WHAT AILS THE NORTH EAST?

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Read - Thangkhan­lal Ngai­hte teaches po­lit­i­cal science at Chu­rachand­pur Col­lege, Lamka, Ma­nipur. La­mat R Hasan let­[email protected] ■ La­mat R Hasan is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist. She lives in Delhi.

loan sys­tem called ku­ruk which charges in­ter­est rates of up to 10 per­cent per month. Those who can­not re­pay have to for­feit their live­stock, prop­erty and land, and are forced to leave the vil­lage.

And then there is grow­ing en­croach­ment from state projects and hap­haz­ard re­source ex­trac­tions. Pre­serv­ing the re­gion’s frag­ile ecol­ogy is now a press­ing chal­lenge. Chi­nai’s sur­vey in­di­cates that states like Na­ga­land, where land is gen­er­ally owned by the com­mu­nity, have a bet­ter chance of col­lec­tively re­sist­ing the on­slaught. Places like Lad Rym­bai in Megha­laya, where land is pri­vately owned, sim­ply could not re­sist the lure of easy money from coal ex­trac­tion. This new money from land ac­qui­si­tions and min­eral ex­trac­tion makes a few peo­ple mil­lion­aires, but fur­ther im­pov­er­ishes the ma­jor­ity and rav­ages the land. It ex­ac­er­bates in­come in­equal­ity, di­lutes deeply held val­ues and threat­ens to tear apart the so­cial fab­ric. There is warn­ing here for other tribal re­gions too, in­clud­ing the Zomi ar­eas of the Ma­nipur hills, where land is held in the name of the vil­lage chiefs.

An ex­pose of what ails the north­east from the in­side, this book also pro­vides words of cau­tion on what is com­ing from the out­side. Ur­gent ques­tions need to be an­swered: What mech­a­nisms can en­sure com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion in devel­op­ment plans? What are the down­sides of tourism pro­mo­tion? What are the eco­log­i­cal costs of the nec­es­sary tran­si­tion from jhum cul­ti­va­tion to plan­ta­tions or cash crops? Are call cen­tres and ho­tel man­age­ment the only av­enues for un­em­ployed youth? The con­ver­sa­tion must start now.

JMy Hus­band & Other An­i­mals 2: The Wildlife Ad­ven­ture Con­tin­ues

Janaki Lenin

320pp, ~499

West­land Books anaki Lenin’s quar­ter cen­tury of ad­ven­tures with her snake man-hus­band Rom Whi­taker first recorded in My Hus­band & Other An­i­mals gets bet­ter with this se­quel. In her trade­mark ir­rev­er­ent style she re­counts tales from the an­i­mal world; tales that are un­likely to cross an av­er­age mind – an­i­mal lover or not. Her sto­ries – most pub­lished as news­pa­per columns – are not al­ways about the four-legged. As Whi­taker points out in his in­tro­duc­tory note to the book, “In the best tra­di­tion of the In­dian snack called mix­ture, this col­lec­tion has equal parts of the whim­si­cal, se­ri­ous, tragic, and hi­lar­i­ous.” No sur­prise then that the book is not struc­tured into neat sec­tions. After read­ing the first few chap­ters, one gets used to the can­did yet ar­bi­trary por­traits of ele­phants, snakes, tigers or (hu­man) grand­moth­ers - in quick suc­ces­sion. The sto­ries take the reader back to Ger­ald Dur­rell’s clas­sic “My Fam­ily and Other An­i­mals” – the ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence in the ti­tle help­ing a lit­tle.

Lenin has had to deal with is­sues that wouldn’t have crossed Dur­rell’s mind. Con­tem­po­rary is­sues that oc­cupy the mindspace of per­haps solely those liv­ing in the Asian sub­con­ti­nent – such as “why do men rape?” and is it fair to com­pare such de­viant be­hav­iour with an­i­malkind? Not that rape is an alien con­cept else­where in the world, but our rou­tine in­sen­si­tive han­dling of such cases makes the vi­o­lence more bru­tal. This is also Lenin’s best re­searched chap­ter. She turns a tweet by megas­tar Amitabh Bachchan fol­low­ing the Nirb­haya gang rape case on its head. “Even an an­i­mal would not be­have so,” Bachchan had tweeted in De­cem­ber 2012. Lenin ar­gues that rape oc­curs across the an­i­mal world from scor­pion flies and garter snakes to ducks, geese, bot­tlenose dol­phins and pri­mates. She delves into the psy­cho-so­cial rea­sons for com­mit­ting rape in both the an­i­mal and hu­man worlds, won­der­ing if rape is a male sex­ual strat­egy to get around a short­age. “The smaller chaps have noth­ing go­ing for them. Not only don’t they have the physique, but they also don’t have a ter­ri­tory to call their own. No orang fe­male will give them the time of day. So in­stead of howl­ing, these smaller chaps go prowl­ing for sex,” she writes. Yet only 0.2 per cent of cop­u­la­tions ob­served in the wild are co­erced. Even among male chimps, who are known to be vi­o­lent, forced sex is in­fre­quent. Lenin bad­gers Bachchan’s tweet hol­low: “So Amitabh Bachchan may be right; there’s no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that an­i­mals, other than hu­mans, are sadis­tic.”

Lenin’s ob­ses­sion with an­i­mal poop is fas­ci­nat­ing, dis­gust­ing and in­trigu­ing all at once -- a fix­a­tion Rom warns read­ers about in the in­tro­duc­tion. Her ar­gu­ment on why exc­reta is im­por­tant for an­i­mals is con­vinc­ing and she men­tions her dog Koko, who loved de­vour­ing her own poop due to a min­eral de­fi­ciency, hatch­ling igua­nas eat­ing their mother’s poop, and rab­bits and hares too. In­deed, the list of an­i­mals en­gag­ing in this be­hav­iour might be too long for those who think only pigs eat poop. She shines the torch on an­i­mal life much bet­ter than many vol­umes by ex­perts. Whether it is about snakes and their per­son­al­i­ties, about but­ter­flies and lizards or about cats and crocodiles, her first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence with an­i­mals – those liv­ing with the cou­ple and those they meet on their trav­els to ex­otic lands – pack in more facts than the av­er­age book on an­i­mals. Lenin is also un­for­giv­ing in her keen­ness to con­di­tion av­er­age be­ings to per­ceive the an­i­mal world like she does. Sam­ple this: Does the growth of the broiler chicken in­dus­try help in­crease the num­ber of jun­gle fowl? Do civet cats get headaches when the cof­fee sea­son is over? How does one find out if a ven­omous snake is a Type A per­son­al­ity? If the point of sex is pro­cre­ation, why has evo­lu­tion not weeded out non-pro­duc­tive sex? Or is same-sex be­hav­iour merely a re­sponse to a short sup­ply of one gen­der?

A few years ago, Lenin wrote, in her 100th col­umn for The Hindu news­pa­per, of how she was lec­tured for dis­re­spect­ing her hus­band in the ti­tle of the col­umn (“My hus­band and other an­i­mals”). Un­apolo­getic, she de­fends the ti­tle say­ing hu­man be­ings may think they are su­pe­rior as they have a cul­ture, a lan­guage, and can em­pathise, but that there is enough proof to show that an­i­mals are not in­fe­rior. Lenin’s writ­ing is in­tel­li­gent and en­dear­ing and also an­swers the mother of all ques­tions: Who is more in­tel­li­gent - dogs or cats? This work is in­deed an In­dian “mix­ture” - spicy and tangy – and makes you hun­gry for Part 3.

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