Joor Baruah’s Voice of Siang provides an insight into the undiscovered North East India from the Arunachal Pradesh-Assam lens, as both the states have tales surrounding one of the most important rivers of Asia, i.e., the Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and the mighty Brahmaputra in downstream Assam.
The film primarily focuses on the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh which also includes interviews from eminent personalities from the State. The film is shot in Sissen Village and the filmmaker has tried to show many emotions – joy celebrating the Etor, Arang and Solung festivals, a prevailing sadness among the local Adi population that the younger generation doesn’t want themselves to be associated with the community; because for them, the language of Adi is a sign of backwardness and preference is given to the languages of Hindi and English. A prevailing fear and anger with neighbouring China as the country are interested in grabbing the state since a very long time, to name a few.
The film predominantly revolves around the history of the Adi people. The Ahoms of Assam used to call the people of Arunachal Pradesh as Abhors. They continued to be called so even by the British. They fought for their identity and it was only after the separation from Assam that they came to be called as Adi. Adi means hills, hence people of the hills. Followers of the religion of Doni-Polo, they believe in the sun and moon which gives light and light is respected as the symbol of truth. They are a big tribe- an ethnicity which has many sub-groups under it, namely, Padam, Minyong, Pangin, Melang, Bori, Bokar, Pailebo, Karko, Komkar, Simong, to name a few. Unfortunately, nothing much is documented in Adi history and culture as it is more of an oral tradition. They have a tradition of the ‘Kebang’ session- a form of village councils which is meant for conflict resolution.
Siang has now become the new battlefield in this fight for power. A major transboundary river that flows through China, India and Bangladesh, mega-dams are being constructed in China, and to counter that, Arunachal Pradesh is also building a series of dams.
The release of water that goes downstream with gushing speed can even create tsunami-like conditions. Scientists worry, as there is no consideration of seismic activity which is one of the highest in the world. The Dibang Multipurpose project which has been given environmental clearance is being touted as the tallest gravity dam in the world. One cannot ignore the developmental projects, as the hydroelectric power projects have a huge potential in the region. It is always a tough battle between development and environmental concerns.
Just like the Adis of Arunachal Pradesh, even the Assamese culture and the tribal culture of Mishings all are interlinked with the mighty Brahmaputra. It forms a major part of the identity, and all of this will vanish if the Brahmaputra is to show its wrath. Locals complain that the Siang is no longer the way it is used to be earlier. From sky blue colour of the earlier times, it is now slowly turning brownish or muddy. However, there is no Bangladeshi perspective taken in this film.
One section of the film also talks about the Indo-China war, but the major attraction was the background music in one particular scene. With the legendary voice of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, the famous song, ‘Kotu Juwanr Mrityu Hol’ (Translation: The lives of so many Jawans (soldiers) got lost) being sung by the maestro himself adds great value. Dr. Hazarika contributed immensely in bridging the valleys with the hills of Arunachal and NE.
While watching the film, one cannot ignore the poor infrastructure conditions in the state, especially the roads. It gets damaged year after year due to rains which not only shows the general apathy of the government to provide last-mile connectivity but is also the general apathy of mother nature that is so adamant to not allow any sort of ‘development’ along its route.
The first drop of the golden sun falls in Arunachal Pradesh, the light of which sparkles through the Siang. Following the rhythm of Abhang (mythological chants), it navigates through the misty mountains cutting across rocks, valleys, cities and manmade obstructions. A tough nexus of land, water and identity, the Adis have become resilient in such times of conflict.
There are many stories around this major river which is the bedrock of civilisation for many ethnicities, religions, more than a hundred languages and races that have remained largely peaceful. Everyone is trying very hard to preserve their unique culture and heritage because it is this river that gives all of them an ‘identity’. For the river, it can sum up as:
“I start as Tsangpo, then Siang, flowing downwards, I become the Brahmaputra and finally I meet the Ganga.”