Development Debates, Disaster & Assam: Chapter II “On the field with Umanand Pathori”

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

Introduction

The role of the people we work on the field on a day in day out basis is so essential to the change we seek for the community. As an outsider on the field the local community social workers are the gatekeepers who facilitate the interaction and learnings. I have been travelling for some time now on the field courtesy Umananda Pathori.

The Field Worker

Umananda Pathori is a Mising tribal working with the NEADS Golaghat team for 7 years now. He completed his graduation in 2006 and worked several odd jobs before joining NEADS. He is married and has a 5 month-old child. He holds a deep knowledge on the traditional structure of the Mising society and its challenges in current times. On our way to the village Umananda helped us cross over the river by rowing the boat. It is amazing to see the adaptability and ease with which he helped us traverse the river. He can speak multiple languages i.e. Assamese, Mising (local dialect), Hindi and fairly good English as well. After the floods of 2017 in Assam, he is being supported by his niece Seema as well.


Image 12: Umananda Pathori and Seema. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

 Image 12: Umananda Pathori on his way to fetch a boat to row. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]                                                 

As we walked together along the vast river bed he helped me understand certain nuances about the Mising people. The challenges of education, health and livelihood were discussed and deliberated. An interesting information he shared that a number of deaths among the elderly was due to chicken pox and tuberculosis. He also shared that most of the children who get educated are unable to garner any jobs in and around the area. They end up helping the family in agriculture. The women of the tribe are mostly engaged in household work, livestock care and weaving. Though weaving is done primarily for the requirements of the household.

I went on to talk to him about the people and region. He shared interesting insights about the people, region and program run by different national and international relief agencies. It was interesting to listen to him especially when he talked about the difference in perspectives among the people sitting in offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune etc and those working at the village level. The impressions about the rising paperwork and poor understanding of on the field challenges due to limited exposure was a discussion that ensued. It is essential to value the difference in understanding between the organic leadership and ‘external leadership’. External leadership refers to the people who come along from different areas accredited with academic degrees and organisational identity. As a field worker it is important that we understand the difference. To assimilate the learnings from the organic leadership and use reflections as a means to further an understanding is a lived experience. It is important as a field worker to do so and work accordingly.

Conclusion

The initial queries around ‘Organic leadership’ in the earlier blog posts on AIF do seem to emphasize the importance that we offer to the experiences and suggestions of Umananda Pathori. The ability to look into the opportunities that he offers as an organic leader who hails from the client community. The debate though rests around the distance! The distance in the real versus actual and our intentions to attempt at bridging by indulging in changes by a bottoms up approach. The provisions to give the community credence and enable grassroots organisations to develop systems, processes, methods and tools to work all year around. Do we respect local knowledge? The answer would probably lay in evaluating the other question – role of ‘Ego’ of development actors. It is important that in order to give the other person respect we look at it from an objective viewpoint that accounts for individual Ego. The plethora of global know how, command over funds and expertise falls apart as one attempts to travel to villages like Bamunchapori that lay in the middle of the floodplain. It is important to reflect on differing determination and unbiased commitment between ‘Development Actors’ and ‘Umananda’. The ability of the locals to combat all odds for centuries is inspiring.

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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