Union minister Kiren Rijiju did not have to make any effort to praise Mukul Sangma, leader of his rival party, for hosting one of the biggest international festivals the North-east has ever seen. The International Terra Madre was indeed a stunning show. With hundreds of delegates coming from over 100 countries to take part in the four-day event, it was stated to be the biggest traditional and cultural event in the state’s history. The last day cultural show attracted tens of thousands of people to the Mawphlang Sacred Grove ground. For people returning from the ground after the show, the 25-km distance became four-hour-long drive! Everything went as planned, apparently, without any major hiccups except for a road accident in which two foreigners and eight other delegates were injured. But can such a big event get passed without criticism?
While the question, whether the several crores of money spent on the mega event was worth it, would take some time to be answered, small discrepancies have already come to the fore. The ‘sacred grove’ where even the most careless tourist does not dare leave any rubbish is now littered with wastes. Bottles of liquor and wine in open pits dug around the ground are greeting tourists visiting the grove post Terra Madre. They must be wondering if what they heard about sanctity of the grove had any substance. It is believed that one should not throw any rubbish or commit any nuisance in and around the grove. People believe ill omen befalls on the person, who commits such acts in the grove. The villagers are already not too happy about it.
But, anyway, the rubbish can be removed even now, as being done by all tourists and picnickers. But what about the worth of money spent by the cash-starved state? Are there going to be any change in the life of the indigenous tribal living in the village toiling in his field? Conferences were held where students of the city took part. Indigenous cuisines were prepared and served among people who hardly tasted it. All appreciated. So far, so good! But does the government have any plan in place to give a single penny extra to the farmer who is producing such food? All the appreciation by the festival goers and foodies will go down the drain, if Terra Madre cannot make a difference in rural livelihood and practice. There must be an evaluation mechanism for such festivals.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 14, 2015)