Posted by Dharamjeet Kumar (dharamjeet.kumar14@apu.edu.in) on December 16th, 2016 in 2016-17, Clinton Fellowship Blog

Imagine this, a nice comfortable house with a backyard for some gardening. Then a bigger farm to produce enough for self-consumption as well as selling some to bear the living expenditure for rest of the year. But what if I say that each time you wake up in morning, you will find losing half a meter of land on a daily basis? Think how peaceful the sleep in the following night will be. This is the situation of Karatipar panchayat of Majuli. But the sleep here is still peaceful. Also, in general the land around the river bank is getting eroded at a fast rate in Majuli island. A man who lost about 25 bighas (1 bigha in Assam is equivalent to about 0.3 acre) of land from a total of 30 bighas in the last 10 years says: “During the peak rainy season when I return back to field from a day break, I find meters of my farm land has dissolved into water. While during the rainy season the erosion is highest, but everyday some part is being eroded”.

The cement pillars in the pictures is used to shield the land sides open to the river using nuts and bolts. This is just one example of inefficient effort from the government which can't guard the land even for one season of flood.
The cement pillars in the pictures is used to shield the land sides open to river using nuts and bolts. People often use this example to point out the inefficient attempts being made to prevent erosion. These are unable to defend the land even for one season of flood and collapses to the ground like this.

December is a special month for Majuli as it pays tribute to its beloved leader Sanjoy Ghosh (7 December 1959 – 4 July 1997) on his birth anniversary. 19 years ago while working for community empowerment in Majuli,  he was abducted by ULFA (an insurgent group) and then we lost him forever. One of the best parts of my work here with the community is that I get to hear a lot of narratives of Sanjoy, which are just a treat for the ear. One common narrative that you will hear is that the Majuli would have been something else had he lived till today. People visualizes the leader in their own way while narrating.  They talk about his unshaven beard, habit of one meal a day, etc.  A person said Majuli got its name popular in world only after Sanjoy got killed here. In his small work duration in Majuli, which was a little more than a year, he was able to bring some significant development in this part. He mobilized huge volunteer labour contribution for successful conservation experimentation on a land stretch of about one and half kilometres using just the local knowledge of conservation. Community believes that It was this attempt that disgruntled the commanding lobby of contractor and involved in government’s conservation program that led to his abduction and death. There has been a huge public investment in the previous decade to protect the land, however, the outcome has been largely insignificant. Report suggest to layers of corruption in the conservation programs of Majuli (Corruption in Majuli projects, Uma corroborates, 2015).  Majuli has lost more than 70% of its total area in the last century. The rate of erosion has only increased in the last couple of decades. The villagers still believes that the traditional practice of land conservation through the use of bamboos can still be instrumental. But it seems it is only possible if we have another Sanjoy in Majuli who can motivate and mobilize the community to take the conservation responsibility into their own hands.

In an exercise to understand the village better, I along with the students of Kaziranga university were trying to enlist the major issues in the village as what the community feels.
In an exercise to understand the village better, I along with the students of Kaziranga University were trying to enlist the majoy issues in the village according to the community.

Last month has been very eventful. With the help of students of social work coming from Kaziranga, a local university, I was a able to conduct in-depth participatory research in few of the villages to understand the need and the problems in these villages. Working with them as a team for almost a month helped me overcome the language barrier for some time. Land conservation is indeed the major need of the community here, but in lack of my competencies in conservation practice and also the legacy of Sanjoy’s leadership, I feel discouraged to initiate this in the beginning.

The village map that was drawn through the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercise.
The village map that was drawn through the PRA exercise

Weaving holds a important part in people’s living here. I, along with the community, decided to work for the development of handicraft business practiced in these villages. While researching the market, it was easily convincing that the handloom garments produced here have great potential. In many other districts of Assam, handloom is practiced as a major livelihood activity. It is a part of culture and heritage and one of the largest economic activities after agriculture in the state. With the involvement of a chain of middlemen, these products are not just being sold in the local market of Assam, but there is also in great demand in the international market. However, as the chain of middlemen is big, the price paid to the ultimate producers is much less than its selling price. Also, the scale of production happening in these villages is too low to have a regular trading partner. I met with few people who have been working with weavers in Assam and also with some big businessmen of handicrafts. They shared the biggest challenge of working in a place like Majuli is to get the people motivated to work for themselves. Being a flood prone area and also having a majority of the population poor, the people here have developed a habit of receiving things for free. During floods, they get some relief material from various organizations, and for the whole year they receive some food grains from the state’s public distribution scheme. This will be a challenge for next coming month, to get the people trust and motivate them to improve their livelihoods by themselves.

References

  1. Corruption In Majuli Projects, Uma Corroborates. (2015, December). Retrieved December 2016, from The Sentinel: http://www.sentinelassam.com/mainnews/story.php?sec=1&subsec=0&id=249929&dtP=2015-12-23&ppr=1#.WFOHGaIafDc
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