National / World

This Year, A Cheerless Nuankhai

By Dr Sanjib Kumar Karmee
Sep 1:
Nuankhai is the main festival of tribal dominated western Orissa comprised of Balangir, Bargarh, Boudh, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Sambalpur, Sonepur, Sundargarh, and Aathmallik sub-division of Angul Dist.1

It is celebrated on the day following Ganesh Chaturthi. This festival displays the vibrant culture, heritage and occupation of western Orissa. Nuankhai is not a harvesting festival like the other Indian harvesting festivals viz. Onam, Pongal, Bihu, and Baisakhi. During Nuankhai the first grain is given as a “bhoga” to the presiding local deity viz. Sureswari, Samaleswari, Khambeswari, Maheswari, Bhairabi, Mauli, Kali, Shiva, and Jagannath. The grain used as “bhoga” is never the harvested grain. After giving “bhoga” to god and goddess, the people wish each other which is known as “Nuankhaibhet” (English: Nuakhai greetings).

In general, this festival brings cheers among the people of western Orissa. People staying away from family come to their village for Nuankhai. All in all it is a full-fledged family get-together and merry making. Often in many villages the villagers participate in a common entertainment program like kirtan, drama, and dance. With the current globalization and apartment culture, many things are changing in western Orissa. Joint families are disappearing. People staying outside villages do not return to their villages because of hectic work schedules. Many families send the Nuan or the new food grain to their family members by post. So the charm of Nuankhai in the village is getting diluted to some extent. On the hindsight, the Nuankhai is not merely a local festival anymore. People from western Orissa now stay in every major city of India. With a lot of fanfare and merry making Nuankhai is now celebrated in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Although Nuankhai is now celebrated locally and globally; this year there is nothing much to celebrate. The spectre of drought is haunting western Orissa. Reports from western Orissa show that the situation is pathetic in western Orissa. Farmer suicide rate is increasing due to crop loss and loan pressure. In addition, the government is constantly supplying water to industries, creating water shortage for agriculture. The farmers are protesting against the water supply to industries. However, their demand is being ignored by the authorities, because of which many villagers of western Orissa are depressed. This year Nuankhai will bring no cheer on the faces of suicide-affected farming families of western Orissa.
In addition to this, the pollution level is increasing in many places of western Orissa. The state government is giving a lot of importance on industrialization. However, many of the industries are operating without proper industrial regulation. Despite the fly ash deposition in Jharsuguda district no concrete steps have been taken to stop the environmental degradation. The importance of environment and its protection is completely ignored and the pollution levels are alarming in various industrial belts viz. Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Hirakhud and Kalahandi. In this situation the common man and farmers are the real sufferers.
Further, as the Nuankhai festival approaches, migration of labourers takes place at different places of western Orissa. Despite the implementation of different programme by the state and central government the migration of poor and landless to brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and other states is still happening.
A big shock for the people of western Orissa in this Nuankhai is the recent announcement of the Sindol project. The Orissa government has announced that it will construct three hydropower projects at Sambalpur, Subanapur and Boudh districts of western Orissa. After this announcement there were several agitations at different places of western Orissa as people fear that this will be another Hirakud. It may be noted that the oustees of Hirakud displacement are given regular land Pattas only after sixty-five years. Even till today, media is reporting how Hirakud dam oustees’ are fighting for shelter and food. Wherever there is water, there are industries and these industries are badly polluting the nearby villages, water, air and land. Therefore, people of western Orissa fear that the construction of the three Sindol hydropower projects will promote industrial giants to establish industries in the nearby areas. This will further increase the pollution at different places of Subarnapur, Boudh and Sambalpur districts.
It is also observed that Orissa government is continuously ignoring the demand of people of KBK and western Orissa. The government is establishing most of the higher education and health institutes in the coastal region; whereas it's establishing polluting industries in western Orissa. This is creating a huge regional imbalance. In the above context, the overall situation in western Orissa is pathetic. Therefore, this year Nuankhai is not a very cheerful festival for the people of western Orissa.

The author is an alumnus of IIT Madras and currently working as a scientist in the Department of Biotechnology, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.

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