Where the children have no place

An incomplete rectangular hall with no roof, windows and doors stands on the north-eastern section of Eklavya Model Residential School’s campus. Inside, foliage grows wild and a scaffold table lies toppled. This is the school’s girls’ hostel that has been under construction since 2012.

The girls hostel which has been under construction since 2012.

The girls hostel which has been under construction since 2012.

The school at Bana in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Kameng district in India’s Northeast began its first academic session in 2009 after it was set up by the central ministry of tribal affairs intended to be part of 100 such schools across the country aimed at providing free education to tribal children from poor financial background through classes VI to X. However, with just four classrooms and seven teachers, the school at Bana isn’t exactly living up to its intended goal. In fact, media reports last year had highlighted the plight of the school which has seats reserved for students from all districts of the state. Principal RP Dubey says that not much has changed since then.
Last month, Union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram told chief minister Nabam Tuki to examine the prospects of expanding the presence of the schools in the state. While another school has been set up at Lumla in Tawang district, the very first such school is languishing under poor infrastructure.
Dubey, who took charge as principal last year in June, said that despite having “written to every department” there has been “no improvement” in the school infrastructure.
One of the biggest challenges has been the delay in construction of the two new hostels for the students.
“Only the ground floor of the boys’ new hostel has been completed so far”, Dubey said, while the upper floors still need to be completed. He said that public work department officials say that funds have not been released by the Centre for the work.
The girls’ hostel meanwhile has been marred with delays for three years.

Current principal RP Dubey came to Arunachal Pradesh from Uttar Pradesh in north India more than two decades ago.

Current principal RP Dubey came to Arunachal Pradesh from Uttar Pradesh in north India more than two decades ago.

Even with just sixty students in the entire school (30 boys and 30 girls), the present hostels, he said, are “overburdened”. Once the new hostels are built, the school will be able to accommodate more students. Dubey said that in this crunch for space “poor families are losing out”.
For the moment, both boys and girls stay in the old boys’ hostel in separate sections.
Sources said that funds have been misused ever since the school opened six years ago. Reportedly, more than Rs two crore were sanctioned for the construction of multi-storied hostels.
The district’s deputy director of school education Kata Rangmo said that the problems the school is facing are not new.
“It has been drowning in problems since its inception”, he informed.
Rangmo said that the school is losing out on sixty new students every year due to the delays that have accumulated over the years.
The PWD Bana sub-division assistant engineer Kapil Natung informed that around Rs 35 lakh meant for the completion of the ground floor of the girls’ hostel has not been released by the tribal affairs ministry yet despite having written to them on several occasions.
Natung, who took charge last May, also said that funds for the upper floors have not even been sanctioned yet.
There are other issues plaguing the school as well.
The school has just four classrooms and three science laboratories- which have very little equipment.
Payment of staff salaries too has been a major problem.
Last year, the school only began admitting new students as late as September when the staff salaries were paid after chief minister Nabam Tuki intervened to have their pay expedited. This in turn affected the student intake since most schools were already midway through their academic sessions.

Apparently hunting is an issue.

As if these problems were not enough, the school’s inability to build proper infrastructure could have an adverse impact on its long term plans.
Dubey informed that the first batch of sixty students which appeared for the tenth standard examinations last year had to do so at the Government Higher Secondary School in Bana. The principal is concerned that if this trend continues, it may affect its prospects to get affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
“Affiliation can be sought only if examinations are conducted for three consecutive years in the school”, he said. However, Dubey, who is originally from Uttar Pradesh and has been in the state for over two decades, remains optimistic and informed proudly that “our children did very well in last year’s central examinations”.

A version of this story appeared in The Telegraph. Link: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1151031/jsp/northeast/story_50622.jsp#.VjSLPrcrLIU

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Can music change the world?

For four days and nights, from September 24 to 27, twenty-eight musicians spanning across various genres came together for this year’s edition of the Ziro Music festival (ZFM) in the picturesque Ziro Valley in India’s remote north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. In four years the festival has grown exponentially and played host to scores of artists.

While music is still seen by many as a leisure activity, musicians across the globe are using their craft to bring about changes. In fact, this year there were a few musicians who made their festival debut at the festival, and used their songs to promote ideas of peace and change.
Yangon-based punk rockers Side Effect, who performed in India for the first time at this year’s festival, sing about politics and social issues that most in Myanmar are afraid to speak about or against.
Lead singer Darko C, sporting a pair of Ray Bans on the morning of the final day of the festival, said with a tinge of frustration that young people in Myanmar don’t care enough to talk about politics; but he hopes it will change.

Beer for breakfast. Myanmar's Side Effect think its important to sing about politics

Beer for breakfast. Myanmar’s Side Effect think its important to sing about politics.

“If we want to see changes then we must bring those changes ourselves,” he told me, gulping down Kingfisher Strong beer at 11 in the morning.
We spoke extensively about music censorship and how it has been relaxed a little recently thanks to “reforms” in the Myanmar government; but Darko reminded me that the more things change the more they remain the same.
For example, their song ‘The Change’ speaks about the apparent shift to democracy from the military junta that happened in 2011-12, with lyrics such as: Is it time to change, the change we always wanted? Kind of hard to believe that; you know should wake up now.
Their song ‘Meikhtila’ is another example of a socio-politically charged song. Written shortly after the anti-Rohingya riots in which at least 40 people were killed, the song talks about the destruction, and the video for the song was shot in the same town where the violence occurred in 2013.
Another artist who raises issues about socio-political problems through his craft is BK.
The young rapper from Tripura wrote in an email before coming to Ziro that he sings about issues of racism and politics and social problems because “I believe that through music we can bring about the necessary changes in society”.
One of the changes he hopes to bring about is in the people’s attitude about the northeast and its people.
On stage, before livening up the place with his immaculate flow, BK told audiences how he wasn’t fortunate enough to be born in a hospice or a hospital, and that he was born in the jungles of his home state where insurgency and communal rife has torn lives apart for decades.

BK sings raps issues such as the marginalisation of tribals in his home state of Tripura and the everyday racism that people from Northeast face outside

BK raps about issues such as the marginalisation of tribals in his home state of Tripura and the everyday racism that people from Northeast face in mainland India.

“Music has the ability to change a person’s attitude. Music can touch lives and change lives. Music is a gift from god. So let’s use music to change lives,” he says.

Singer-songwriter Takar Nabam from Arunachal, who is currently based in Delhi, also later told me that music can bring people together and help heal the world.
Post his opening gig, legendary singer Guru Rewben Mashangva from the state of Manipur said that music “has the power to change the world if people sing about issues that matter”.

Rewben Mashangva (left) a Tangkhul Naga singer from the state of Manipur on stage with Rais Khan from Barmer Boys of Rajasthan in the west of country

Rewben Mashangva (left), a Tangkhul Naga singer from the state of Manipur on stage with Rais Khan from Barmer Boys of Rajasthan from the west of country.

Mashngva is a staple in Ziro and is called the ‘King of Naga Folk Blues’. His unorthodox style of guitar playing combined with his gritty vocals have made him a festival favourite and inevitably draws comparisons with Bob Dylan. Little surprise that the legendary folk singer is one of Mashangva’s favourite singers.

Mercy, of the Tetseo Sisters, has a different take on the issue saying that they do not believe in musical activism “but admit that every song has a message”.

Kuku and Mercy from Nagaland's Tetseo Sisters believe more in spreading joy with their music. And they look good doing it

Kuku and Mercy from Nagaland’s Tetseo Sisters believe more in spreading joy with their music. And they look good doing it.

Based out of Nagaland and New Delhi, the Tetseo Sisters have performed across the globe at various cultural exchange events and have used their music to create awareness about voting rights and football earlier.
And while Mercy says that they do not believe in using music to stir controversies, she admits that “music is a powerful medium”.

Even the always jocular never-seems-to-be-serious Daniel Langthasa aka Mr India of Digital Suicide is positive that music can change the world.

Digital Suicide use their music to camouflage the seriousness of issues that they talk about.

Digital Suicide use their music to camouflage the seriousness of issues that they talk about.

Langthasa is based out of Haflong in Assam and has seen his place torn apart by underground violence – and that is reflected in the band’s music.

Their song #OPERATIONALLOUT acts like an outlet for anger and frustration over the presence and damages arising out of the numerous outfits in the region. The song begins with the acronyms of some of the larger separatist organisations.
The lyrics to most of their songs have no more than ten words played on loop, and his songs such as #AKHUNI that expose the hypocrisy of not talking about sex in the second most populated country in the world. Yet, a day after their performance, when I asked if music can change the world, he says, with his most serious face: Yes.