A Sunday afternoon walk in the main street of Ukhrul HQ from DC office to Police Bazaar is quite refreshing, with fewer vehicles on the spacious blacktop street as compared to other working days. But it is almost no different from walking in the streets of Delhi as the entire migrant population will be there in the street, basking in the sun while children play and shout in Bhojpuri, Bengali, Marwari, Nepali and many other languages foreign to us. The amusing thing is the common language used by the children of the mixed communities, shouting and abusing in Tangkhul. These children are so fluent in Tangkhul that they speak better than many of our Tangkhul brethren raised in villages. It is estimated that more than 15,000 non-Tangkhul residents have settled in Ukhrul town. And each passing year, the numbers increase overwhelmingly.
Imagine a community whose population consists of only children and the elderly. Your home today is struggling from the absence of a certain generation and a continued shortage of youths. The migrant population is increasing with time as ours too is migrating to metropolitan areas in search of quality higher education and better job opportunities. So while we have had a large inflow of migrants, we have seen an outflow of our own that mostly belong to the working age group of 18-45 yrs.—a huge percentage of our population. Common perception, rather an observation in spoken word, is that more than 65% of the mentioned age group of Tangkhul population may have migrated to other states. The economy is somehow surviving on this balance of inflow and outflow. However, this outflow has created certain problems that cannot be so easily allayed by the incoming migrant population as unlike mere economics, the problems are more cultural, social, and communal.
The supply of social labour, more voluntary and unpaid, here at home is running at deficit as there is excess demand by situation for every issue such as endless church and other social/community activities/ceremonies/festivals. These are rituals that keep the community alive and healthy, passing on valuable old wisdom. Growing alienation among the people as we progress is not a compromise that we should accept as a conscious society that wishes to nurture its young and care for its old. The small population of Tangkhul youths here are exhausted, unable to meet the demands. To this tired-out group, your presence is most needed. However, this is not the foremost of reasons and there are more pressing needs that beckon your presence.
A single learned individual’s presence can influence an entire neighbourhood at the grass root levels (especially the children). The younger generation here have very few relatable role models and people to look up to or be inspired by. There is a need for mentorship from learned and responsible individuals to guide the sprouting population of this age of affordable data’. Glimpses of information or news through television and social media without guidance and interaction have little to no positive influence. The images of success in the virtual world perceived by our children, of their dress culture, life style etc. from music videos and movies is distant from their reality and far from reach. What captures their attention, without guidance and direction, does not teach them etiquettes, habits, values, the importance of higher education, to be responsible citizens, how to lead a quality life or how to make informed political stands and decisions. Such factors have led to numerous additional problems, immensely affecting the attitudes towards life among many young people. And one visible outcome is the exorbitant rise in number of school drop-outs amongst youngsters. Sociologist Jonathan Crane from University of Illinois in a 1991 study has looked at the correlations between the mere presences of workers in the neighbourhood who held professional or managerial jobs (%HIGH STATUS) to develop an index of neighbourhood quality that takes gender, race, ethnicity and locations into account. In each case there was a sharp jump in dropout probabilities in the lowest range (5%) of %HIGH STATUS. The takeaway from the study titled “The Epidemic Theory of Ghettos and Neighbourhood Effects on Dropping Out and Teenage Childbearing” is that young ones and the morale of teenagers of our community have suffered, with the stark absence of a population belonging to the working age group.
Progress of our community strongly relies on the concerted efforts of our own people from diverse professions. Unfortunately, the absence of our efforts has made others (migrants) perform them for us while we have bred complacency. We have incurred heavy loss of potential. Chipemmi Raikhan, a young Tangkhul head mason of RCC, once recounted in a congregation of youths about the drain of wealth from our hometown. He had said, “Rs.10 lakh per annum is the minimum income of a head mason in Ukhrul and there are more than hundreds of them. But majority of them are migrants and they send the earned money away to their home each year which is worth around ten crore rupees (Rs.10 lakhs*100)”. Similarly, there are other professions and services performed by migrants that we, at home, have been paying for while neglecting to learn and acquire many of these skills ourselves—be it hairstyling, plumbing, mechanical work, masonry and entrepreneurship. Tangkhul migrants in (and those migrating to) metropolitan cities largely continue to work in the hospitality and service sector, hardly occupying top positions, than work back home in viable career options as mentioned. It is difficult to get this message across with very few people to make our community aware of it. It is obvious, and only natural, to be replaced by others if we are not interested in developing ourselves. The houses that the migrants live in or the shops they own could have been yours with honest efforts on your part. We must encourage our people to come home to share and develop necessary skills in order to someday occupy top spaces to prove ourselves equally capable and set an example for the present generation and those to come.
On yet another level, recourses from metropolitan cities and foreign countries in the form of various currencies are sent home in enormous amounts. We have become a community that is heavily dependent on a remittance economy with a number of us working outside. In such an economy, the greater problem arising is the debt incurred by almost every household. A number of us are mounted with debts from dubious and unofficial credit unions or financial networking groups (‘MARUP’) lending out money with interest rates ranging from 3-10% per month. And this culture is perhaps one of the reasons almost all the commodities of daily use are sold at high prices that fluctuate every now and then. Our economy is close to a joke that has possibly reached a level difficult to rectify. Nothing controls this economy and ‘inflation’ is a foreign term that’s only being recklessly remedied (short-run) with mounting debt. Our economy is unstable. None bother to look into the real troubles of our local economy as money just continues to be sent home without realising the reality that we speak of here. We are also in danger of becoming a community that is unbothered about knowledge expansion and promoting rational thinking.
In the context of the situation back home, many of you that migrate and achieve moderate to great success would hesitate to return. The lack of infrastructures in our hometown may have discouraged many of you to come back. That isn’t wrong, but I assure you that certain basic facilities available to you there such as electricity and internet are now in our hometown, comparable with that of metropolitan cities. Many of us, concerned community people, here at home yearn for learned individuals to come home and really connect with the young to inspire and mentor the sprouting ones by sharing their experience, knowledge and expertise. There is a huge gap in knowledge and idea sharing that we seek to bridge. Back in 2013 we were mere graduates when our URA Trust team started the first initiative—‘The Basic-Nurturing foundation’, striving to bring positive change and contribute better ideas to the education trend of Ukhrul district. We started free summer coaching camps for students in batches in different villages. The small contributions that our team in our younger days had put in grew into a larger sum as others poured in more with a blessing. Today the experiences in the field for the last 6 years have only affirmed the need to call upon the ‘Tangkhulnaos’ (professionals, intellectuals and volunteers alike) to come home and impart their experiences and expertise.
It may be hard to fathom, while we are still heavily dependent on the services of ‘outsiders’ in all spheres, that we may one day be self-sufficient. If resettling back home permanently may not suit as an option, it is our humble appeal to you, learned brethren abroad, to make seasonal visits (at least twice a year) and spend some quality time with youngsters. We need the long term commitment, a selfless sacrifice, of every ‘Tangkhulnao’ working/settling here/abroad to take part in various activities to resolve these social issues. Rather than another bureaucrat or a politician, our community needs good responsible ‘Tangkhulnaos’ to come home and truly contribute. We need individuals and intellectuals to come home, study the ground situation, and find out what ails our society to provide solutions to be the voice of positive change.
We are tempted to ask you to awaken the Nehemiah in you, to take that leap before the wall collapses, in as far as the cup-bearer to the king responded with concern to the news of his people in distress.