Monday, December 22, 2014

ISL & NEUFC: Rejuvenating Football in Northeast India

Scene 1:

Year: 2006
Venue: Nehru Stadium, Guwahati
Occasion: Semi-Final of Bordoloi Trophy
Match: Oil India Limited (OIL) vs Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB)
Audience: Hardly 500

That was the first time I watched a football match live in a stadium, that too under flood lights. But even though the match was exciting, the attendance was disappointing.  

Scene 2:

Year: 2014
Venue: Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati
Occasion: League Match of Indian Super League (ISL)
Match: North East United FC (NEUFC) vs Atletico de Kolkata (ATK)
Audience: Above 30,000

This time the atmosphere at the stadium was electrifying, the match was brilliant, the support for the home team was overwhelming and whatever the outcome of the match, it was Football that emerged as the final winner.

The ISL has arrived with its catchy motto: Let’s Football

And while it has rejuvenated the spirit of Indian football, it has also brought into forefront the football skills of the region known collectively as the Northeast India.

Since the time of announcement of the name of the team as North East United FC (NEUFC), the craze among the people of the region seems to have picked up. The craziness and enthusiasm was visible in the form of full capacity crowds at the stadium in all the home matches of the NEUFC.

Ongoing Match: NEUFC vs ATK

While it was known that the Northeast has enough talent, there was no such visible platform to showcase this talent at the national and international stage. The Shillong Lajong club has impressed the football fraternity at the I-League but still there was something still missing to give fillip to the football atmosphere in the region. The ISL finally gave the Northeast the right platform and the right atmosphere. The local players of NEUFC were able to impress the football fraternity with their skills. The young local lads, like Durga Boro, Alen Deory, Robin Gurung, Aiborlang Khongjee, Jibon Singh, Boithang Haokip, Seminlen Doungel, have shown that they have the requisite skill sets to match their foreign counterparts. 

Match about to begin at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati

Northeast India never had the dearth of quality football players. Talimeran Ao was the captain of the Indian national football team in the 1948 London Olympics. Baichung Bhutia, perhaps the most popular footballer from this region, captained the Indian team and is India's most capped football player. The current Indian national football team has six players from the Northeast. Approximately 70 percent of the players of India’s Under-14 and Under-16 team are from this region. The Mizoram state team has won their maiden Santosh Trophy in 2014. This exhibits the talent this region has in terms of football.

The best thing about ISL was that the local players were able to play alongside top players of world football. In case of NEUFC, the local lads surely improved their skills while playing and training with international players like Joan Capdevila and Koke. Under the eyes of their coach, Ricki Herbert, who was a former New Zealand footballer as well as former head coach of the New Zealand national team, the players surely developed as the tournament progressed.

NEUFC may not have performed as per expectations of its supporters at home but it surely has developed its game and in the subsequent seasons we would surely see better football and better results from the team.

The first season of ISL has ended and we have got the first champion of the League in the form of Atletico de Kolkata (ATK). This league has finally been able to provide a platform for Indian football which has taken this sport to more than 400 million homes throughout the country.

But the journey for Indian football has just begun. We are yet to qualify for a World Cup. There is plenty of talent here but there is lots of work to be done at the Grassroots Level. The FIFA Under-17 World Cup will be held in India this time and some of the matches will be played in Guwahati as well. There is need for Football Academies, Football Schools of excellence, etc in the region. Schools may tie up with Football Academies so that the students can pursue the passion for the game as well as excel in their education. 

We, in Northeast India, have immense talent but talent alone cannot win everything. Systematic training, proper facilities, skill development and education for the players are very much necessary to bring out the proper sportsperson amongst them.

With high hopes that Indian Football reach newer heights, I once again reiterate: C'mon India, Let's Football!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Northeast India: Breaking Stereotypes, Generating Self Employment

The new millennium has ushered new avenues for employment generation throughout the world. Our nation too is making progress towards eradicating unemployment and ensuring income generation avenues for all. During the period July 2013 to July 2014, the employment generation rate of India was more than 20 per cent. This was almost double of what was in 2012-13. New jobs are being created and a new entrepreneurial class is coming up in the nation. Today, we do not see parents pushing their children only for studying engineering or medical as means of future employment potential. A career in sports, music, media and other mediums are slowly being recognized by the people. This is indeed a good sign.

However, Unemployment still is a major problem here in Northeast India. Lack of access to quality education coupled with lack of avenues for employment has been the major reasons for unemployment in the region. This has forced many to look towards the few available avenues for employment. For example, during the last few years, with large number of recruitments made by the education department through the Teacher’s Eligibility Test (TET), a large number of unemployed youths are appearing for the test. But the question here is that are the youths taking up the test because of their interest in teaching profession or because they need a job. It is a safe guess that it is the latter. And this has been proved by the fact that many of the teachers appointed in schools in interior areas do not regularly take the classes or go to the schools. The ultimate sufferers are the students.

One can understand that this is because the youths are unable to find meaningful employment and neither the state governments nor the Union government has been able to create enough avenues for employment. As such there is the need for promoting self employment amongst the youths of the region, for which Northeast India has numerous avenues. There are also various jobs and courses which are relevant in this region. Some of these are discussed below. I have given greater emphasis on agriculture as majority of the population in Northeast India live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture and allied activities. Also, I have omitted some obvious avenues like information technology and media.

  • Agricultural Research can be taken up in areas such as evolving suitable agro-techniques for greater yield, developing an integrated pest and nutrient management system, developing appropriate soil and water management techniques, etc. There are a number of institutes in Northeast where these researches can be carried out like Assam Agricultural University, Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Assam, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Research Complex, Meghalaya, Central Agricultural University (CAU), Manipur, etc.
  • The Self Help Group (SHG) movement is yet to take proper shape in Northeast India. Except for Assam, the other northeastern states have not witnesses enough penetration of this movement. The rural youths needs to take advantage of the support being given by the government to the SHGs. This is a great avenue for self employment. The North East Rural Livelihood Project (NERLP), undertaken by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) with assistance from World Bank, has the capability of changing the rural unemployment scenario. Beginning in March 2012, the project has seen formation of over 4000 Self Help Groups (SHGs) and skill training to over 1500 youths. The rural youths need to make themselves aware of the same.
  • Agriculture is still the primary source of employment for majority of the rural population. But, traditional methods of cultivation need to be replaced by modern, scientific methods and use of modern tools like power tillers needs to be increased.
  • Youths can take up cultivation of high-yielding varieties of crops and also certain high yielding methods of cultivation like the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) method. There are various institutes like Rashtriya Gramin Vikash Nidhi (RGVN) who provides training for this. Cultivation of cash crops like jute, sugarcane, maize, horticultural crops can also be thought of. Nowadays, there are various agencies which give out loan for agricultural purposes, so finance should not be a problem.
  • Cultivators in flood-prone areas need to take up early sowing of short-duration paddy like Boro rice variety- Joymoti, Jyotiprasad and Kanaklata, developed by Assam Agricultural University. These varieties mature 30-40 days before the traditional varieties of paddy and also gives a greater yield. Also, deep water crops like Bao paddy may be also be used. These flood-resistant crops have naturally elongated stems to keep the foliage above water.
  • Sericulture, handloom and handicrafts are another field which has a bright future and produce made from these sectors can make their presence beyond the national boundaries.
  • Retail sector will have maximum employment generation capability in the coming years in the Northeast. So retail management will not be a made choice among the youths of the region.
  • Specialized courses, which have relevance to the Northeast, can be taken by the youths. Some such courses are: polymer sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, geology and petrology, hydrology and physical sciences, bio technology, plantation regeneration / management, Tea Research, etc. As only few institutes provide such courses, colleges and universities in the Northeast too should take their own initiative in introducing these courses.
  • Tourism is another sector which has immense potential. Theme-based tourism packages, tie-up with locals and letting them create locally flavoured travel packages, developing packages based on a travel circuit, and various other innovative ideas can be thought of. 
  • Foreign trade is another avenue which is very less taken up here. Traders here do not take this due to lack of knowledge about the nuances of foreign trade. But this also has immense potential in Northeast India, if one chooses to go for it.
In this article, I have mentioned a few things which I have come across articles, websites and during discussion with various persons. This is not an exhaustive list and I would request readers to add to this list.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 30: Homage to the Departed Souls

October 30, 2008 - A black day in Assam’s history. On this very day, nine coordinated bomb explosions in four towns of Assam – Guwahati, Barpeta, Bongaingaon and Kokrajhar - led to the death of around 100 persons and wounded another 545. Apart from the death of individuals, this incident took away the livelihood as well as happiness of numerous families.

Many of the dead were the sole earning members of their respective families; so their deaths meant that the responsibility of the family was left to their wife or in some cases to the old-aged parents or some other relatives. The incident, thus, led to the creation of many such households, which were headed by a women, who had never before taken up the earning responsibility and now apart from running the house, they had the responsibility to the earn for their family as well.

During the last few years, I had met many women, who were widowed by that incident. Most of them are now living a life of struggle. Apart from looking after their children and other household chores, they are also working for a living. This has left many of these women melancholy and depressed, short-tempered and also they now shy away from society. Though they have received one-time financial assistance from the government, it was not enough to carry on with their whole life. Government had promised jobs but many of them did not get it, although being eligible. 

Another injustice meted out to these families is that the perpetrator of this crime has not been punished yet. The investigation to the blasts had revealed that the NDFB faction headed by Ranjan Daimary was involved in the blasts. But, he is yet to be sentenced for his crimes. He was, in fact, released on bail for the sake of peace talks with his outfit. He has now been rearrested, after his interim bail period expired on September 29, 2014. Hope he is not allowed to go free again and be given some exemplary punishment for his crimes.

Instead of organizing a memorial service every year, just for the sake of it, the government instead has to make a specific policy for the rehabilitation of the family members of such incidents and it does not mean just paying compensation in cash. According to the qualifications, they need to be settled in jobs. Government may also take up vocational and skill development courses, for those who wish to be self-dependent. Civil society organizations/NGOs could also play their part by helping them in a similar manner.

On this day, I pay my homage to the departed souls and hope we no longer have to witness such massacres again. May peace reign in our state, our country and in this world and also in our minds.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Honesty is the Best Policy (A Short Story)

(Few Days Ago, I had attended the marriage of a childhood friend. There I met all my old pals and it reminded me of some of the little 'adventures' of those golden days of our lives. Here is a fictionalized account of one of such incidents of my childhood, which was published in a children magazine few months ago)

“Get in.” 

 “Make it quick before someone comes around.”

“Be Careful.” 

“Yes, yes. I am getting in. Don’t shout. “

It was 3 pm in the afternoon and the Gang of Four, as they were called in their neighbourhood, was at the premises of the Tea Garden Staff Club. The Gang of Four comprised of Rahul, Bhaskar, Arun and Deva. All of them were studying in class VIII and had grown up together since childhood. At the moment they were busy putting Deva inside the club through a broken window pane at the backside of the club. Once inside, Deva would then open the window and the other three would get in. This has been their routine for the last 10 days. And the reason for this adventure was to play carom board inside the club.

The Gang of Four were having their summer holidays and while they played cricket for the first few days, it has been raining for the last two weeks, thus spoiling their chance of playing outside in the field. So they have been forced to play indoors and what can be better than carom board to play. But the problem was that neither had a carom board at their home. However there was a carom board at the club but the club opened only at the evenings after the garden staff came back from work and they were not allowed outside their house at that time. So they were unable to play in the club also.

 And then one day Arun found a solution to this problem. He discovered the broken window pane at the club and since that day they used to go there at 3 pm and Deva, being the thinnest among the four, would get inside the club through the opening and make way for the others to enter. They would then play for two hours till 5 pm and then three of them would get out through the window. Deva would close the window from the inside and then come out through the broken window pane. 

Today also they gathered around the board and started playing. They kept discussing various topics during the play. Suddenly with a loud noise the stand holding the board crashed down. The black and white carom board coins flew away in all directions and to the horror of the four players, the board developed a crack at its middle portion. For a few moments there was a pin drop silence. Neither of the four moved. They only kept staring at the board. They were expecting people to keep running to the club on hearing the noise. But nothing such happened. Now they realised that the noise had not been that much as they had thought and none apart from them had heard the noise.

Finally Bhaskar spoke up “What to do now? The Board is broken and we are doomed.”  Rahul said, “We have not done anything. The stand broke down on its own. It was already old and worn down. It would have anyway broken down some other day. We are not at fault.” Bhaskar said again, “But it broke while we were playing here, that too without the knowledge of others. We were already doing a wrong thing by entering the club this way and then on top of that this thing happened. So, we are the guilty ones.” 

Deva was silent during all this time. His father was the secretary of the club and he was thinking if his father came to know about this, he would be getting a sound thrashing. Rahul said again, “Let us get out of here and go back to our homes. We will behave as nothing has happened and nobody will know what happened here. As nobody knows that we come here, we will also not be blamed.” 

Arun spoke up now, “It will be wrong on our part to do such a thing. This has happened in our presence and we will have to sort it out ourselves.” Deva was quite nervous. He said, “What can we do? We can’t fix this board and stand ourselves. These are broken.” Bhaskar said, “Arun, I agree what you said but how can we fix this.” Rahul once again repeated his plan to escape. 

Arun said, “Let’s do one thing, we all go to Deva’s house and tell his father everything. He needs to know about this incident as he is the secretary of this club and he is responsible for whatever happens here. What do you all say to that?” The other three thought for a moment. Finally, Rahul and Bhaskar agreed. Deva was a little reluctant but after a little persuasion he agreed.  He however said that he will not do the talking and that the other three have to explain everything. They all agreed. They picked up the fallen carom board coins, placed the broken stand and the board against the wall and came out of the club through their usual way.

They then went to Deva’s house. Deva’s father had just got back from office. They went up to him. Arun first spoke, “Uncle, we would like to speak with you. “ He then told him everything. Deva’s father listened patiently and then said, “You people should have asked me once before entering the club that way. I would have arranged for you to play at the club during the afternoons. Anyway whatever has happened has happened. I will take care of that thing and get the carom board repaired. However, I am happy that instead of keeping silent on the issue, you people have come forward with the truth. I am impressed by the honesty of you boys.” 

With these words a crushing weight seemed to have got down from their chest. They felt relieved. They also decided that from now onwards that will not do such things without the knowledge of their parents. Arun said, “We did the right thing by being honest about everything. We faced the problem instead of running away from it. This is the attitude that we must always keep with us.” All of them nodded their head in agreement. And even the Sun was pleased with them, as from the next day there was bright sunshine and they were able to resume their Cricket matches again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Fascination for Football: Through the Eyes of a Die-Hard Brazilian Fan

Yes, I am a die-hard fan of the Brazilian Football team. For me, Brazil is just synonymous to football. And this notion is imbibed in me from a time I don’t even remember. But I do remember that as a nine year old kid, I had watched Brazil lift the World Cup trophy in 1994. I do not have much recollection of that edition of the World Cup, but I remember the penalty shoot-outs through which Brazil had defeated Italy in the final; the missed penalty of Roberto Baggio of Italy still etched somewhere in my memory. 

The next edition of the World Cup in 1998 cemented my fan worship for Brazil and I was so into that team that I cried when they lost to France in the final. I was in Eighth Class at that time and I had pasted my own hand-made posters in our drawing room before the final match. The posters carried the names of Brazil and its star Ronaldo. Both failed in the final and my eyes stayed wet throughout the night.

Both I and Brazil got their revenge in the next World Cup in 2002. The golden trio of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho ensured that the Cup is lifted by Brazil. That was the best Brazilian team that I have seen playing till now. Ronaldinho has been my all-time favourite player since that World Cup and how I wished he was selected for this World Cup in 2014 also. 

The next editions of the World Cup in 2006, 2010 and 2014 have been disappointments for me as a Brazilian fan. But still one has to admit that the world cups surely bring out the best among the players and we get to witness the talents of some emerging players. Every World Cup creates some heroes, while some heroes are unable to fulfil the expectations of their fans.

When Sachin Tendulkar had retired from Cricket in November 2013, I had felt a kind of emptiness inside me. I felt as if I had lost something special I possessed since my childhood. Brazil’s 7-1 defeat in the Semi-final of this World Cup 2014 has stirred similar emotions inside me. For me Brazil has always been an invincible, charismatic team; the king of football. Though they had suffered losses earlier, this particular defeat was too hard to believe. It really hurt badly. Now I only hope that a new Brazilian team rises from the ashes and work out hard and prepare well for the next World Cup. Hope that Brazil wins the Football World Cup 2018. Amen.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Let’s Talk About Sex: The Need for Sex Education in India

‘Sex’ – the mention of this very word causes a series of chemical reactions in the minds of the Indian people, ranging from a sense of alarm to up bursts of forbidden thoughts. And, although we live in the twenty first century, where information about almost everything is in one’s fingertip, the topic of sex is still a taboo in this country. I think this mindset needs to change.

Few days ago, it was reported in the newspapers that our Union Health Minister in his website has asked for a ban of sex education in schools. Well, if he implements this, it will be a very bad decision; because sex education is very much necessary now.  Even though children learn about sex at an early stage today, the curiosity for it never lets them learn the intricacies involved with it. The pleasure aspect takes a front seat instead of the informative aspect. As such imparting the basic sex education to them is a must in today’s context. Taking lessons from western countries may be a good idea here.

As our Union Health Minister also said that imparting values on Indian culture among students is necessary, it is also imperative that the students are given sex education. In today’s global age and increasing penetration of the internet, the incidents of sexual exploits among teenagers may increase; as such the notions of ‘safe sex’ must be imparted to them.

Another aspect that I would like to discuss here is the increasing incidents of rape in India. We talk of moral values and a superior culture but we are unable save our women from these gruesome incidents. This indicate that there is some moral decay among our people and this very issue needs to be addressed, not only by the government, but more importantly  by the general population of the country.

Rape is a medium through which the dominant male tries to subdue a female. In some conflict theatres, especially in the war-ravaged areas of the African continent, rape is used as a weapon of war.  Words cannot explain the brutality of the rebels on the womenfolk there. Even in our country, there have been numerous allegations of rape against the militants as well as security forces.  

So it is high time to introspect as to what we can do to stop this menace. As a society, we need to be able to impart the correct moral values amongst the citizen. As parents, we need to teach our children to respect women. In some areas of our country, women are still not considered at par with men and such areas mostly see cases of sexual exploitation of women. NGOs can make a big difference here by working in the grassroots and spreading awareness to prevent any such future incidents.

The government also has an important role. A proper schematic for imparting sex education needs to be prepared.  And this has to be properly implemented too. It may face initial hiccups and a few protests from fundamentalists but it will surely fall into place once it is properly planned, designed and implemented. We are living in a modern world and certain topics need not be kept in wraps. It is imperative to discuss certain issues now and sex surely is one among them.