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For a Composite and Unified Northeast In Conversation with Postmaster General (Upper Assam) and former NEZCC Director Som Kamei  

For a Composite and Unified Northeast  In Conversation with Postmaster General (Upper Assam) and former NEZCC Director Som Kamei   

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  4 Nov 2018 12:54 PM GMT

Our Bureau

At a time when India is finally opening up its doors to the ASEAN countries through the north-eastern region of India, the concept of a unified Northeast has become a source of concern for many. While the internet and globalization has made the word a much more compact and smaller place to live in, the rich history and cultural heritage of the region remains unknown to the rest of the world at large. Further, sporadic incidences of inter-community clashes, brought around largely by a sense of miscommunication, has also created doubts about the concept of a greater Northeastern society. After decades of suffering from political turmoil and insurgency, the opening up of the region is indeed a positive development for all the seven Sister States and the onus lies on all the stakeholders to make the region a composite and unified whole that can usher in development for all sections of people at large.

In this issue of mélange, we would like to introduce you to a highly versatile and dynamic bureaucrat who has been working tirelessly for the cause of greater cultural integration among the north-eastern States. We are talking about Som Kamei, a senior bureaucrat known for his dedication and ability to lead from the front. Presently the Postmaster General (Upper Assam) of the Indian Postal Services, Som Kamei had earlier served as Director of the prestigious North East Zone Cultural Centre.

During an illustrious career, Som Kamei has travelled across the entire breath and corners of the region and the country, knowing the people and their way of life, and helping in usher the winds of change and development. Being the son of eminent historian late Prof Gangmumei Kamei who is known for his path-breaking works in documenting the history of the region further helped in shaping his sensibilities towards the rich history and social aspirations of the different communities residing here.

As a senior bureaucrat of the Indian Postal Services in the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India, he has taken a keen role to adapt the postal services of the country to meet the changing needs of the present times. Given his leadership qualities and his deep knowledge of the diversity and rich culture of the Northeastern States, he was also hand-picked by the Indian government to lead the prestigious NEZCC, under the Ministry of Culture, as its Director for three years, during which a number of new and innovative measures were taken for cultural integration and promotion of Northeast Indian culture to the rest of the country as well as the world.

Following are excerpts from our conversation with the dynamic bureaucrat where he talks about his journey in life, his father’s memories and the need for cultural integration of the north-eastern States.

At the outset, please tell us about your childhood and growing-up days. How did you go about preparing for the prestigious Indian Civil Services Examination?

Ans: I was born in Imphal to a family of educationists. My father late Prof Gangmumei Kamei was a professor in History at Manipur University and my mother was a school teacher. My early education was in Imphal till my 4th grade in a missionary School called Nirmalabas School.

After that in 1982, I shifted to Shillong, to study briefly in St. Anthony’s School because of the chaotic social turmoil in Manipur at that time.

I eventually shifted to Delhi Public School, R.K.Puram in Delhi in 1983 and completed my XII standard from there. I did my graduation from Hindu college in Sociology (Hons) and continued by Master’s and M.Phil in the same subject in the Centre for Studies of Social Systems from Jawaharlal Nehru Universitywhen I got through my Civil Service Exam.

For those who wants to give the Civil Services examination, one has to be very focused right from their graduation days. We have to be very up to date in our General Knowledge, and the basic foundation from class VIII to XII has to be solid. In other words, we have to be a clear in our concepts from school level and pay attention in class. If your foundation is solid, it is easy to build on it and crack the exam.

You are a sociologist from Jawaharlal Nehru University and have also held a key position as Director of NEZCC, Ministry of Culture. Since you have been in charge of such a key position, what are your views on the cultural integration of different tribes of the Northeast? Do you think that the concept of a greater and unified “Northeast India” is possible in today's context?

Ans:I am not a sociologist but rather a student of sociology and my keen interest in the cultural studies and ethnicity problems of NE India attracted me to this line of work. I was lucky enough that the then Chairman of NEZCC, Shri Nikhil Kumar, the Hon'ble Governor of Nagaland of that time, hand-picked me to lead the organization as its Director for a littleover three years.

My job entails that NEZCC was geared to preserve, promote and disseminate the folk culture of NE India and help the stake holders like the artists, artisans, singers, poets, writers in their various cultural practices and extent help to develop and preserve their knowledge for the next generation. I tried to help the folk artistes and traditional practitioners to survive by providing a platform for them to sustain their daily livelihood. The primary aim of the 6 Zonal Cultural Centres under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, has been to promote the folk culture and help the artists. How far we have succeeded in this is something we need to ponder.

Regarding the cultural integration of different tribes and communities of N.E. India, I would like to think that cultural pluralism is the reality of India as a country. No culture is dominant; rather it is a plural society. We need to give respect and regard to each culture of the various ethnic groups. We need to have “Cultural Federalism"

The very concept of unified NE in cultural field is possible if all communities, big and small, have respect for each other. The bigger communities should allow space and respect the cultural ethos of the smaller groups or tribes.Only then is a unified Northeast possible. Politically, it may not be a realistic dream but culturally it is possible as there is a common strain of “We Feeling” amongst all the ethnic groups in the NE due to its common histories, deep inter-relationship in social, economic and cultural lives of the people through their everyday engagements.

You are presently the Postmaster General (Upper Assam) of the Postal Service Department. The Postal Department has also undergone a major transition over the last couple of decades. What are your views and plans to revive the Postal Services Department to make it more relevant to suit the needs of the present day?

Ans:Yes, I am looking after Dibrugarh Postal Region, which covers the whole of Upper Assam including Nagaon and KarbiAnglong Districts. The Postal services has adapted to the many new technological changes and accordingly we changed our approach to doing business. Due to digital technology like e-mail, etc., letter mails has been drastically reduced to a trickle. But e-commerce and online shopping has led to exponential growth in traffic of parcels business. IndiaPost is now developing the necessary infrastructures for handling the increase in parcel traffic by adopting modern technology like tracking system, modern equipments and fast and reliable mechanized means of delivery. For the north-eastern region,especially in Assam, we have started a road transport network connecting all the major commercial towns to carry logistics goods and parcels.

Recently we have also started the Indiapost Payment Bank (IPPB) as a 100% owned subsidiary of the Department. The IPPB will try to meet the mandate of Govt. of India to reach all the rural/ tribal areas where regular banks are yet to reach. It is basically a digital access for the under banked and unbanked areas of India by using the vast network of IndiaPost which has more than 1.5 lakhs Post Offices.It uses Aadhar enabled biometric for authentication in all its transactions, so not even the customer signature is required for withdrawal, deposits or transfers of money.

Hence, IndiaPost is definitely trying to make ourselves very much relevant and adapt to the needs of the present day. For your information we delivered and handled more than 2 lakh parcels in Assam alone and IndiaPost earned more than 1300 crores in parcel business alone nationally. So definitely the future is looking up for IndiaPost.

You are the eldest son of eminent historian late Prof Gangumei Kamei. How was it like growing up under his shadow? How do you look back at your father's journey to document and promote the history of the tribals of Northeast India?

Ans:Yes, I was lucky to grow up in an academic atmosphere at home. In fact, our dinner table conversation ranged from history, culture, sports, and politics to just jokes from schools/ colleges. It was one family ritual which we all looked forward to as everyone was encouraged to share their stories and experiences. In fact, my father did most of the listening from the three brothers and one sister. We never felt we were under the shadow of our father as all of us were encouraged to be our own man and choose our own line of specialization. Even though dad was a history professor, I became a civil servant while my two brothers, who were twins, became a doctor and an engineer. Only my sister joined the teaching profession. However, you can say that history and historical heroes were always part of our discussion and obviously these fascinating stories was narrated by our dad.

Before I say anything on my father’s journey to promote the history of the region, let me give a brief background of his academic career. He had a brilliant academic record. He passed out from Gauhati University as a topper with a Gold medal in 1961. He joined the JNU Centre at Imphal in 1978 and went on to mentor the History Department in Manipur University. His contribution to History as a subject is his various path-breaking book on Manipur’s history, its various tribes and developing it as a composite study of regional historiography. Hence for him, Manipur’s history or regional history has to be understood in a composite manner by deploying inter-disciplinary studies based on rationality,objectivity and scientific temper. Moreover, regional history was seen as a contributory factor in making up the overall history of the country. His emphasis on regional history did not mean parochialism but rather resulted in “Inclusive” history at the national level.

Please tell us a bit about the works you are doing under the GK Foundation.

Ans:After my father Prof. G Kamei passed away in January 2016, my family decided to start a publicCharitable trust called Gangmumei Kamei Foundation (GK Foundation) to carry on my father’s legacies in education, social-cultural developmental works and research oriented works on tribal studies.

Last year, to commemorate the 1st Death anniversary of my father, a memorial lecture was organized where renowned historian and former Vice-Chancellor of Assam University, Prof. J.B. Bhattacharya, graciously participated. The next Memorial lecture will be by Prof. Satyabrata Chakraborty, a renowned anthropologist and currently General Secretary of the Asiatic Foundation, Kolkata. We hope to make it an annual event of high intellectual quality and make it a path breaking event. The GK Foundation also extends help to toppers in Class X and XII boards who are from economically poor backgrounds to encourage them in their higher studies. We also try and contribute to victims affected by events such as natural disasters and accidents, especially in the tribal areas. In the future, we hope to start a research centre contributing in Social Science research, specializing in N.E. India to contribute to the studies of tribal situations and ethnic studies.

You have often said that you are proud to have a very supportive family. Please tell us a bit about them?

Ans: Yes, I consider myself lucky to have a very supportive wife and partner in the form of Ayangla Kamei. She was a lawyer by profession but gave up her practice to concentrate on bringing up our family. Together, we have three children – Elena, Arsene and Jeni.

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