MAJULI: For these river people, the floods every year make their “sang ghars” (stilts) worthwhile.
The Mishings (tribesmen) dwell along major rivers in Assam and the plains of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh. The flood this year in the river island of Majuli, which is now a full-fledged district, had left a trail of devastation.
However, the houses of Nirmal Lagachu and scores others stood safe on stilts.
Stilts or sang ghars are built on a high rise platform and they are an integral part of the Mishings. They are made of bamboo, cane and hay but there is now an increasing trend to erect them on concrete pillars. A stilt has everything – bedrooms, drawing room, kitchen, toilet etc.
In the wee hours of July 10, the flooded Subansiri waters made way through a “dead river” Kherkota at a place some 20 km from Majuli district headquarters Garmur, and washed away a dozen concrete houses besides silting vast swathes of paddy fields. But houses that are stilts survived.
The Kherkota died in the late 1950s, locals said. The Mishings say they build the stilts to get respite from floods, diseases and dirt.Nirmal, her brother, nodded his head in agreement.
“The Mishings are not used to living in houses with the floor on the ground. They rear pigs and chickens which litter the compound. By living on sang ghars, they can get away from the dirt,” he says as his wife weaves a mekhela (saree) in rapt attention.
Ramesh Taid, a teacher at the Selek Sera Buk Lower Primary School, says the Mishings by nature are “dirty people” and as such, they live in stilts. The raised platform helps them to throw the dirt away.
Nipen Kaman, president of students’ body Takam Mishing Porin Kebang, says the Mishings build sang ghars as they are poor. Moreover, these are the traditional abodes of the tribe, he says.
Pigs moving around sang ghars is common. There will not be a single Mishing family that does not rear pigs and chickens.
“Pigs are a part of our lives. On any occasion – be it the death of a person, the birth of a kid, a puja, marriage or whatever, the guests are to be fed with pork. If not, they will feel offended,” says Rana.
Marriages are impossible if the couple bears the same surname. In case there is any through elopement, they guilty will be hunted down, separated or may even be killed.The Mishings are mostly cultivators and a backward people. In Assam, they are largely settled in Majuli and its neighbouring North Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts. In the Sarbananda Sonowal ministry, there is just one Mishing, sports minister Naba Kumar Doley.
Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Nirmal, a peasant, lost 14 bighas of land to siltation. With the land gone, he says he will try and eke out a living by becoming a daily wage earner.The floods disrupted communication at the Notun Sapori village, which has some 100 households, by washing away a portion of a bridge.
The locals are building an alternative bridge near the damaged portion with bamboo.Majuli deputy commissioner (district magistrate), Pallav Gopal Jha, told the New Indian Express that around 60,000 of the district’s 1.83 lakh population got affected by the floods. He said school children marooned were aided with books and bags. Mishings make up some 48 per cent of the island’s population.
“There was a sudden increase in the water levels of rivers and people were caught unawares. Fifty three revenue villages got affected. Siltation occurred at a number of agricultural fields,” Jha said.
Majuli has got reduced to one third of its original size in the past 100 years. So, where does the DM see the island 50 years from now? Soil erosion, caused by the Brahmaputra, is a serious problem. A lot of protection works have been planned and researches are going on. In the next 50 years, science and technology will develop accordingly and given the kind of attention Majuli is getting, I think it will be protected,” Jha says.