Development Debates, Disaster and Assam : Chapter V Proposing a Holistic Approach to Livelihoods

Prashant’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

Introduction

As I lived across the cultural milieu of Assam among people of the Mising tribe I struggled to understand certain words. ‘Livelihood’, ‘Resilience’, ‘Holistic’ were among a long list of words from the ‘linguistic world’ of  Development Sector. I sat reading dictionary definitions, academic deliberations and listening to innumerable suggestions from foot soldiers of the field. But the dilemma persisted, especially around the idea of ‘holistic’.

What is a Holistic Approach?

The word ‘holistic’ is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘characterised by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole’. To get my act together I went back to the people. The people for whom I am supposed to work amidst the conflicting interests of different sections of society – ruling elite (elected and selected), middle class etc etc. As I went through the motions of talking to the people I could weave a web of areas in the life of the people which all came together to be ‘culture of living’. Re-wiring my thoughts after listening for days, weeks and months I got a fair idea of what ‘holistic’ meant to people. The role of food, education, sanitation, health seemed to be interconnected for better living.

In the previous blogs we enlisted the livelihoods of the people in the Mising villages in the Uttar Mohura area. As I contemplated on working towards proposing a livelihood solution for the people in the area I was in a conundrum. The ability to juxtapose a short term intervention on the long term challenge of the people was pushing me to it. The whole ‘development actor’ approach with ‘set solutions’ and ‘quick results’ was drawing me to a close. It was during this time that I realised that I wish to come back to this village again and again over the next few decades. The relationship with the people had to be one that had a future just as we think for ourselves all the time. A holistic solution would also comprise of the reflections and changes that I have been experiencing.

Going back to People – Learnings

The Bamunchapori village is not connected by a road network to the nearest villages or ward headquarters. There is a lack of access to the power grid in the area as well. There is no specific access to solar power uniformly distributed across the village as well. The tribals are engaged in agricultural activities as primary source of livelihood. The agriculture acts are the source of food grains for the household. The people in the area are also engaged in raising livestock – pigs, hen, ducks, etc. The people also have milch cattle as well. The agriculture is not mechanised and ground water or flood water acts as the source for irrigation. The output of these engagements is meant to support the household consumption patterns and also used to generate income by selling off the produce to middlemen. Some youngsters from the village have also migrated to urban areas in southern states of India for jobs. These are mostly industrial labor engagements for daily wage contracts which lack permanency.

The status of education among the population is low. The access and availability of quality education is scant. The children attend to government or government aided schools in the area. The higher education is available at a distance along with a cost that is out of reach for the tribals. The people living in the village though do have a good understanding of the other areas due to the migrants and increase in access to mobile and internet networks over the last couple of years. The health indicators of the people are satisfactory. The closest primary health centre is at a distance from the village. The people generally suffer from health and hygiene issues during the villages. It is a 100% open defecation village with no access to scientific toilets.

The Proposition

A quick work around of the ideas that people gave and feeding off their memories led me to the way forward. The proposed strategy is to work towards developing the Bamunchapori village and nearby areas as an eco-cultural destination. To promote the sustainable lifestyle of the Mising tribal community in the area. The age old practices of agriculture which are in harmony with ecology, environment and climate of the region are to be shared with the people. The rearing of livestock and fishing  as a livelihood is to be appreciated. The art of weaving by the Mising women is to be offered as a finished product for sale to the people coming over for visits. The people can come over and live in the place to experience the wildlife in the area as well as the seasonal migratory birds. The experience of rowing, treks and travels across the floodplain would offer the people to learn more about the rural landscape. All these activities would be generating incomes for the people in the area. Since it would be organised at the community level it would lead to development of infrastructure for the village which can solve problems of holding livestock during floods, construction of flood resistant toilets in the area, boats to be used during the floods for people to access relief and consolidation of knowledge of the community.

Conclusion

Michael Baughman wrote in his A River Seen Right (Lyons Press, 1995) p. 156, clearly paraphrasing and not quoting: “I think it was in Walden where he wrote that a lot of men fish all their lives without ever realising that fish isn’t really what they’re after.” Baughman may have been paraphrasing from Thoreau’s Journal, January 26, 1853.

I am not after the fish. I am for the experience.

Prashant has a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Delhi. It is one of Prashant's goals to enable and capacitate people for a sustainable livelihood in accordance with the local ecology. He feels that the current systems in place have not been able to provide the marginal sections of the society their rights. Instead, there has been a sense of exploitation of the people and the ecological systems. This need inspires Prashant to work towards human development in order to build a just and equitable society.

Prashant's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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