TODAY -

The making of village republics

Ninglun Hanghal *



Villages in north-east India has always been presumed to be 'little republics". That they are sufficient in terms of socio - culturally and economically. This might have been true in earlier generations, when needs are limited. But it is no longer so. These villages lack basic amenities, infrastructures and connectivity. At the most there are primary schools. Health care is nil while resources have become scarce.

It is in these situations that villages in remote south Manipur's Churachandpur district continue to struggle their daily life and livelihood. Jhum cultivation remains their primary occupation while they depend on forest for their other resources - food supplements, for construction of houses, for making essential household items and much more.

Though natural resources may have been available in the villages and forest, due to absences of economic activity and economic avenues these villages remained undeveloped and lack in all socio -economic parameters. Traditional knowledge alone could not lift them up from poverty. Most importantly these villages have a hard time to meet two square meals a day.

Villages in Thanlon block, Henglep Block an Singngat Block in recent years have seen a slow but steady move from this stagnancy to an economic activity that gives a new momentum in these villages. Since 2014, the North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project - NERCORMP undertaken by the North East Council have initiated various development models and strategies in these rural remote villages. Community farming, collective initiative such as self help groups for women were started.

A lot have been happening since then. For past two to three years, villages in these blocks of Churachandpur witnessed a progressive outlook and activities that enable them to enhance their productivity and know-how. Women groups in the form of Self Help Groups jointly engaged themselves in economic activity. They receive loans as seed money of which they would bring in essential items from the town - Lamka and sell it door to door.

The groups would also engages in collective farming such as economically viable crops like ginger, turmeric. Individually the women in these villages also took up non farming activity such as piggery, poultry. The loans would be taken on a minimal interest. Several women in these villages have also benefitted in terms of their earnings from their economic activity.

Moreover representative of every household in the village formed a Natural Resource Management Groups ( NaRMG). These groups have initiated farming, cattle rearing, fishery etc. At village Bukpi, Zamsuanlian , who is Chairman of the NaRM-G stated that the village have since learned the skills of collective management. He particularly mentioned that women groups have made a huge difference in terms of initiating various income generating activities. Most importantly he told that a sense of collectivity and savings have made a change in their life and lifestyles.

Women in Bukpi village have also set up grocery stores. These were basically known as "pan dukan" a small village shop selling betel nuts. These small 'dukans' are now turning into grocery stores that sells essential items ranging from soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, daily utilities including shoes and clothes.

At C.Zalen village, women group has saved over a lakh rupees from various income generating activities. Secretary of the SHG, Thetheim said " we plan to make a saving of Rs 200,000 in the coming year". In Thanlon village, a passionate Songkhamuan excitedly tells about his banana cultivation. With a small grant from the NERCORMP project he started off about 3 years ago.

At the beginning he planted an odd 5000 banana saplings. Since then he had been exporting his products to Lamka ( the headquarter town of the district). "Twice a week I sell out 5 baskets of banana" says Songkhanmuan. One traditional basket contains about a 1000 banana. As per his random calculations his monthly earnings comes to approximately 30-40 thousand a month.

Tallian village Chief Th. Pauzalun started a fishery pond besides his banana farm. He feels satisfied that he could proudly offer sumptuous food and dishes to his visitors. He also sells his banana, other crops and fish to the town. "This is motivating and encouraging" he said.

Fetching water from its source in rural hill villages was a hardship for all villagers especially for women folks. Under NERCORMP project village water tank have also been constructed at key locations in these rural villages. This has particularly benefitted women. They could save not only their energy but their time which they could devote to other economic activity.

To further enhance their productivity and skills NERCORMP also assisted in terms of providing support for spice grinding initiative. At Aina village Ginzapau who now owns one such spice grinding machine happily told that the village can now cultivate more variety of crops. Says Ginzapau "earlier since there is no grinding machine, villagers were not interested in spice farming"

Village blacksmiths are one of the key persons in the village. They play an important role in the village life and livelihood. All agricultural tools were handmade by the village blacksmith. A 60 year old Genna, in Aina village learn the trade from his maternal uncle at an early age. Since then he had been crafting tools from iron and steels, which he collects from remains/ scraps of trucks and vehicles.

A lone blacksmith in the village Genna says "neighboring villagers too came to me". So too is Kamkhogen at Tuilumjang village, who had been supplying agricultural tools to his entire village and even to the town - Lamka. "All the army( security personnel) posted around the villages buys Kuri ( knife) from me " he said proudly. He would often go to town and learn new skills to enhance his products and varieties. With a small support from NEECORMP village blacksmith now owns a machine too. This saved their physical labor and time and made their work more at ease and comfortable.

Carpentry is another crucial skills required for a village. NERCORMP trained such promising villagers to initiate carpentry works. Boison who gets a small support have earned an income. He makes table, chairs and furniture. He also engages in house constructions in the village. Boison is one of the most sought after in the village.

Slowly , now villages in these rural remote areas of Henglep sub division, Thanlon sub division, Singngat sub division have been waking up to collective effort and are engaging in economic activity. This has huge impact in their live as the villages have become livelier with enthusiasm.

But these are not without challenges. Even as villagers are proactively taking up various initiatives, key and crucial economic up-liftment in a larger scale are yet to materialize. Presently villagers' initiatives are limited. For instance absence of market and market avenues is one huge stumbling block. Though massive economically valuable products are being generated villagers have no opportunity to market their products. Moreover many of their products are seasonal and therefore perishable. Meanwhile, most of all their earnings goes for education and medical expenses.

Another crucial one is of course connectivity. These villages at the most has only about one or two small public transport ( a mini truck) that services once or twice a week or so, while the roads are in pitiable conditions. The making of a vibrant village that are economically self sufficient needs a concerted effort- most importantly, the state's role and sincere pro-active involvement in the progress and development of these villages in remote south Manipur.


* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on May 06, 2018.


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