People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 02, 2006
Tripura Getting A New Look By The Day
Subhashini Ali Sehgal
ON June 15, as a part of the silver jubilee of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), a Muslim Women’s Convention was organised by Tripura state unit in Sonamura, one of the areas where the Muslim population of the state is concentrated. I attended it from the AIDWA centre.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO MINORITY PUPILS
More than 2,000 women, the vast majority of them Muslims, attended the convention. In marked contrast to many other parts of the country, only a handful of them wore the veil. The Panchayat Hall in which the meeting was held, proved too small to hold all of them and they spilt out into the verandah and also occupied most of the stage. Along with other state leaders of AIDWA who addressed the women, a local leader, Yasmin, also spoke at length. She said whenever women like her hear about communal riots that occur regularly in other parts of the country and especially when they heard about the terrible violence that had been meted out to Muslim women in Gujarat, it is and was very difficult for them to really comprehend these horrors. While most of them suffered from poverty, they did not have to face the problem of insecurity and threats the way their sisters face elsewhere. In fact, they did not really have any problems for following a particular religion.
Yasmin further said Muslim girls and boys had performed well in the recently concluded Board exams of the X and XII standards. They are encouraged to attend school by the fact that not only was education in all government institutions free till the XII standard, but children belonging to religious minorities along with those belonging to the SC, ST and OBC sections are given scholarships so that they could purchase books and school uniforms.
Yasmin concluded her speech by saying that many Muslim women had benefitted from the reservation of seats for women in the panchayats and municipalities. In fact, present in the audience were many women who have won these elections and all of them are working very hard for their areas and for their constituents.
When the meeting ended, many of the women came and spoke to me. They could hardly contain their shock at what had happened in Gujarat. They asked me about the conditions of Muslim women and young girls in Uttar Pradesh and were quite sad to learn that their literacy rates were so low.
Later on, I was able to learn about some of the schemes the government in Tripura has designed for the development of members of the religious minorities. Children belonging to families with per annum income of less than Rs 30,000 and studying in classes VI and VII are given an annual book allowance of Rs 100 while those in Class VIII get Rs 20 more. Those in the IX and X standards get an allowance of Rs 40 more a month and the amount is increased by Rs 50 and by Rs 60 per month in the XI and XII standards respectively. All students scoring more than 60 percent in the High School or Madhyamik exams are given a Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Award of Rs 1,500.
Girl students are given some more incentives. Those who score over 60 percent in the annual examinations in classes VI to VIII are given cash awards of Rs 400 and those who get 50 percent but less than 60 percent Rs 200. Girls who score 60 percent and above in the IX class are given Rs 700 and those scoring above 50 percent get Rs 300. There is an award of Rs 1,000 for girls who get above 50 percent in the High School or Madhyamik. A special hostel for girls is now under construction.
Students belonging to this group are also given special coaching for the IAS, TCS, IPC and TPS examinations. The curriculum of the madrassas is also being modernised.
Another very important scheme is the development of minority dominated villages. To begin with, 10 such villages have been selected and these will be provided with road links, electricity, minor irrigation, intensification of agricultural and horticultural productivity, drinking water facilities, marketing facilities, health care facilities etc. This scheme will later be extended to other areas.
IN DHALAI DISTRICT
Next day, June 16, saw us making a long trip by road to Dhalai district. This district is quite backward, full of hills and dense forests. Adivasis in this district live not even in villages but in very remote paras – habitations of just one or two huts. Many of them practice jhoom (shifting) cultivation, which means that they clear a part of the forest by cutting down the trees and burning the vegetation, cultivate it for a year or two, then abandon it and move to another site, leaving it to be taken over by the forest once again. They are being encouraged to give up this kind of farming, practise settled agriculture and take up other forms of livelihood. But, as they say, old habits die hard.
Some parts of this Dhalai district are still threatened with insurgency. This naturally hampers the government’s developmental work and projects. It has been chosen by the central government for the implementation of the Rural Employment Guarantee Act (REGA) and I was very much interested in seeing how this scheme fared here.
All along the way, I kept looking out of the window and was surprised not to see a single ‘school’ under the trees. This is only too common a sight in UP where most government primary schools in rural areas lack either any kind of shelter at all or have only inadequate shelter; where children are seen out of doors, under the trees. Sometimes they are seen sitting around a teacher but very often they are playing because one teacher is expected to teach several classes at the same time.
My companion during the journey was Smt Vijaylakshmi Sinha, minister for small-scale industries, whose husband, Comrade Bimal Kumar Sinha, as well as whose brother-in-law had been murdered by terrorists in l998. I asked her why there were no schools of this kind here. She could not help laughing and told me that all government schools --- primary, middle and higher secondary --- now had their own, adequate buildings. For example, in Dhalai district, there are 579 such schools and only 19 do not have pukka buildings but yet they have thatched roofs. Very soon these are going to be upgraded. An even more amazing fact is that the student-teacher ratio is only 1:30. The tremendous effort being made by the state government in the field of education has paid a rich dividend. Tripura today boasts of 74 percent literacy and has left many other states, rich in resources and infrastructure, far behind.
It is also important to note that the attention paid by the government to the problems and development of women has meant that the delivery of basic health services has been ensured. As a result, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the state is now 32.00 against a national average of 63.00 and the maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 4.00 against a national average of 4.37. And all this has been achieved in spite of the fact that cement costs 90 a bag more in Tripura than it does in the rest of the country; each brick also is 95 paise more expensive.
In Dhalai district, the meeting was held in the large playing grounds of a Higher Secondary School at Ambasa, where thousands of adivasis, muslims and others had gathered there enthusiastically. They applauded happily when they were told that the AIDWA membership would cross the one crore mark in its ongoing silver jubilee year.
IMPLEMENTATION OF JOB GUARANTEE ACT
After the meeting, along with Vijaylakshmi, elected panchayat and ZP members and AIDWA leaders, I met the district magistrate to ask him about the implementation of the REGA. Actually we were supposed to have visited some work-sites, but the workers had all left because it had started raining quite heavily.
The district magistrate told me that when the scheme was announced on February 2, it was propagated all over the district by playing a recorded play in tribal and non-tribal languages in villages, at block headquarters and also at the weekly market-places. But the actual worker registration had to be postponed because elections to the panchayats in the autonomous tribal areas had been announced. The Election Commission did not allow any work at all to be done till the results of the elections were announced. After that, there was a further delay because, like almost everything else in Tripura, even the paper for the work cards had to be imported from outside the state and this took almost two months. So temporary registration on slips was started. The registration itself was very arduous since habitations are often in very remote areas and often restricted to one or two huts at one place. The elected panchayat members worked very hard in cooperation with the members of the administration, and the result was that 65,000 persons were registered in a district of 75,000 households. About 18,000 work cards were thus distributed and 30,000 are being processed.
Work has been started in all the panchayat areas. Because of the initial delays, the shelf of works has not been designed in the way it was envisaged and most of the work is connected to water harvesting and construction of link roads or ring wells. Plans for 1.4 lakh workdays have been completed and implementation has started. Many women have been registered as workers and as many as 80 percent of the workers are women in some panchayats. The minimum wages being paid are Rs 60 per day.
Previously, the work norm for 8 hours was digging of 100 cubic feet of earth. Now this has been reduced to 60 cubic feet for a physically fit male, 45 cubic feet for a woman and 30 cubic feet for an elderly person. In some places, physically challenged and elderly persons, both male and female, have been given the work of looking after small children in a crèche, keeping muster rolls or some other supervisory work.
Not only that, with everyone participating in the discussion, they were very confident that the implementation of the scheme would further improve in the coming days. They were very much convinced of the benefits of the scheme and wanted it to be extended to all the four districts of the state immediately. I was told one interesting fact. In Gandachaura village, militants had ordered the village pradhan not to undertake the building of link roads under the scheme. But he did not pay any attention to their threats and the work is progressing well. This illustrates both the tremendous problems faced by people in the state and the indomitable courage with which they face them.
On the last day of my visit, June 17, a public meeting of women was organised in the Town Hall at Agartala. Once again, the hall proved inadequate as more than 3,000 women showed up to participate in a lively discussion on “Globalisation and Women.” The meeting ended with an assertion that for the women of Tripura the battle against globalisation included the defence of the Left Front government that was making such valiant efforts with such limited resources to swim against the tide and actually making headway.