Monthly Archives: June 2013

Ambubachi Mela: liberal Hinduism, granary of knowledge and a tourists delight


AmbubachiMela_AssamJournalThe Kamakhya Temple dedicated to goddess Kamakhya which stands tall above the Nilachal hills is one of the most sacred destinations of Hindu pilgrimage. Chronicles has it that this was the place where Tantrik Hinduism found its roots. Assam until a few centuries ago i.e before the British opened it to the rest of India was popular as a land of sorcerers and magicians. “Pragjyotishpur” the former name of Guwahati was derived from two words “Prag” & “Jyotishpur”, which meant the eastern city of astrologers.

Every year thousands of devotees throng the temple of Kamakhya during the Ambubachi Mela in the month of Ahaar (mid June). It marks the yearly menstruation cycle of the Goddess Kamakhya and is a celebration of fertility of mother earth and nature. For three days (marking the menstruation cycle) all the doors and gates of the main temple premises are closed for visitors. After this the temple premises are open for devotees from across the world. Finally after a total of 7 days the festival comes to an end. If one is lucky enough to visit the glorious Ambubachi Mela there are certain things that will definitely catch the eye and attention.

images (3)There is no form of idol worship that is performed during the Kamakhya temple. You will hardly find any ritual being performed day in and day out. Devotees who are encamped near the temple perform various songs and dances devoted to the goddess of Shakti. Saadhus perform various tricks that portray determination, concentration and will power. You will find one person standing by his head for hours after hours; another will stand on one leg for the entire duration of the festival. Puffs of white smoke keep blowing in the air all throughout. Another important thing to note is that Ambubachi Mela holds no discrimination in the name of caste or creed. There is no one waiting at the entrance to identify which caste you belong to. If you are a devotee of the goddess you are free to enter the temple and offer your prayers. Many of us have often heard that pre-historic Assam was a land of Shakti Hinduism where no traces of a caste system could be found. I think Kamakhya still holds the tradition till today.

Hinduism as many suggests exists in various folds and forms in the local folklore of people spread across the sub-continent. The Ambubachi Mela at Kamakhya is a place where an inquisitive mind can find the largest collection of such stories. Through the beating of drums and blowing of horns the devotees perform various dramas that talk of the local folklore of various Hindu gods and goddesses. It was at this very Ambubachi Mela itself that a Sadhu Baba narrated to me a Ramayana which I had never heard before. In his version Sita was the daughter of Ravana and Ram was definitely not a god but a certain human with all human imperfections. After nearly 4 years I found his version of the story vividly described in the book “Asura” by Anand Neelkanthan. There will definitely be hundreds and thousands of such stories. It is a good fortune that all of them come together in these days of the year.

Overall the Ambubachi Mela with its deep rooted liberal outlook of Hinduism and the mutual respect for the various ways in which a person might understand the Hindu religion gives it a distinct identity.  To popularize this facet of the festival and the festival itself which is an asset of the people of Assam is the foremost duty of the administration. Ambubachi Mela holds great prospect for religious tourism and learning. The Ambubachi Mela at Kamakhya Temple which is held in supreme regards by many must be beautifully promoted to draw people from all over. The surging energy levels, the never ending beats and tunes, they will all leave every visitor mesmerized and spellbound.

When the waters of the Brahmaputra flows with its full strength, when Mother Nature caresses Assam into her loving arms and when the goddess herself comes to bless us all, it is time to visit the Nilachal hills to feel her presence amongst us all. May the Goddess Kamakhya’s blessing be with you all.

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Tarun Gogoi: this post is also an important matter


Shri Digvijay Singh referred to him as Gaon Bura (village chief). What an apt comment he made on this man who being the chief minister of the state has kept such a simple image of his. No big words, no deep logic and just no sense, but yet how humorous. But now these mindless comments by a man entrusted with such a position of responsibility is becoming too irritating (just like PJs are) for the public. More so because by using this cheap tool of his he has been playing a politics of denial to fool the people of Assam. The skillful use of this tool of oratory of his has also entered the domain of personal attacks on fellow congress MLA’s, ridiculing the opposition. And the most recent remarks takes into granted that the people of Assam are plain and simple irrational fools without a logical brain sound enough to reason and understand.

Firstly on his ever increasing tussle with Himanta Biswa Sharma and his bunch of MLA’s. In a recent comment he said “rocky (referring to Rockybul Hussain, Forest Minister of Assam) was there during Rajiv Gandhi also and during Indira Gandhi also, his father was also known to me, they were in our bad days as well”. If Tarun Gogoi is so interested in political history will he clear it to the people of Assam that Rockybul Hussain’s grandfather was in the fold of Syed Sadullah who tried their best to get Assam into East Pakistan? And to achieve that introduced rampant migration from present day Bangladesh. In terms of logic will he tell us why a minister who has failed to ensure the protection of forest lands from encroachment, one who has failed to prevent poaching of one horned rhinos, failed completely in halting rampant deforestation deserves to be endorsed by him. In 2009 and 2011 elections it was Himanta Biswa Sarma and his policies which the entire congress party flaunted to win a majority. Himanta Biswa Sarma who was until few months back one of his closest aides became his enemy.  But as per Mr Gogoi’s judgment credibility has no weightage, nor does proven record of good work hold and weightage. All that matters is family lineage and a good track record of “chamchagiri” of congress party.

Who cannot see that all Tarun Gogoi is worried about is to bring his son into the centre of Assam politics? Earlier all was fine with Himanta Biswa Sarma, but just when he started becoming a scare to his son’s political career hell broke loose. Gaurav Gogoi’s prospect of standing tall in the politics of Assam will clearly be hindered if Himanta Biswa Sarma becomes the CM after the next assembly elections. In presence of Himanta Biswa Sarma an alliance with AIUDF to ensure a safe seat for his son in 2014 elections also seemed impossible. So throwing cheap personal attacks of who is closer to him and whose family has been in congress since generations he is trying to break the popularity of the other leader. May be the following pictures will clear things better of what is in Mr Gogoi’s mind:

Few years ago:

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Now and from now onwards

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 Finally some argue that it is Tarun Gogoi’s own choice as individual to regard someone as close and someone as not. But here is where the biggest problem is. His individual opinion is coming in between his official responsibilities. He is making public (as chief minister) comments based on his personal choices. If one agrees to him all is well or else you are kicked out. If this is democracy than what is anarchy? Is anarchy desirable …..

Let me not go on to his comments on the opposition which went like “AGP and BJP are just like chit funds, they promise and then runs away” for maybe even the public isn’t much concerned about the opposition. But then he does the unthinkable when he considers the general public to be a fool. “Increasing waste is a sign of development”, “what is so peculiar about Guwahati being water logged; even Delhi and Mumbai are affected by floods”. I feel like laughing, crying and banging my head at the same time. This is what I referred to initially as the politics of denial. If the CM of a state throws such bullshit logic upfront why will the authorities and the rest of the system be even minutely interested in pushing for any development? Increasing waste and such frequent water logging is a problem of bad urban planning, of growing population such that a city can’t absorb. It signals of Bad roads and bad drainage system. Without acknowledging and acting on them he uses his “brilliant” oratory to fool us. Such defunct leadership is the root of all problems today.

Finally I will add just a few lines of comment about why this kind of mindless things elevates the problem of leadership paralysis in Assam. Mr Gogoi has been in the chair since 12 years. Few days ago he boasted that in 2016 as well he plans to come back. On one hand he is leaving behind a bad example that leader can say whatever they wish, whenever they feel like to fool the public because at the end of the day the public forgets everything. On the other if some other faction is willing to come and replace old guns and take charge he feels attacked and retaliates. The same problem exists in Asom Gana Parishad as well where the old guns are hanging on the main seats as if there is still some meat left in the skeleton for them to suck out. For nearly 3 to 4 decades if a state is devoid of a good leader whom others can look up to and who can train the subordinates where will new ones come from? Mr Tarun Gogoi certainly believes that good leaders will come through heredity. Truly Diggi Raja is correct for once. Tarun Gogoi with his words seem more like a gaonbura and he has definitely turned Assam politics into one such arena of village level panchayat politics.

When I think of his comments like “There is not a single Bangladeshi in Assam” to be followed few days later by “there are a few lakh Bangladeshi in Assam” I am angered and at the same time saddened by the state of “Orajokota” (a kingless kingdom) going on in Assam where Mr CM is making others dance to his stupid gimmick remarks. But when better ones come up, like “Muslims are large in number in Assam because they are illiterate”, I run so much out of my mind that I can’t regroup myself to find some logic in it and rebut it. He has crossed an age when others could rectify him. It is only for him to realize that if he wants to retire from politics (which is close by) with a respectable name he must refrain from such drama and leave a few good deeds behind him. May be few will then remember him. I think someone should go and whisper in his ears “Sir, speak well and speak sense for that is also an important matter”

English medium government schools in Assam: In support


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            Lord Macaulay

 

When Macaulay pushed for English education in India his dream was to create in his own words, “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. Since then till now English education in India had changed by 180 degrees. Today schools no more preach a western outlook of modernity but rather concentrates on creating a sense of Indian nationalism and pride through their content. Narrations begin from ancient India and ends in the great victory of the Indian freedom fighters against the imperial British. English remains just a medium of imparting education.

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Cotton collegiate, established 1934 is the oldest school in Assam.

Of all the realities that we know today about education in Assam, one fact which is most easily visible is that the trust of parents and guardians in government schools is decreasing continuously. A few examples of good results from schools like cotton collegiate aren’t enough to reinstate people’s belief. Although the quantity of students and teachers might have been increased due to Sarba Shiksha Abhiyaan and the TET program but there still exists a huge question mark over its quality. One more important aspect that we must realize over here is the right to choice of individuals. English education for their children, given how expensive it is, is no more a free choice for millions in the state. Has the democratic government as an insurer of equality of opportunity provided free English education to those to wish to pursue English education for their children?

For the poor it does not matter if the school is English medium or Assamese medium as long as it is private. It is simply beyond the reach. So beyond that we can see that people are slowly getting more and more attracted towards English medium schools. The middle income bracket people who can somehow (withstanding a lot of hardship) manage to send their kids to private schools are going for it instead of an Assamese medium government school where education is for free. Reason? Because a circular problem has got created. Something that goes like this: A notion that quality of teaching in government schools is not up to the mark of private English medium schools, so parents generally prefer sending kids to private schools, now because more students go to private schools the quality of students coming into government school degrades, this in turn dis-incentivises the government paid teachers to give in their efforts to teach, and this continues. Now where can we break this deadlock? A lot has been spoken about changing the system. While efforts for that continues we can also look into the other possible side. The state education minister of Assam recently announced that on a trial basis 20 government schools with low attendance will be converted to English medium schools.

The AASU, AGP, AJYCP and other organizations didn’t take even a second to decry this move as unfair to the vernacular language. In this matter I will strongly oppose their stance. This is not such a binary question. Language & education: its quality and availability are two completely different matters. It is but shameful for us to even voice that turning a certain number of government schools to English medium will harm our language and culture. Are the fundamentals of this Assamese nation so weak that the moment English medium education is introduced it will shake them off? Respect towards a culture imbibes a respect towards the language and the people who speak it. Respect comes upon knowing about the culture. That can be done even in English medium schools provided the content is prepared accordingly. But on the contrary the benefits it will bring to Government education as a whole can be mammoth. English medium will incentivise a few parents at least to send their kids to these schools. The teachers brought in to these schools will be mostly from the new brigade with special training of English or English educated themselves. With the government being more cautious and careful about the output from these schools the performance of these schools are meant to be good. Now this instils back a lot of credit to government education. Some fear of a snowballing effect arising out of it. But that even the government of a democratically elected party will avoid knowing the consequences very well. Furthermore, we have to analyze few more things in long term. What if the teachers of these schools and few others Assamese medium schools conduct exchange program? Won’t it improve the quality of the Assamese schools? With faith back in government schools few parents will consider the option of Assamese medium government schools too. So in the long run will English schools not be instrumental in breaking the deadlock the Assamese medium schools are currently facing? Yes, yes and yes.

Lastly on the choice argument, just because I was born in a poor family cannot limit me from English education. For a government that promises equality of opportunity, it should also give an option of English education. Why is it that the poor are always given to fight the rich Man’s war? The affluent class sends their kids to private English medium schools. But when the question of changing a few government schools to English medium comes they simply object. In the name of culture, language and what not, do they really think that a poor person living in a rural Assamese village will forget or neglect his language and culture just because his chapters are in English language. In fact being more able to connect to the outside world he will be able to bring more light to his people and ensure a sustainable future of the culture.

But what makes me say this. I have seen, met, interacted with students of English medium private schools, Assamese medium private schools and Assamese medium government schools. I strongly feel that language of instruction is never a threat to the vernacular language. Many English educated students have been able to carry the Assamese culture much better than their Assamese educated counterpart. It is also true that many Assamese educated students have a better grip over the English language then the English education counterparts. Attaching a value judgement with the medium of instruction is farcical. A bunch of Assamese youth with good knowledge of Assam is much more desirable than a pool of students with education in Assamese medium but no real knowledge. And this knowledge can come in any medium of instruction. The present system of Macaulay’s education policy laid in the beginning was just an example to exemplify this.

Finally many argue that “it is unfair to look towards English medium government schools when the vernacular ones are facing extinction”. Two things in this regard, firstly the government isn’t drawing out funds from vernacular schools to open these English schools. Secondly why on earth should we tie these two issues? One is a policy decision and another is to some degree failure in resource allocation and management. I don’t see those crossing lines at any point. Both can be tackled in parallel ways. On a larger scale if we see, the bigger reason why vernacular schools are not doing well is not because of lack of funds but simply because there are no students willing to enrol there. I strongly hope that the education minister goes ahead with this policy and does not back out of fear of electoral loss for this in the long run will prove to be one of the most visionary steps in the history of Assam.