Saturday, October 8, 2011

Postcard from Arunachal Pradesh

I came across this story which I did long back for the kids supplement.
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Contrast these images.
Crowded Pune, big hoardings, cars, bikes zooming past, cell phones buzzing, malls teeming with life...with a village consisting of just 50 houses, narrow paths winding through jungles and no transportation. Even to visit an ailing relative in another village, one has to walk for one whole day!
In this particular instance, the village, we are talking about, is Punyabhumi in Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s north-eastern state.
YB had an opportunity to meet 15-year-old Birurani Chakma, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, who is in Pune and get to know what life is like in that farflung state.
Comparing her village to Pune, 15-year-old Birurani Chakma says, “There is not even 1 per cent of Pune’s traffic in my village. It’s very quiet there. Roads are kaccha and we have to find our way through jungles. The sun sets very early and by 5.30 pm in the evening it’s completely dark,” she speaks to us in Hindi.
Birurani, who has scored 91.11% in her Std VII exam, is now on a visit to Pune with her host family. Birurani studied till Std IV in her village school. She along with her friend were the only girl students in a class of 11.
“In our village, girls have to do most of the work. We have to learn how to weave and do household work. That doesn’t leave us with much time for studying. Most girls fail and then they drop out of school,” continues Birurani.
Birurani, however, was lucky. Blessed with sharp brain, her parents sent her to Vishwa Bharati’s Chhatravas, in Haflong, Assam to study. It was a big leap for this girl from the Chakma tribe.
When she first arrived at Chhatravas, Birurani was at sea. There were so many girls belonging to different tribes - Jemi Naga, Dimasa - from the Seven Sisters (Seven North-Eastern states); their dialects were different. How was one supposed to communicate?
“It was very difficult initially,” Birurani laughs “I used to gesture wildly before I picked up Hindi.” Now, she is comfortable speaking both in Hindi and the dialect of Jemi Nagas.
Birurani wants to become a doctor when she grows up.
“Medical facilities are very poor in my village. There are very few doctors and they charge big fees. Most of the villagers can’t pay fees and hence they die without getting treatment. They mostly die of malaria.”
It is unthinkable to hear that Birurani has not met her parents and five other siblings for the last one and half year. “I have not gone home and neither has my family come to meet me. Its very far and they can’t spend so much on travel,” she says. “Sometimes my parents send me message through a villager who is coming to Haflong. I don’t write to them because they can’t read. My village doesn’t have a phone connection,” she adds. Her family and several other families staying in the far flung regions of the country earn Rs 1,000-1,500 in a complete year.
Birurani may belong to the so-called ‘primitive’ world, but she is completely at ease in an urban setting in Pune. She has yet not met many youngsters here, but is keen to know about our life.
Brought up on a stable non-vegetarian diet of pork, Birurani relished pithla-bhakri during her visit to Sinhagad Fort. While hills and jungles are not new to her, she saw the sea for the first time when she visited Juhu beach in Mumbai. She also treasured her memory to Nehru Science Centre.

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