Sep 9, 2016

Closour Report - A Native Tongue Called Peace

Recording of song with children
Recording of song with children

In 2010, there was a blockade called by Naga organisations in both the highways (National Highways 37 and 39) leading to Manipur against the State government’s decision to bar the entry of NSCN (IM) leader Th. Muivah into his home district Ukhrul, Manipur. In one of the rallies supporting Muivah’s entry into Manipur held at Mao gate, two Naga boys were shot dead by State police forces. And the highway blockade continued for three months. The blockade led to shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies in the State. This condition also fuelled communal tension between the Nagas and Meiteis of Manipur.

 During the three months, Burning Voices, a Delhi based organisation of poets and musicians which Akhu was also part of, raised funds from people all around the world and bought medicines for common ailments for the people of Manipur. He came down to Imphal and become part of medicine distribution team. On one occasion, they distributed the medicines at a children home in Kanglatombi, Senapati District. There at the children home, they found out that the children are from various ethnic backgrounds and tribes and these children hardly bothered about their own ethnicity or social status. They were simply happy living under one roof and sharing what they had at the home. This was one moment that made me realised that if we recreate such innocence, the people of Manipur can coexist respecting each other. Since then, he had thought of launching a music project with children to promote peace and harmony between the ethnic tribes/communities of Manipur. So he started an initiative called “A Native Tongue Called Peace.”

It  started from May 2015 with the children of Carmel Jyoti Children Home. He introduced various ethnic music instruments and folk songs with help from Chaoba Thiyam, a Pena player and Guru Rewben Mashangva, a Naga folk singer.. At the same time,  origami classes were organsied which the children thoroughly enjoyed were . As the project went on, he found out that  many of these children are also living with HIV. Moreover, they also have lost their parents due to familial and other crisis in Manipur. Many of them are on ART medication which impacts on their moods often. Sometimes they were cranky and grumpy; sometimes they don’t want to play the guitar. Akhu and his teams had to encourage them with stories of musicians and artists, how music have healed and played important role in a society like ours.

They started using music as a therapy to heal the children emotionally and expose them to a different world of joy which they have not found in their daily activities. In one such therapeutic session, they played a song by Nepali instrumental folk band Kutumba.

 In the month of July, they finished the first song called “All We Need Is Love”. The song also featured legendary Indian guitarist Rudy Wallang on bass and Keith Wallang on percussions. The children sang the chorus part and recorded inside the compound of the children home. Later in early August, Churachandpur was in turmoil protesting against ILP Bills passed by the State Assembly which consequently led to the killing of nine persons by security forces. And there was some sort of communal tensions brewing between Kukis and Meiteis. In such moments of ethnic differences, music is of immense importance.  With children  he and the children penned  sone called  “About these dolls”. 

“Hey little shinning doll,
you look so bold,
don’t know where you belong,
but I will give you a home”

 By this time, some of the children had already learnt how to play guitars from my band mate and classical guitar player Karnajit Laishram. Karnajit is an excellent guitar teacher with a three years’ experience of guitar teaching in Bangalore School of Music. He also has a diploma degree in classical guitar from ABRSM. 

Soon after he released the song “Little Shining Doll” and a preview organised for Child Welfare Committee, Imphal East, the children performed the song at Royal Academy, Imphal on teachers' day celebration. Few days after, the song was released on YouTube and YouTube India shared my band Imphal Talkies' YouTube Channel as channel of the day with a screenshot of the children performing the song 'Little Shining Doll' from the YouTube video we released.

 Akhu has done good work with the children. He implemented the project in state which is plagued by ethic conflicts and insurgency. FST will continue to support him in future through other means. 

Rehearsing with children
Rehearsing with children
Jul 28, 2016

The Safe Home continues to be a safe haven

Counselling session at the Safe Home
Counselling session at the Safe Home

Update

Despite the delay in formalisation of this new project Lalthanzami has continued to work at the Safe Home that she runs.  A total of 15 women were provided shelter at the Safe Home over the past 3 months. She also carried out a series of outreach activities in 20 households in the neighbourhood to raise awareness and knowledge around the issue of Violence against women . This has helped her team to assess the situation of the women living in those communities and their repeated interactions have revealed that domestic violence is commonplace in most homes, even if fear of causing major family disputes prevents the women from raising their voices.

In two instances, where the women spoke of their ordeal and shared that their husbands had forcibly divorced them and were now refusing to provide for the maintenance that they were entitled to, Lalthanzami’s Safe Home team helped them to file cases in the courts and successful claim maintenance costs of Rs. 3500/- per month.

Lalthanzami 's team also dealt with  health problems faced by one of the women residing in her Safe Home by taking her to the local Government run hospital for her treatment. After three weeks of regular medical treatment this woman is now healed and well again. She has since moved out of the Safe Home and has rented a place of her own in the locality.

One survivor of domestic violence, after finding a job, moved out of the safe home along with her four children and started living independently.

Clearly this Safe Home has become  a catalyst for change, empowering the victims to become psychologically stable and self-reliant.

Meanwhile she continues to battle various odds.

  • Inadequate funding has becomes a major impediment in the smooth functioning of the Safe Home.
  • The limited space at the Safe Home poses a problem when mothers move in with their children and all the inmates have to huddle up in one single room.  
  • Shifting to another bigger space is not an option due to inadquate funds. Shutting down is also not an option as the Safe Home continues to place a crucial role in the lives of women across Mizoram.

Mahlui's story

Lalthanzami helped Mahlui (43 years) and her daughter Rinpuii (18 years) who were somehow making two ends meet after her husband deserted her in 2011. They were keeping a low profile as they were ridiculed by the local community and increasingly harrassed by the young boys and men of their neighbourhood. When Rinpuii was molested by a man, Mahlui sought help from a local council member who brought them to Lalthanzami’s Safe House. She helped them file a case against the man who molested Rinpuii and the police arrested him after an investigation.

Sungte's escape

In another case, Sungte (34 years) was suffering at the hands of her abusive husband as she was an orphan and had nowhere to go. One night when her husband beat and almost strangled her, she decided to seek help for herself and her two children, and approached the Women’s League of Chinland, who rescued her and sent her to the Safe Home with her children.

Lalthanzami has the following activities planned for the next quarter

  • Counselling sessions for the women at the Safe Home to build their self confidence
  • Vocational training and livelihood skill training to the women
  • Building linkages to help the women showcase and improve the market value and sell their products

Meanwhile the FST team's proposed visit to Aizawl to assess her situation and chart a course of action to take her project forward is being rescheduled to the next quarter and a revised plan will be worked out to enable her to effectively avail of the funds raised so far.

Preparing dinner at the Safe Home
Preparing dinner at the Safe Home
Discussions with FST team at the Safe Home
Discussions with FST team at the Safe Home
Weekly meeting to plan Outreach activities
Weekly meeting to plan Outreach activities
A message from the Safe Home
A message from the Safe Home
Apr 29, 2016

Another update from Aizawl

Lalthanzami's proposed project to set up a resource centre for survivors of violence and abuse, is currently on hold due to lack of fund support and a need for a detailed review of the work done so far.

She has however initiated the process by setting up a committee comprising experienced women from her community who will help to manage this Resource Centre. The committee members have had discussions about the prospects of initiating appropriate livelihood skill training programs for the survivors and other needy local women, that include making of artificial flowers, cooking and even beauty therapy. Additionally they plan to offer trainings on issues relating to domestic violence, property rights, accessing legal support and health issues to empower the women. Lalthanzami is also in touch with friends and wellwishers to solicit their support to sustain her efforts.

FST is also facilitating Lalthanzami's networking and capacity building with other organisations to explore options for taking her work forward. In the recent past, we arranged for her to attend a South Asian Feminist Capacity Building Course on Gender, Sustainable Livelihoods, Human Rights and Peace organised by SANGAT in Kathmandu. She recently attended a workshop on a project for Deepening Diversity, Women's Rights and Democracy in India conducted by MARG, CAFI , in Guwahati and is hoping to be involved in their plans for capacity building of a cadre of 'community justice workers' in her state of Mizoram.

FST team plans to continue engaging with Lalthanzami and visiting her in the near future and meeting with the community where she works and having indepth  discussions with other survivors who have benefitted from her efforts. The idea is to rescale the project in view of limited resources, and to explore sustainability by tapping into existing and potential options that are available officially from the state government as well as existing civil society organisations. 

 
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