4. Who are we to teach?
When we talk of non-formal education and we try to see who we are trying to teach, we come face to face with people like these (see photo): People who are called "backward," because they don't wear Nike and jeans like we do. People who are called "underdeveloped" because they don't have industries, cities and towns like we do. And maybe their level of hygiene isn't as good as ours in terms of not having a flush toilet. But in terms of having full access to fresh air and water these are the people. In terms of indigenous knowledge systems, these are the people that we try to source from. We are talking of education and when trying to go to real people, and not just sit in a classroom and talk to a captive audience of school children saying, "You know children, this is water and this is sand and this is soil." Trying to talk with people who are older than us in age. People that in everything they do is an issue of their survival. When we deal with such a diverse people, "Who are we to teach them?" This is a basic question we always ask ourselves first off before we even try to go into a program with them.
Keeping that in mind, we work with the people in the northeast region which has 8 prefectures. Our region comprises about 7% of the landmass of India, but has almost 50% of the biodiversity of India. So it is a very rich area in biodiversity. It is one of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) hot spots. A number of organizations have defined a number of ecological hot spots all over the world. We have two in the Asian Indian subcontinent and one of the hotspots is in Northeast India. This is the eastern Himalayan landmark hotspot area.
So deforestation, lack of development these are some of the issues on one hand. People say, "We have our forests, we know what to do with it, but we cannot just keep maintaining the forest as a forest." Their argument is, "Our forefathers have been keeping this forest. That is why we have this wonderful forest. Today if you ask us to maintain the forest again, then its useless because we need money, which is very important, we also need to earn something, and just keeping a wonderful forest is nice for you all to come and say, 'Ah nice forest,' and take pictures. But it is not realistic for us." They also understand that they can get water and air, so many things from the forest. But now they are saying, "It is time for us to know how to make some income out of the natural resources that we have." They also want to maintain it. It this whole dilemma of someone telling them, "Don't use, don't do," but at the same time they want to have alternatives. They want to say, "OK we will not cut our forests. How can we be compensated for not cutting it?" So we are trying to deal with issues this.
Diverse Perspective: A Matrilineal Tribe
In this society, for example, if I have to marry a woman, I don't propose. It's the woman who proposes. A man is useless until a woman comes and proposes. After you get married the man move into the wive's house. As they get children, the children bear the mother's name, not the male. In terms of property inheritance, it is the daughters who inherit. In terms of ancestral property, which is the real property, it is the youngest daughter who inherits. The whole system in this society is women, women, women. The whole issue of gender division is very interesting in this society but don't have the illusion that it is a very ideal society for women, because ultimately if you look into it, the matrilineal uncles play a very important role in the whole system. Megalaya is one of the only regions where there is a movement for male lib. It is not women but men that are saying we want our rights. We want freedom.
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