As part of the prescribed curriculum of masters in Social Work we are required to undergo a block placement of 4-6 weeks after the completion of first year. In it we are expected to put into use the academic learning and practical experience gained over an year and work dedicatedly with an organisation to harness our skills and mould ourselves into a professional social worker.
I desired to work with an organisation which would provide me with grassroot experience and diversity in terms of learning and when I learned about Recognize Rise and Empower Association started by Mathanmi Hungyo,an alumnus of our department and the work done by them I reached out to him and applied for my block placement.
As part of my internship there I was required to undertake an impact assessment survey of the areas affected by the upcoming Jiribam-Imphal railway line in the newly created Noney district of Manipur. During the internship my base location was Imphal but the research work required me to be continuously on the move travelling to villages and communities affected by the under construction railway line. Apart from the railway related research I had the opportunity to visit some of the remotest villages on the Indo-Burmese border and familiarise myself with the health and education scenario in those areas.
The primary focus of my work was to gauge the socio-political and economic impact of the upcoming railway line on the communities affected by it and assess the local population’s readiness for tourism. What started as a study to assess the impact of railways gradually morphed into a lesson on the society and politics in the hill regions of Manipur. My work required interactions with local community leaders and village authority members in order to elicit their views on the impact of railways on the local community and visit the railway construction sites to witness firsthand the spate of environmental damages caused by the under construction railway line.
The section of Jiribam-Imphal railway line near Noney is home to the tallest bridge and the longest tunnel in the Indian railways network and witnessing these engineering marvels under construction in one of the most difficult terrains was an affirmation of man’s will to accomplish even the most difficult tasks.
Apart from this the interactions with villagers has been a impactful experience for me and made me immensely richer in terms of experience. The thrill of visiting some of the remotest villages like Akoklong and Thingou situated far up the hills and accessible only by a dirt road in a gypsy made me realise the hardships faced by the people residing there and their daily struggle of commuting from their villages. The hills which are primarily inhabited by Nagas fostered an insightful initiation for an outsider like me to experience the traditional Naga culture and develop an understanding about their customary laws and their politics. The lives of Naga people in the hills which is impacted by the overground central and state government and the underground supra-state Naga government is a tale unto itself and acts as a reminder of the historical mistreatment of Nagas by the state and central government and the struggle to maintain their identity.
The unfamiliarity to the local cuisine coupled with the lack of understanding of the local language made the travels a challenging yet self affirming exercise where I realised that one’s demeanour and broad smile can compensate for the lack of understanding of the local language. Apart from this, the interaction with railways and government authorities in the course of research work helped me immensely to build a broader perspective on the area and the scope of developmental work required in the newly created district.
The next leg of my internship involved travelling to some of the remotest areas in the newly created Kamjong district of Manipur along the Indo-Burmese border. There I got the opportunity to visit the schools and health centres and assess their situation. The interaction with the school and health centre staff was an eye opener for me in terms of effectiveness of government’s policies in these sectors and the local political divide between the hill and valley areas of Manipur which are segregated along community lines with Meiteis dominating the valleys and the Nagas dominating the hills with the political weight and decision making falling neatly in Meitei’s favour due to their numerical domination in the state.
The last leg of my internship involved close working with the organisation’s director to come up with a report of the impact assessment study conducted by us and chart out a plan for the development of tourism in Noney district. The experience of working under his able guidance and his vast knowledge of the state and the issues faced by it made the documentation process an enjoyable affair. Whenever I faced a dead end in terms of resources and ideas, he was forthcoming with all the requirements. Coupled with this, the readings and reference materials suggested by him over the course of my internship has enriched my knowledge pool immensely and made me capable of reflecting on my strengths and drawbacks in a meaningful way.
My month long affair in the hills of Manipur took me to the places I had long wished to travel and exposed me to the warm hospitality of Naga people. I go back after this with a treasure trove of learnings and experiences and the beauty of misty mountain tops in my eyes.
Delhi School of Social Work