FROM THE MARGINS

Let this Ali-Aye’-Ligang be about a struggle !!!

Today, the Mising community celebrates Ali-Aye’-Ligang. Essentially, an agricultural festival, it officially marks the beginning of the new year for the community. Ali (Roots)- Aye (Fruits)- Ligang (Start of Sowing), literally translates into a festival which marks the commencement of the sowing season among the Misings. It’s a happy time, where families gather and feast on Apong (Rice Beer), Pork and Purang Apin. Usually a happy occasion but it is also about a struggle. A struggle for identity, cultural preservation and recognition.

Many, within the community, probably would not know that Ali-Aye-Ligang was celebrated on different dates, in different years, as sowing depended on various other factors like geographical location, climate etc. After a long struggle and discussions with the community, they decided to mark the festival on the first Wednesday of every Fagun (Phalgun in Hindi) month. This created a sense of uniformity and all of the Mising community celebrated the festival on the same day, irrespective of their geographical location.

It is also a fight for recognition. The community, after a long struggle could ensure that the Assam government declare it as a holiday. However, it is still just a restricted Holiday, which means it is a holiday in only the Mising majority districts, thereby limiting the ability of Mising people staying in non-majority districts to celebrate the festival. The Misings are the second largest tribe in Assam with almost a million, if not more (officials record vary) people. However, the community does not even have an officially recognised gazetted holiday to celebrate its festival. Assam has more state wide bandhs, which looks like gazetted holidays. (See the irony here)

It is also a struggle for identity, for cultural and geographical preservation. The Community has been fighting a long battle, lasting decades and decades for sixth schedule status, granted under the Indian constitution. Politics, leaders, vote banks have continued but the demand for 6th schedule status still remains. Misings have an autonomous councils but no territorial protection. Every election is fought making 6th schedule an issue but no government has seriously considered this long standing demand yet.

And most importantly, if not finally, Ali-Aye’-Ligang is a struggle for survival. This community, resides in the most flood affected districts of Assam, which also becomes the reason for govt. negligence towards them. The community is pushed into deeper margins of poverty with each passing day. The lands are no longer fertile, the rivers have dried up and the forests have long disappeared. The floods brought soil and created layers of it over their land, rendering it not worthy for any sort of agricultural cultivation. Thus, people had no choice but to migrate to the cities, across India and become daily wage labourers. Thousands leave Assam every day. Villages are almost empty of young people, especially young boys and men. You will find them in cities working as security guards, construction workers and cleaners etc. A self reliant community, which had once rice filled granaries, free flowing rice beer, now struggles to survive. A small minority of the community have had the education and got themselves into jobs and continue to flourish, while majority languish.

Thus, Ali-Aye’-Ligang is not only a festival. It’s a struggle. if not a reminiscence of a ‘glorious past’ let it be about a ‘bright future’ where the community grows towards prosperity and unity.

(image found via google search. Not copyrighted by the author)

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