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JONBEEL MELA IN ASSAM AND THE SYSTEM OF BARTER

The uniqueness of Assam lies in its ubiquitous diversity. Richness of its potency makes Assam the cultural hub of India. Though in present context it is difficult to mention what exactly culture signifies. It is surrounded my multiple definitions and differences. In spite of differences, there exist common links and bonds that people have sought to develop in order to achieve the desired goal of unity amidst diversity. In the quest of following the footsteps of globalization, we are almost leaving our traditional identity behind. Identity building is not a single cup of tea. No person or no community in itself possesses any identity if it is not in contact with other individual or identity. The importance of one’s community is noticed only in contact with the larger group. Therefore, circulation and communication of goods among people appears to be the scope of recognizing the identity of a particular group or community. In one case, market nexus is involved in it but not through money but through exchange of goods. Exchange of goods here refers to the system of ‘Barter’ which is still prevalent in the Dayang Belguri on the bank of Jonbeel in the Morigaon district of Assam which happens to be the only fair in India where Barter System still exists. It is said that every fair brings with it cultural significance. Like Clifford Geertz says culture is the social legacy the individual acquires from her/his group. In this aspect, barter system being one form of culture transmission, shows the path of peace and harmony among the tribes and communities. Jonbeel Mela takes place in the month of January after Magh Bihu every year where comes the linkage between all the communities to heal ethnic strife arising out of various ethnic conflicts through the system of barter. It involves in it the main focus of “interaction” which creates a sense of identity. It also contains the overlapping networks of information, cultural interaction, communication, etc. It picks up on the ‘theory of communication’ by Jurgen Habaermas where different communities from different background come conjointly with a motive of sharing common resources through communication. In the logic of the barter market also lies the utilitarian reasoning, where exist ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’. From a Utilitarian perspective, the actor should have acted out of a general desire to do what is right for the benefit of all, not simply for his own happiness but for the happiness of his surroundings.Number of people from around the region come to participate in the fair and their collective orientation reflects their sense of enthusiasms and happiness. Culture therefore consists intellect and emotion, intuition and sense perception, flesh as well as spirit.
In its simplest form, exchange can be understood as the trade of something of value for something else. Borrowing from Talcott Parsons, we can talk about universalistic and particularistic social relations. A universalistic orientation treats all potential exchange partners equally and judges them according to general criteria. A particularistic orientation treats potential exchange partners differently according to their relationship to one another, and it judges people according to criteria unique to them. There might come a question of biasness. For example, a particularistic orientation might privilege actors who belong to the same social network, family, or professional association. Like, a Tiwa community people might love to offer his items to other Tiwa person in the Mela. Though it is not considered to be fair but it is our mind which is so much ingrained with ‘ our community’ concept. As E B Taylor says “Culture is a complex whole”. Sometimes it might lead to the biases even if we don’t want to make it to the complexity. Clifford Geertz mentions that culture does not exist in someone’s head. Culture can be said to be the combination of different objects around us which are put together in different ways but not in single person or thing . Like the Kula exchange in the Trobriand Islands as mentioned by Malinowski is one type of culture of the natives of Trobriand Island. And the concept of gift exchange of Melanesian is the another. This both exchanges are the identity of their region but not of a single individual, so as the only Barter system in India is the unique feature of Joonbeel. The beel is the unique identity of the place “If the beel is destroyed , the whole culture of fishing here, the mela may disappear”. It not only signifies the exchange, the concept of emotion lies within the community. That is how culture is transmitted according to Malinowski.
Culture has taken different form in the present day. Mainstream homogeneity has captured in it many ways. In Joonbeel Mela, the present trend of bollywood has tried to overshadow the main event through displaying bollywood movies and songs in the fair. And the main theme of the fair remains disorganized. A primitive barter fair was based on gathering of people to exchange only agricultural goods without using money. Along with the goods, there were people connected with each other through voices. But in present times, the fair sells all the products which are found everywhere else . Where remains the uniqueness of the fair? However, the struggle for managing the fair did not end in spite of various interventions. To maintain the tradition that is going on since 15th century, certain section gives their heart and soul to the fair. The fair is not only a economic exchange but also the path of sorrow, laughter, trust, sentiment, friendship for all the community contributing to the fair. The barter is like gift exchange that existed in Melanesian Island studied by Marcel Mauss. Some gifts have spirit involved in it. We cannot just throw them away even its utility is over. It is the culture which has taught us to value people. It’s like social contact of gifts in circulation . It is the culture we are born with which makes every individual distinct from each other. Without culture, exchange between people would not have been possible. Culture would have remained isolated. Isolation may lead to inaccessible to resources which would not provide scope to develop as an individual. Various systems that prevail in the society allow people to share resources and feelings. As Max Weber says man gives meaning to their existence in relation to other societies. So, without socialization process, sharing of culture wouldn’t have been possible and people wouldn’t have learned so many things around them. Money came after barter system as barter system was not considered to be good enough. But money is not being able to solve every problem. Poor are becoming poorer and rich are becoming richer. So where lays the principle of equality? Even Marcel Mauss views states that everything cannot be exchanged for money. Apart from money there exist a life too, a social life. Joonbeel shows how life exist without money atleast for 3 days. Everything cannot be monetarized, some things involves emotions too. In my opinion barter system shouldn’t have removed in other parts of india. This is because this system brings solidarity among various tribal non-tribal and other communities aimed at fostering peace and harmony. When you exchange something with someone ,the feeling of existenceof the other person reminds you through their items. And that is how you learn to value relations. It has been argued that barter is immediate exchange, so it might not bring social relationship with it. But when the process continues, it brings with it the feeling of sharing. And gradually it will strengthen relationships around us. It also shows how ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ allow people to explore and how barter have historically allowed people to satisfy both. Different types of exchange dominate different areas. Money, not being involved in Joonbeel makes the fair different from other rural Indian fairs. The only barter system prevailed should not be discontinued. The beel should be maintained or there is high chance of mela being disappeared.
It is up to the present generation to uphold the cultural unity of the ‘Joonbeel Mela’ for the rest of the world to see as culture implies pursuit of perfection in all walks of life.

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