Image: Photo of villagers holding the dinosaur skeleton from The Assam Tribune, 24th march, 2013.
Saving Face, er... Horn in Assam:
In India the synonym to the phrase 'losing face' has to be 'losing nose' (naak kat jayegi). The state of Assam finds itself in a peculiar predicament, as it is losing face and nose by losing the horns of its mascot – the one-horned rhino.
Almost every third or fourth day, the news of poachers cutting off a rhino's horn (which is actually a condensed ball of hair) to sell it in China where it's used for medicinal purposes, is heard. Newspapers and TV channels show the gruesome way these gentle giants bleed to death, sometimes in a few days, and in worst of times, a few weeks.
The numbers vary with the highest estimate pegging the number of rhinos lost in Assam to different reasons including death during flood and killing by poachers every year to about 90. According to this NDTV report, 13 rhinos have been killed in the last two months itself.
Yet, surprisingly, it turns out that the number of Rhino's in the state is actually increasing. According to data released by the Assam government last week, while there were 2290 Rhinos in 2012 in the Kaziranga National Park alone, the 2013 census has shown the number to have gone up to 2329.
Now that's a 'face saving', or shall we call 'horn saving' news for a state that houses over 2500 of the nearly 3300 rhinos alive in the world today.
Something Better Than Mafia, or Worse:
The Italians have their Mafia and the South East Asians have their triads. The Assamese have something much more complex called the 'syndicates' who do a better job without firing a single bullet - at least no bullet that can be heard, seen or connected to the syndicate members.
The price of almost every product available in the markets of Assam is controlled and fixed not by the government as it should be, but by these syndicates and no one can dare raise a voice against them. Local citizens NGO called Save Guwahati Build Guwahati (SGBG) have said that these syndicates would be impossible to break without the help of the government. The only problem is that a survey conducted by them have revealed that number of police personals, government officials, politicians and powerful mafias are attached to different syndicates in the state.
And this is a highly profitable business. SGBG says that getting rid of these syndicates will bring down prices of essential commodities by over 50%. But if those entrusted to regulate it officially, themselves run the racket, who will bell the cat?
Chhota Bhim.. Er.. Chhota Anna.. Er.. Akhil Gogoi:
National anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare might be taking a back seat from activism from time to time (owing to his age and ill health), but one of his follower in Assam has refused to take a much needed break and is proving to be the one who'll bell the syndicate cat. That man is anti-corruption crusader, Akhil Gogoi.
Like the character of Chhota Bhim that is very popular amongst the kids of the region, this RTI activist, has been creating havoc for everyone corrupt in Assam. And sometimes he has proved to be quite the stuntman. On the road to the district of Barpeta around 140 kms from Guwahati, vegetables are dirt cheap.
Tomatoes are Rs. 1 a kilo while cabbage is sold for Rs. 2 a kilo. These vegetables are lapped up by middlemen, who then bring it to the city of Guwahati where they are sold for over 2000% their original price e.g. tomatoes sell for more than Rs. 20 per kilo. This is the story of almost every perishable goods in the state whose prices go up randomly as different powerful syndicates decide the prices based on their whim and fancy. Akhil and his gang of anti-corruption crusaders, hit upon a unique plan to try and put a spanner in this machine, or bell the cat.
For nearly a month now, his team has been buying the goods straight from farmers in Barpeta, and have been selling the same in the markets of Guwahati with just a marginal increase in price to cover the transportation cost. The result has been that the syndicates have been forced to lower the prices of essential goods. More power to the naughty cat-bellman, the Chhota Bhim, er... Chhota Anna, er... Akhil Gogoi.
A B C D E F Tea:
The fundamentals of the 180 year old tea industry of Assam aren't as appetizing as the heady concoctions the industry churns out with unflinching regularity. It stands on a bedrock of exploitation of labour. And today, it is labour that is hitting it hard as it goes though a crisis of survival with attrition causing an acute shortage of labour.
The story goes that in the initial days of the industry in the early 19th Century, scouts regularly lured workers from Bihar, Orissa, Telangana etc. to work as labourers in tea estates, promising them a laid-back, happy life. However, the workers got trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation often reminiscent of the African slaves in America before the Civil war as the British estate owners controlled them with an iron fist.
This approach still continues in some tea estates of the state. However, with changing times many labourers – after being away from their homelands for generations – are finally returning to their roots. Some have kids that are educated and refuse to join the cycle of exploitation their forefather have endured. Compounding the problem is that the estate owners, themselves are caught up in a time-wrap, refusing to loosen their iron fist.
Yet, the labourers demand their rights which has been met in many cases, but in some has been continuously denied to them. Most tea estates still do not give any gratuity, pension, provident fund etc. to the workers and this while the land owners enjoy hundreds of crores of subsidy every year as they are exempt from property tax.
The media is often full of reports of labour unrest in different tea estates and if the state of Assam has to continue producing 13% of all the tea in the world which it does now, it has to brace up for tough times and tough measures.
The Strange Case of An Open-Air Dinosaur Skeleton:
The natural abundance of the north-east region of India, of its flora and fauna, is unique in the world. Much has been discovered but much more remains as evidenced from this strange incident. A group of Hindu devotees had gone on a pilgrimage to a village temple in Chirang district in the Indo-Bhutan Border in the north of Assam.
While returning through the Kuklung forest in the region, the villagers found an intact six-foot skeleton at the banks of the Kuklung river that didn't look like it belonged to any creature alive. A curious villager carted it home. Word reached a local journalist who alerted the authorities in the Forest Department who informed the wildlife Trust of India, Gauhati University's Zoology Department and the Veterinary College in Guwahati.
Experts who examined the skeleton were shocked to find that in all probability the skeleton is of a dinosaur. This is still to be confirmed but what is surprising and which nobody seems to be asking so far is this: what was the dinosaur skeleton doing out in the open? Dinosaurs have been extinct for 65 million years, long enough for the carcass to simply disintegrate. Hence the only skeletons that have been found, have been found calcified between rocks and earth and had to be painstakingly dug out.
That means that if this is indeed a dinosaur skeleton, it is unprecedented to find one intact after so many millions of years lying in the open for anyone to just cart it home. One can even go on to make some wild, but exciting speculations that if this is indeed the skeleton of a dinosaur, then perhaps, just perhaps there are a few roaming the wild somewhere or were doing so till a few hundred years back.
Or perhaps the skeleton is of some species yet to be discovered, which may be found in the jungles and mountains of the region. Whatever be the case, this once again confirms the 'Pandora's Box' status of the north-eastern part of the country as more and more secrets of nature tumble out of its womb.