– John Steinbeck, US novelist
The 50-year cyclical bamboo flowering phenomenon, quite peculiar to this region of the North-East is called Mautaam locally.
To put this phenomenon in perspective, it was the indifference of the Assam (undivided) Government to the starvation deaths of the Famine of 1959-60, in erstwhile ‘Lushai Hills’/‘Mizo District’ that led to the secessionist call by the Mizo National Front (MNF), and the eventual birth of the present state of Mizoram. The food crisis was then – as is now – caused by what Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit in his book, ‘Sentinels of the North-East – The Assam Rifles’ put it: “The subsequent flowering of the young bamboo plants brings with it, also as part of the cyclical scourge, an astronomical increase in rodent population and their feeding on young plants and seeds. When the bamboos are devoured the hordes of rats move on to the paddy fields and devour the young stalks, the grain stalks and grain-stores, as happens during every recurring (Mautaam).” It is this Mautaam’s revisitation in Churachandpur District of Manipur, and its surrounding areas, that this APPEAL is all about.
It is pertinent to point out here that today’s Mautaam is concurrently affecting the contiguous areas of Mizoram State. However, the glaring and unhappy difference is that the government of Mizoram is quite ably managing the crisis in their areas. In fact, their relief measures are successful to the extent that some of Manipur’s affected villages are buying rice at the lowest of rates as supplied by that government to its affected villages that border ours!
Today Churachandpur and its surrounding areas – sans the inadequate State Government effort – have been fighting a lonely and losing battle against this frightening occurrence that showed its fangs from late 2006. The exponential increase of rodent population has devoured and laid waste to standing crops since then. This cyclical visitation has always been disastrous for the hill-folk of the region from time immemorial. Even in the 21st Century it is directly threatening the very existence of the affected, because more than 75% of the people still depend on traditional jhum cultivation. And two years of Mautaam has led to drastic fall in annual foodgrain production and a food crisis. In the southern region of Manipur, this sequence of events is a feared and known fact which, inexplicably, is still being ignored by the powers that be. Further, in this particular Mautaam, the problems are compounded by several unexplained events, viz. the sudden deaths of more than 30 children in Thanlon and Tipaimukh Sub-Divisions; animal plague and emergence of swarms of locust-like creatures. By now, the situation is so grim that the affected people are in the throes of a famine/death-like situation, in spite of interventions by the government. And laudable as the successful implementation of the NREGS is in the affected areas, the plight of the people remains unchanged, simply because what was supposed to be a flagship programme of the Central Government is just filling the yawning gap made by the State’s indifference.
According to official estimates the annual foodgrain production in 2007 was only 15% of what was expected. The production for 2008 is bound to fall even further. The District Administration estimated that, in 2007 a total of 16,050.13 hacs of cultivated land was damaged and directly affected 1,03,558 persons (58,179 adults and 45,379 minors) from 14,307 families in 264 villages ( out of 359 villages in Tipaimukh, Thanlon, Henglep and Singngat Sub-Divisions) of the District. Mention may be made of Sangaikot TD Block of Churachandpur Sub-Division which was not included in the initial estimates but subsequently suffered the same calamity. The financial requirement for providing famine relief was calculated by the District Administration at Rs. 19 crores. The additional foodgrain requirement was worked out to be more than 8000 qtls of rice per month. The Inter-Ministerial Central Team who surveyed the area between 2nd & 3rd April, 2008 observed: “With or without Mautaam famine the people are already suffering from severe poverty”.
Meanwhile, as on August 2008, the government distributed only 4,500 qtls of rice under its ‘Mautaam relief’. Some concerned NGOs like Aid Zomi Japan, Chennai ZCF, EFICOR, etc have been extending assistance in terms of a truck-load or two. But such help is frightfully inadequate, considering the enormity of the calamity. Providing sufficient rice – the staple diet – to the affected people is undoubtedly a gigantic task. So given the smallness of the state government’s relief measures till date, it would be unrealistic and dangerous to expect that the government alone will be able to ensure food security to each affected citizen for several years.
As such, the situation may be taken as opening an opportunity for the entire country to reach out to one small neglected corner of its land. Every concerned person or group from government to semi-government agencies to NGOs; from corporate houses to businessmen; from private or government employees … in fact each and every individual not directly affected by Mautaam famine … to extend all possible help to their fellow beings facing the threat of death by starvation!
We should collectively shoulder the responsibility of saving life … it’s a mission, a call … that one cannot ignore. It is a challenge that we must face, and a noble war that must be fought to be won.
Unless we do what can be done today, tomorrow may be too late for the hungry and hopeless who are anxiously awaiting your helping hands.
This humble APPEAL is made to all concerned individuals and groups to become a participant in the herculean effort to mitigate the suffering and fear of death … by starvation … of one’s own citizens, the more so because the affected inhabit a remote unheard corner of India, that is Bharat.
The undersigned are, therefore, co-ordinating a –
The entire exercise will conclude with a – “CONCERT FOR THE HUNGRY” 5th September, 2008
This Concert is to be organised by the MIZO ZAIMI INZAWMKHAWM and ZOGAM ARTISTS ASSOCIATION with representative Artistes from ZOMUS.
MODE OF PARTICIPATION
1. DONORS are requested to fill up the attached Mautaam Puuktaw Participation Form and may donate in cash or kind.
3. Cash contribution can be made through Chairman ZEPADA A/C No.11343708035, SBI/ Churachandpur Branch, Manipur.
4. All contributions and its subsequent distribution will be made fully transparent. The distribution will be non-partisan giving priority to the most affected areas. The List of contributors and amount contributed shall be acknowledged in a BOOK OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, highlighting the 50yrs cyclical visitations of Bamboo Flowering (Mautaam) in this part of the world.
5. The above drive/programme – First Stage – is being organised in a hurry considering the plight of the affected people and the fact that this time of the year is the leanest period in the region (even under normal conditions). However, any willing DONOR may donate even after the First Stage of the programme that culminates on 5th September 2008 because the effect of Mautaam shall not end so easily.
We volunteer to fight the war on hunger for and on your behalf.
Click the form link to download MAUTAAM-PUUKTAW : Participation Form