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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tableaus from North East India at India's 66th Republic Day

Arunachal Pradesh

- Tableaux from Arunachal Pradesh presents the dance of the priest and its culture.
Tableau of Arunachal Pradesh at India's 66th Republic Day (2015)


- Tableaux from Assam showcased the incredible Majuli, the culture of the eastern state as well as its greenery.
Tableau of Assam at India's 66th Republic Day (2015)


- Tableaux from Sikkim represents the cultivation of black cardamom.
Tableau of Sikkim at India's 66th Republic Day (2015)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pranab Kumar Bharali - first North Easterner to head the Army Aviation Corps

Lt Gen Pranab kumar BharaliLt Gen Pranab Kumar Bharali has been appointed as the first Director General of Army Aviation in 2015. This also makes him the first ever Assamese to take on this role. Till 2015, the Army Aviation Corps officers could hold rank only up to Major General. This is the first time Army promoted an officer from Army Aviation Corps to this post. Bharali has been the head of Army Aviation Corps from July, 2009.

Son of late Uma Kanta Bharali, a police officer, Bharali did his initial schooling from various schools in Assam till he joined Sainik School Goalpara. He was selected for National Defence Academy in 1973. After graduating, he was commissioned as an officer in the Army in June 1977. Bharali stood first in various Army courses of instructions and has earned the coveted ‘Silver Gun’, ‘Commando Dagger’ and ‘Silver Cheetah’ trophies in such courses, which is a rare achievement.

He joined the Army Aviation Corps as an Army helicopter pilot in 1982. Later he became a flying instructor in the Army and rose successfully in the career in Army Aviation Corps. He has over 5000 flying hours in all types of terrains in India including super high altitudes of Siachin Glacier to Tawang to salt plains of Kutch to plains of Punjab. He commanded a helicopter unit of the Army in Missamari near Tezpur in 2000-2001.

He held the appointment of General Staff Officer (Operations) of a Counter Insurgency Force Headquarter, Colonel Administration of a Division Headquarter and Brigadier Aviation in a Command Headquarter in Jammu and Kashmir before assuming the appointment of Head of Army Aviation Corps in the capacity as the Additional Director General in Army Headquarters as a Major General in July 2009 being the senior most officer of Army Aviation Corps. Bharali became the first person from North East India to be promoted to the rank of Major General in the fighting arms of the Army. Later he became the first Assamese to be promoted to Lieutenant General rank.

On January 26, 2012, Bharali was awarded the coveted “Vishisht Seva Medal” (VSM) for his contributions as the head of Army Aviation Corps, on the occasion of Republic Day.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Major Ralengnao “Bob” Khathing - the first tribal Ambassador from North-East India

Major Ralengnao “Bob” Khathing (1912-1990), hailing from Manipur, a state in the North-east of India, had served the Army with distinction in the Second World War as an officer of the British Army, and later, went on to become the Indian Ambassador to Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1970s. He was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award by Indian Government in 1957.

Born at Ukhrul on Feb 8th, 1912, into a well-educated Tangkhul family, he received his primary education at Ukhrul. He had to travel almost 73 miles everyday for his education. He passed his 10th from Johnstone High School, Imphal and did his graduation from Calcutta University (Bishop Cotton College, Guwahati). He became the first graduate among the hill peoples in Manipur.

As a young King’s Commission Officer of the Indian Army during World War-II, he was the Commissioner to the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (which became the Kumaon Regiment) but was soon deployed to ‘V’ force Ops as Local Captain, Manipur Sector, to operate behind enemy lines on the Burma front. Amongst the many gallantry awards he received, he was conferred Member of the British Empire (MBE) and the Military Cross (MC).

After the War following the desire of the Maharaja of Manipur, Maj Khathing resigned from the Army to join the Interim Govt of Manipur as Minister in charge of Hills Administration. In 1948, in the first election of the State, he was elected to the Manipur Assembly from the Sadar constituency and made Minister (Hills Administration & Manipur Rifles). However, the Assembly was dissolved when Manipur joined the Indian Union in October, 1949.

The year 1950 saw Major Khathing taking over as Assistant Commandant of 2 Bn Assam Rifles posted at Sadiya where he experienced the great earthquake of Assam at its epicentre. During this calamity, he was actively involved in bringing normalcy in the affected area.

The same year, he was appointed Assistant Political Officer of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). On being posted to Sela Sub Agency, he was assigned the unfinished task of securing administrative control up to the McMahon Line. Taking two platoons of 5 Assam Rifles, he trekked all the way to Tawang and for the first time planted the Indian flag at Tawang, thus establishing Indian Administrative control of the town and area of Bumla on the McMahon Line.

With the setting up of the Indian Frontier Administration Service (IFAS), Bob Khathing was amongst the first two officers to be confirmed in the IFAS in 1953.

Thereafter, he was posted as the Political Officer of the Tuensang Frontier Division in 1954. During this term he was responsible for setting up the Village Volunteer Force. In 1957, he was posted as the first Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung district.

In 1961, he joined the second course of the National Defence College, becoming the first citizen to do so. On completion of the course, he was posted to Sikkim as the Development Commissioner in 1962.

However, after a few months, when the Indo-China War took place, he asked for and was transferred as Security Commissioner, NEFA, and was also Chief Civil Liaison Officer with the Army 4 Corps, Tezpur. He had an active role in the establishment of the SSB. In 1967, Khathing was posted as the Chief Secretary of Nagaland. During this term, the Nagaland Armed Police was established and he helped in the raising of the Naga Regiment.

In 1972, he was sent as Ambassador of India to Burma, becoming the first tribal to be appointed as Ambassador. Returning to India in 1975, he turned down offers of gubernatorial post. He, however, served as the Advisor to the Governor of Manipur, and on honorary basis as the Chairman, Tribal Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission, as well as the Chairman of the Administrative Commission, Nagaland.

In all his assignments, he never sought or asked for acknowledgment or recognition and considered his achievements as simply a result of commitment to his people and the country. He was conferred the Padmashree in 1957, in its second year of inception. He breathed his last at his home, Valley View Mantripukhri, Imphal, on January 12, 1990.

1. The Assam Tribune
2. E-Pao

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Gaan Ngai - the post-harvest festival of the Zeliangrong tribe of North East India

Beautifully dressed participants at Gaan Ngai festival (photo: Ashok Ningthoujam |

Gaan-Ngai is the biggest biggest annual post-harvest festival of the Zeliangrong people who inhabit in the State of Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. ‘Zeliangrong’ is the combined name of three cognate tribes Zeme (Zemei), Liangmai and Rongmei. Puimei, another cognate tribe performs the same festivals of the Zeliangrong. Gaan-Ngai is celebrated following the harvest season, in December–January every year. Full form of the festival is Chakaan Gaan Ngai. Chakaan means winter; Gaan means moonlit night; Ngai means festival.

The festival commences with the blowing of the traditional horn, making of holy fire for purification of the community, the congregational prayer of hoi, colourful dances and feast. The five-day festival heralds the closing of the old year and arrival of the New Year.

Gaan-Ngai is called Hegangi among the Zeme, Gin-Ngi among the Liangmai and Gaan-Ngai among the Rongmei and Puimei. The Gaan-Ngai is a festival during which those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell or departure; their graves are beautified, dances are performed in their honour,feast is given to the community in honour of the dead. Gaan-Ngai is thus the festival of both the dead and the living.

Gaan-Ngai is a great festival, a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. It is also an institution through which the community sustains their cultural heritage and way of life. Gaan-Ngai is the essence of the Zeliangrong culture.

The festival symbolizes the end of a year giving into a major cultural event of not only the Zeliangrong community but of other communities as well regardless of caste, creed or religion.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hirendra Nath Dutta - a poet and a humanist

Born at Titabor, Assam, in 1937, Hirendra Nath Dutta is a renowned poet, scholar an a well known translator. He is the recipient of Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004, Padmanath Vidya Vinod Smriti Sahitya Puraskar in 2013 and Assam Valley Literary Award in 2014.

After finishing his schooling from Mihiram Saikia High School of Titabor, Dutta studied science at Cotton College, Guwahati. After passing the intermediate exams with flying colours, Dutta studied English from the same college. He then moved to Calcutta to pursue his masters degree in Calcutta University. Later he joined J.B. College of Jorhat as a lecturer in the department of English. After working for six months at the college, Dutta joined Gauhati University as a lecturer of English. He not only enjoyed the profession of a teacher but also established himself as a guide for his students.

Dutta began writing poetry in the sixties. By that time he came in close contact with scholars and litterateurs like Prof. Amaresh Dutta, Navakanta Barua and Hiren Gohain. His first collection of poems was published in 1981 under the title Somdhirir Soworini Aru Anaya Anaya Kabita. Apart from that, Dutta has to his credit, several collections of poems Manuha Anukule (2000), Pal Anupalar Anch (2007), etc., and two collections of critical essays – Nirbasito Xomalosana (2011) and Mor Prabandha (2014). He has also edited an anthology of Assamese poetry – One Hundred Years of Assamese Poetry in 2007.

Dutta’s poetry is marked by unusual and impressive, density of form, and his own characteristic poetic diction that manages to project the tremor and confusions of the present age without being cynical. Dutta has participated in the Kabi Bharati Poet's Conference at Bhopal in 1987 and several Poet's Conferences held at New Delhi, Bangalore, and Calcutta organized by Sahitya Akademi.

Dutta believes that poetry is an art and art is ultimate beauty and it is the moral responsibility of any poet to pursue beauty, nature and its unending mysteries.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Maheswar Basumatary (Ontai) - poacher turned caregiver from Assam

Maheshwar Basumatary (Ontai) (photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee, IFAW-WTI)

Maheshwar Basumatary (fondly called Ontai by his colleagues) is an animal keeper with the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI)’s Greater Manas Conservation Project. He is a tracker, photographer, naturalist and wildlife defender, all rolled up in one. He was honored with 2014’s prestigious Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Award for his contributions to conservation in Bodoland.

Born in Bodoland, an autonomous district in Assam, Ontai grew up with strife all round, which forced him out of school. Married at 19, with no job in hand, he fell in with the wrong crowd and turned to helping poachers as a tracker.

Today, he is a reformed poacher who surrendered before the Bodoland Territorial Council in 2005 assisting the authorities in reviving Manas. He assisted the Forest Department and worked with the Bodoland Forest Protection Force (a community-based organization) in Manas, before joining IFAW-WTI in 2009 to assist in the pioneering rehabilitation of a pair of orphaned clouded leopard cubs as part of the Greater Manas Conservation Project. He was also featured in the Nat Geo documentary on the project, titled ‘Return of the Clouded Leopards.’

Ontai receiving Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Award 2014During the past eight years that Ontai has assisted in wildlife conservation, he has helped nab a number of poachers, seize illegal products, helped out with surveys of wildlife, among many others. That Ontai has been an inspiration is exemplified by his 18 year old son. Following in on Ontai’s footsteps, the latter is also currently working to help revive Manas.

Fondly known as Ontai, meaning ‘rock’ in Bodo, owing to his calm and resolute nature, Maheshwar is currently helping hand-rear orphan rhino calves as part of IFAW-WTI’s rehabilitation programme in Manas National Park.

Vivek Menon, executive director, WTI and regional director – South Asia, IFAW says, “It is an honour for us to have amidst us individuals like Ontai. Ontai and many of our animal keepers come from difficult backgrounds and yet, have taken to fiercely protect the natural heritage in their areas. Their zeal has not only helped us achieve a number of milestones, but has also given us the strength to keep striving for what we stand for – to secure the natural heritage of India.

"I know there are many others like me who have turned to help wildlife. I thank late Rajen Islary, the founder president of BFPF, who explained to me the importance of conservation. I also thank the Bodoland authorities, the Bodoland Forest Protection Force for accepting me during those years of difficulty." - Ontai.