, and I felt the need to write it all. There was also the need to reach out to the rest of the world and to communicate with a greater number of people.Tell us more about the functioning of the Centre For Policy Research. What is it all about?
CPR is a deemed university .Our job is to disseminate advocate, research as well as to produce work that can be understood both at the public and government levels. One of the primary functions of CPR is to bring the government's policy making, framing and implementation to ground level. The idea is to shed all rhetoric and adopt a realistic attitude towards the problems. In fact it was CPR that initiated the talks between India, Bangladesh and Nepal regarding Farakka waters.My work at the CPR resulted in the book Rites of Passage, dealing with the problem of Indo-Bangla migration.Journalist, professor, author, film-maker, how do you manage to juggle with all these activities at once?
It is very difficult and very challenging. To handle everything at once one needs to be good at time management. Sometimes time management becomes a major problem. However the things I do often overlap. For instance, I get ideas while travelling and interacting with people. During my travels I indulge in talking, gathering information and listening to to others intently. The process never stops .I am always learning a good deal These aspects of my work are interfacing, not complementary. They merge with each other to a large extent, are complete in themselves and interactive. Why did you opt for journalism?
Actually I had started out on life, wanting to teach History, but incidentally, I went abroad at a very young age after finishing my schooling. Also, I know English well, it is one of the few things I am good at. I always look for something new in everything, in everyday life.You are considered an authority on the North-East. Comment. Also, why did you chose the North East as your focal point?
I don't know if I am an authority .But the North-East happens to be a part of my very existence. I have spent a major part of my life there. In fact I am quite fascinated by the Brahmaputra. I have followed the path of the Brahmaputra right up to the border of Tibet. Such a great diversity flourishes along the banks of the river Brahmaputra--lifestyle, music song, agriculture, animals. In fact the river has got interwoven with the lives of the folks who live in its valleys. The prime objective of my work is that more and more should be inducted to the realities of the North-East, whether politically or otherwise. The natural advantages and resources available in the area ought be properly utilised .Iwant the North-East to be better understood by the rest of the country. I also desire to see the various local groups understand each other better. I can write, I have ideas besides wide and varied contacts. Armed with these I can reach out to a greater number of people. I believe one must try to give back something to the land that has given you everything.What is lacking in the North East? What needs to be done?
In the North-East, by and large people have nothing at stake. They greatly lack the sense of responsibility and involvement. Economic and political deprivation is rampant. Whatever funds are provided by the Central Government, for development purposes are eaten up by the corrupt people. The rest of the country treats the North-East merely as an enclave for procuring timber, oil and tea. These commodities are taken out and nothing is put back into the region The overall planning is faulty. In fact the planning for the North-East region should be done there itself instead of in Delhi, hundreds of miles away. The leadership in the North East lacks vision as well practical wisdom as to how to foster better interaction between the various states and groups. No modern /scientific alternatives are provided for traditional practices such as Jhoom cultivation. The ordinary people need to be more involved in the affairs concerning them.
More of local leadership and community leadership is needed. The masses should have the right of self governance. Moreover, the outsiders like Marwaris and Bengalis do not have much say in the local politics. The various tribal groups have political control but no economic control. These hurdles must be overcome and an element of uniformity introduced. For instance, in the three states v.i.z. Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland the existing traditional system can be redefined. There should be some degree of reservation for the Marwaris, Bengalis and Assamese in the hill towns. Also I think in the entire North East,the administration should be made more gender sensitive,and people should get more rights and powers of political decision making. Do you think there is shortage of funds?
No. Rather I think there is too much money. However there is the need to ensure greater transparency and accountability for the funds received. Then it will go much further. Bad administration and improper distribution make things worse. Schemes initiated by the Central Government get thwarted. People are frustrated that nothing works out. The people must get a sense of involvement. What do you have to say about the status of women in the North East?
There are vast differences between the individual states. Gender equality exists up to a certain point. But in Manipur for instance, domestic violence is common. In Nagaland women have no say in decision making at all. . Earlier in Arunachal Pradesh, women could not inherit property. However they fought over the issue and managed to secure the right. But yes I have not come across cases of dowry deaths, as you have here in the north. As for infanticide or female foeticide, they could be in existence but not widely known. It goes without saying, women in the NE have a better standing in the society.What about the literacy scenario in the North-East?
The inhabitants of the North-East attach great importance to education. A large number of young children are attending school. In Mizoram there is almost 98% literacy. On the other hand, unfortunately, the school drop-out rates in all the states are also going up. What is the root cause of insurgency in the North East?
Each area has a typical problem of its own. This is what drives the people to take to the guns. The root cause is the failure of the government to understand what the local people want. People feel insurgency is the only way to make their voices heard. Do you agree that the North-East is lagging behind in tourism?
The governments in the North East and the various cooperatives have failed to highlight the market potentials in the region. The opportunities that exist have not been utilised. The human resources in the region are among the best in the country. But proper programming is lacking. For instance a new flight has started operating between Guwahati and Bangkok, but it has failed to promote influx of foreign tourists. Instead the focus should have been on developing intra-state and inter state transport, roadways and so forth. There are no direct flight between the states except through Kolkata. All the NE states should be internally connected in order attract tourists from the rest of India as well as abroad. Development of these facilities will in turn create more job opportunities for the local people.