Friday, September 12, 2014

On the 22nd of July, 7 of us started our journey in Bodoland, Assam. We were put up at ANT - Action for Northeast Trust, New Bongaigaon. The initial plan was to cover 3 districts and the capital city, Guwahati in a span of 10 days and do programs for young Bodo women, but the universe had something else planned for us. On the 23rd, we began with a wonderful drive through freshly grown paddy fields and thick green hills but , to our surprise, the mid- summer heat and humidity were at peak and hit us hard. Regardless, it was the whole idea of meeting the girls and getting to know them that kept our spirits high and us going. The days from there went on like a shooting star. But every girl we met on the journey came with a beautiful story and a moment to share. Even though a lot of stories weren't shared verbally, within them there was a connection shared. A smooth roller coaster with its ups and downs came with some bumpy drops, the biggest being language.

The first day was in a district named Bijni. The majority of the day just went into us trying to get them out of their shells. We cannot count how many times we must have said “Say something”. Eventually we realized that even if they were not saying anything, our words were settling within them. This became evident in the group exercise we did and they came up with their actual concerns and worries. Later when we sat down for an evaluation meeting, Himanshu said “For them to speak is a first but behind those walls, they all have a lot of potential which is yearning to be free”. On the second day at Bijni from almost 50 girls on the first day, only 10 turned up for the second. We found out that the cause was a bandh or a curfew closing down almost everything - a very common phenomena in Bodoland leading to people not being able to come out of their houses. Nevertheless, we had some very deep sharing with those girls who poured their hearts to us. We closed the space with our personal stories of change. All of us left with a little more hope than when we started. And so as someone up there would have planned it, we ended up visiting a coaching class set up by ABSU for the summer and interacting with more than 200 boys and girls. Our next stop on the 25th was Kokrajhar, the ‘capital’ of the Bodoland Autonomous Territory , for a two day workshop with over 40 girls. In our team of 7, we had two very dynamic young women from Jharkhand, one of whom had climbed Mount Everest. Coming from a very small village and climbing the highest peak on earth, Binita, our little hero shared her journey with participants everywhere and left them inspired with a message that ‘no matter who you are and where you come from, if you really want to do it and have a goal, you can!’ .The highlight of the day was when two girls stood up and apologized to each other for the mis-communication they had from over a year ago. Both of them looked past their ego and re-united as friends.

We also met Mr. Janak Basumatary, a friend of our senior IofC friends and also an ABSU speaker. He being extremely sick (now sadly no more!), we were grateful that we could go and meet him. The care and love given us by his family left us in awe. Such selfless service - we wish to learn to give. The final destination on our map was supposed to be a district called Baksar, but because of a curfew in that area, we ended up going to Udalguri, a 5 hour journey through the furnace to the district of water bodies. (Over 5 different tributaries pass through that district, but nevertheless extremely hot and humid!) In Udalguri we went to a village called Tangla, which has now been nominated to become a smart city, and had a beautiful session for three hours at the Tangla College. Over there, issues like unemployment, lack of education, security and financial issue were brought. This was not a surprise because they were common for all districts and villages we went to. Also the issue of “bandh” was something that disturbed every person. In response to this, the team took up the challenge to introduce to them the idea of COC and COI (Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence) which interestingly made a lot of sense to them. Another show stopper as always was the tumbler demonstration, which really invited each individual to pause for a while and see, hidden under those flowers, their real selves. Anger and ego were the most common insights for many of them. One of them even stood up and immediately shared what she found within herself. This gave us a ray of hope that things were churning within and they all were slowly picking up pace and moving towards changing themselves. Change is just a small part of the big circle they need to still go around. As our team member from Nagaland, Penuo says “To take change to the next step, they need to start believing in themselves and get away from the ‘I can’t do anything’ attitude.” To which our Zooni from Odisha says “They are ready to follow but not lead.” These two thoughts somehow sum up the total reality of the girls and make us wonder how effectively change has been welcomed by them. Change starts from within and nobody can lead you from within except you yourself. So every change maker is a leader for themselves first. This is a big connection to think about - leader and inner change. And anybody who can overcome the ego and the battles within, just cruises past leading the outer world, because it is said “The toughest demons lie within us”. On the morning of 30th we witnessed something that left us all deeply inspired. ABSU celebrated Anti Terrorism Day. More than 4000 people came despite the burning heat. The theme was “End terrorism, but how?” In this age of violence, ABSU has made that its biggest truth - no violence. Something so many communities need to learn and adopt. When has the answer come out of violence anyway? On a lighter note, on the same day, we got the chance to just walk across an international border and visit Bhutan! Yaay! Somnath, our guide and friend during the whole time, also the Assistant General Secretary of ABSU, gladly took us to Bhutan for a few hours.

The difference as soon as we crossed the border was surprising. Such peace and calmness, wider roads, very few people…it was almost like magic, like crossing platform 9 3/4 in a Harry Potter movie! We came back happier from the happiest country in the world with a silent wish to see and be the cause for the same happiness in Bodoland and our own country. This whole experience of being in Bodoland for almost 10 days has left us all with a strong thought of coming back and walking the journey further with them. We did leave some of them with hope and empowerment but where to go from here is something we need to look at too. On the last day, we sat with Mr. Pramod Boro and shared our experiences and he shared his vision and concerns. He shared with us how so much needs to be done. Sitting with him for that one hour made us really marvel and pray for all that he is doing for his people. We admire his commitment to his place and the cause, which we now feel is ours too. Jenny from ANT came as an answer to our and ABSU’s wish of doing more for the people of Bodoland. She has offered us to come back and do a month long programme ( Sept 18 to Ocotber 18) especially for girls and really go deeper this time. A thought we take seriously, a seed we feel we should nourish. This is a place which needs change, a place seeking hope and understanding. All of this has been possible because of ABSU feeling the need to call IofC. We feel extremely indebted to ABSU for the warmth of care we received every moment to Jenny and Sunil of ANT who gave us not only beds to sleep on, but a home to call our own. With such love in our hearts, a sense of belongingness has come, belonging to every place we step in, belonging to every person we meet.

Personal Observations and Journey

Himanshu Bharat, Lucknow, U P

•Spirituality is the key focus for Bodoland to look at. Because that is when it detaches each individual from wants and makes each one connect with others on a deeper level.

•All the temples, churches and mosques have seemingly come up recently indicating it was not their practice from earlier but this is a new means of It looks like this is the first initiative to ‘remake man’ that has taken place in this area.

•See the real need for the girls to be pushed outside their limits, to experience something new.

•Wish that through ABSU and ANT, Bodoland is able to become a model for the country.

Zooni Dash, Raurkela, Odisha

•True, the girls are ready to follow but not lead. They have a very innocent space within them.

•To really let things go with the flow.

•To let others lead yet oneself be completely present.

•There is a lot more that needs to addressed which can happen only in time.

Vitono Haralu, Dimapur, Nagaland

•Through my experiences here, there is a big change in the way my family and friends see Bodos and its all being welcomed!

•To give ourselves out there we must study ourselves and the situation we’re entering more fully.

•It is important for us to see the practical side of the workshops we did. To see what it leads to.

•Am able to connect the Naga and Bodo stories. And take stories from here to work with Nagas.

•Time is the biggest strength and I have that to give.

Penuo Hiekha, Kohima, Nagaland

•They do believe Govt jobs are the best option for employment. They need to see beyond that.

•It is implanted in them that they cannot do anything.

•The way Pramod Boro works - never giving up - is a big learning. It’s very valuable to learn his ways. And his thought that power cannot solve anything ; it’s the conviction that drives us.

Shalini Kujur , Jharkhand

•Personally feel that Bodoland really needs to be brought into the mainstream of India.

•This is the first step for many others to follow.

•I would personally go back to my company and try initiating a programme for this area to support the current scenario set by IofC and to take it further.

•It was something very new - a beautiful journey and a lot of learning to take back from here.

•Impressive to see the commitment with which each individual in ABSU is working.

Binita Soren, Jharkhand

•It was a very different experience from the usual back in Jharkhand.

•No matter where, every village has the same story. It’s just the intensity in Bodoland is more.

•Everything that comes is from a space of happiness and conviction.

Anand Sadana, Pune, Maharashtra

•Real transformation comes when we let our transformations be transferred to them.

•Trust the process and sometimes let myself just be a part of the flow instead of leading it.

•Real strength comes by personifying the words, which was shown immensely by ABSU.

•Keep challenging ourselves. There is no comfort zone. It is all a part of a journey to progress.


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