Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia
What many people do not know about Tripura is that it is a foodie’s paradise. From egg and chicken rolls on the streets to delectable pork mosodeng at every function worthy of its name, the state is home to a rich variety of dishes. However, aside from these snacks, people mostly depend on rice as the staple food. People in rural areas eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, combined with select vegetable and meat dishes that the state has plenty to offer.
As monsoon lashes across the state, most farmers are using the abundance of water to plant paddy in their fields. Tripuri indigenous people who call themselves Borok usually grow rice only once a year so this is the season when they are most active. The paddy is planted in July and harvested in October-November when the grains turn golden.
For the past many years, land owners and farmers had been resorting to hiring labour to do the planting which takes a couple of days. This year, however, due to rising labour costs and declining incomes, villagers are bringing back the traditional practice of volunteerism locally called “yagu khilmani” to plant the paddy. The word “yagu” means labourer and “khilmani” means "transaction". Hence, the term denotes the borrowing and returning of labour. Under this understanding, teams of 4-5 families reach an agreement to plant paddy at each other’s farm. Labourers from the families gather at one farm and complete the planting before moving on to the next. This way the entire village finishes the planting of paddy in time.
My village of Maharani is one of the villages that is resorting to the age-old tradition to plant paddy this year. I visited a field where “yagu khilmani” was going on and met some of the farmers. I got the name of five of them—Thukulu jamatia, Chandan Bakti Jamatia, Bwkhwrwiti Jamatia, Kalpana Jamatia and Tiluk Tama Jamatia.
They said that volunteerism eases the financial and physical burden of farming. Planting is literally a back-breaking work as people have to bend over the field and plant the saplings one by one. They work for several hours everyday. “I will be volunteering as a labourer for several days and so every person who took my help will also have to volunteer when it is turn to plant paddy in my fields,” said Thukulu. According to the farmers, they are unable to hire external labour as there was less income last year. In addition, labour costs have also gone up making it impossible for poorer farmers to be able to afford them.
Chandan Bakti Jamatia said that planting paddy is a very hard task as they have to work under the harsh summer sun. “There is a saying in Kokborok that planting paddy requires one to pretend that the sun is not the sun, the rain is not the rain, and the tiredness is just a hallucination. Only then can one work long hours for weeks,” she added.
The spirit of volunteerism has always been the backbone of close-knit communities of indigenous people. It doesn’t matter who is richer and who is poorer, each adult is expected to share the responsibilities of agricultural work. The sharing of work also increases the value of food, especially rice. The indigenous people of Tripura detest the wastage of rice in any form making sure that any leftover is fed to birds or animals. In the same spirit, I would urge the reader of this write-up to avoid wasting food. It takes farmers a lot of time and effort to keep your plate full.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.