Development Debates, Disaster & Assam: Chapter III “Mising Tribal Village”

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

In the previous blog I shared an understanding of the Mising tribe and Umananda Pathori (Mising tribal working on rehabilitation and relief measures with NGOs) from the perspective of field experiences and academic literature. This time around I intend to introduce the Mising village to the people in Golaghat.

Introduction

Let me back up a bit. Social Work practice refers to the people as the ‘Client’, the place as the ‘Field’ and those working in the field as ‘Field workers’. For me it is important to relate the experiences on the field with the Social Work Practice in order to look at the notions of praxis and how it shapes as we work on the field. The role of the social work education is to develop a preliminary understanding of the different constituents of the practice but it is the field exposure and experience that adds ‘life’ to this understanding and knowledge. ‘Life’ here would impinge upon the close relationship that practice and theory share. Relations that determine and define the output (‘change’) that we as practitioners attempt to bring in the client. It is important to highlight the field and one’s ability to understand and cope with the challenges of the field. The field or the area of work has – geographical spaces – which create an impression on the mind. This impression goes a long way in ideating, planning and implementing our work.

The Field

As I travelled to Golaghat there was a sense of seemingly open spaces. As per the census of 2011 the population density of Assam is at 397 per square kilometre. The long lush green plantations of rice and the big tea estates on both sides of the National Highway-37 are pleasant site to watch. The journey came to a halt and I met Mr Umananda Pathori (a community social worker for North East Affected Area Development Society).

Umananda Da inquired if I would be willing to walk 7 kms? I nodded in agreement. We picked up the relief material on our backs and started to walk towards a village named ‘Bamanchapori’ in Bokakhat block of Golaghat district.

As we walked I could see inundation on both sides of the raised platform we were walking on. The platform was around 50 feet above the floodplain of the river.            

Image 1: The water logging around the path. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]Image 2: Water logging around the area. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

After walking for around 1.5 kms we stepped down towards the water to take a boat to reach the other side of the water:

Image 3: The pillars to cut the water across from eroding the embankment. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

Image 4: The sand deposited by the Brahmaputra. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

The natural ecosystem that we are crossing was under water for around two months. It was an overwhelming experience as to how man and nature have survived all along. On the other side, I met some children who were swimming along the shore. They came forward to help us to carry the relief material. From here on I started the long walk to the village. On our way we encountered rising and falling landscapes with grasslands all over. I was suggested to take off the shoes as there would be lots of water on our way. I held onto my shoes and walked with the boys through the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra:

Image 5: The leftover water from the flooding that has accumulated in ditches. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

Image 6: The water logging on our way to the village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

Image 7: The water logging on our way to the village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

Image 8: The water logging on our way to the village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

The area was covered with flood water 6-8 weeks ago. Most of the water has receded and the area on our way to the village looks similar to the image below:

Image 9: The ecosystem as we approach the village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

We carried on to walk for around 4-5 kms before we entered the village of Baum Chapori. A reclusive village disconnected from the mainland as it lay within the floodplains of the river. The images from the village were so unreal. It is completely cut off from hustle bustle of life.

 Image 10: Mising House in Bamunchapori village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

Image 11: Eco system in and around the Bamunchapori village. [Picture Courtesy: Prashant Anand]

There was no electricity in the village, no water supply or any other infrastructure support. There was a primary school at a small distance from the village. The vast open spaces today were all inundated with water a month ago. The relative distance between villages seemed much more than usual mathematical figures. It was the individual experience that made me believe that these areas are the true spots of the relationship that humans and ecology share.

As I travelled along the field the ideas of field work in Social Work practice and the impact they have on the work gained momentum. It was essential to highlight the field work as understood, experienced and interpreted. In order to garner insights I would refer to the literature on this especially Malinowski’s diary published in 1967:

“The publication of Malinowski’s diary in 1967 ended that anthropological tradition. Confessional accounts of time spent in the village soon became a standard by-product of research. In the last few years, however, more genuinely self-reflexive narratives have begun to appear, detailing how questions were framed, how information was gathered, and fieldworkers construct their knowledge.” [Jeremy MacClancy, 1984]

It is important that as a social worker we plan field work with diligence. The superimposition of lived experiences on our field work could detest us from the cause and work. Often we tend to relate the field to our own socialisation. This in turn leads one to look for the field as a place similar to our own. The characteristics and attributes of the field influence the process of engagement of the ‘Social Worker’. Hence it becomes essential to focus on how we construct our knowledge.

Conclusion

The field has been a great influence on my understanding of work in the area. It includes the scope of work done by relief and rehabilitation agencies post the floods of 2017. Along with the reach of the government and its institutional base around the area. Though the access and availability of rhinos, elephants, birds and other ecological systems are present in the area. Placing the ‘self’ in the context of our work area thereby taking up a nuanced approach to learn and understand. Somehow by my own experience I  have felt a hesitance that makes me aware of the fact to not bring too much of myself to the field. Maybe even try to consciously stop my own experiences and life lived over the years impinge upon the unique social and cultural context that Ia m being exposed to. It is important to take a back seat at times and move forward gradually.

Step back a little to march miles in the coming times rather than take a jump creating a hold in the ground !

 

References

  1. MacClancy Jeremy. Field Work Overseas. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. RAIN, No. 61 , pp. 3-4. 1984.

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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