TODAY -

The Journey towards Breaking the Shackles

Angellica Aribam *



(Published in the "Arunodoi: Connecting Northeast" book released at the Arunodoi youth Summit at IGNCA, New Delhi)

Freedom means different things to different people depending on their lifestyle, aspirations, and social conditioning, but the essence remains fundamentally the same wherein there are no impositions of any kind. The Constitution of India quite articulately enshrines it in its preamble with the words, "Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship".

As a woman hailing from an ethnically and economically marginalised region of this country, my idea of liberty is an ongoing evolving process driven by my interactions with various social groups, understanding of my entitlements and privileges, awareness of discriminations et al which have led me to witness the shackles of society and state even in spaces where I had presumed the existence of utmost freedom.

I was born in the outskirts of Imphal city, the capital of Manipur, a frontier state in north-eastern region India. Regular and brutal conflicts between armed guerrillas and the police, and human rights violations due to a draconian martial law the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that has been in force since the 1980s compelled my concerned parents to send me away from home at a tender age to pursue my education in an environment conducive for it.

The first time I landed in New Delhi, like any other newbie in a big city, my pre-teenage eyes were sparkling with dreams of the immense possibilities. My elder siblings who were already in the city for more than half a decade prior had mellowed down. But I was resplendent in my love for the city. I could go on for hours marvelling at the sight of the India Gate while licking on a Cornetto ice cream, there was a spring in my step on our weekly pilgrimage to Dilli Haat as I devoured piping hot sumptuous chicken momo with a glass of chilled fruit beer, I looked at the wide roads and flyovers in awe. I was truly in love.

As they say, love doesn't come without challenges. I started to notice cracks in my perfect love story sooner rather than later. Every time someone looked at me on the streets and passed snide remarks calling me a "chinky" "momo" "chowmein", my love seemed to falter. Every time a classmate isolated me for being different, the love died a little. It made me aware of my differences from the so-called mainstream.

As a young girl of 12 years, I could either lose myself wallowing in self-pity being a victim of my racial features or hold my ground and get myself into a situation where I could command respect of my peers. I chose the latter. I was among the top three meritorious students in the class, with my competitors and I alternating ranks in every other exam. It didn't take time for me to earn the love of my teachers and the jealousy of my classmates.

It became a tipping point in my life and I started exuding immense confidence in whatever I do; from taking up leadership roles in school, picking fights with men at the roadside who indulged in racial slurs, pricking safety-pins into the bodies of creeps who came too close in crowded buses, debating privilege with my peers etc. My involvement in political activism stemmed from this fact of life wherein I learned that every voice matters, and it has the potential of amplifying into unimaginable magnitude.

As my understanding of the society grew, I started drawing comparisons between home and my new home. I had always shown immense pride in talking about the Nupi lan (women's war), Ima keithel (Asia's largest women's market), the self help groups vis-a-vis the active role played by women in our society. I used these as examples to show how empowered our women are in contrast to the rest of the country. But I was being delusional.

When I saw the statistics released by National Family Health Survey wherein Manipur recorded the highest number of spousal violence in the country, I was a little broken. In reports published by the National Crime Records Bureau, Assam ranked sixth in terms of crimes against women, even ahead of many northern states notorious for its treatment of women.

Meghalaya despite having a matrilineal system has seen an increase in the number of reported rapes in the last few years. Having traveled extensively in the Northeastern region in the last half a decade, I realised the reality is far from the rosy picture that I had painted in my ignorance, and thus, I was acting like the mythical slave who is yet to see the chains she is bound by.

I chastise my younger self for my complacency in a grim situation without knowing ground realities. I have always believed that skirting issues and building a false narrative won't bring about change in the society. If we aspire for real change then we need to start talking about the issues that affect our society. Once conversations start, it has the potential to shift discourse with mass involvement in dialogue, discussions, and deliberations that could inspire solutions.

If we want our women to feel on par with men, somewhere we need to get rid of our complacency and start talking. I do not want a girl to hurry back home before sunset leaving her unfinished work in the fear of society's labels; I want the woman in bruises to know that it isn't normal for her drunken husband/father to beat her up and she has rights which she could exercise; I want the young menstruating girl to know that biology is nobody's fault and there's nothing to be ashamed of; I wish the tribal woman who has been putting in more hours of work in the fields than the men to be paid equally; I want the young teen-age girl to know that she can be anything she wishes to be; I don't want any survivor to give in to victim-shaming when they are violated; and last but not the least, I want women to speak up and reclaim their spaces.

On the face of it, these are issues that look difficult to solve. But the challenges I faced at a young age taught me a valuable lesson; the realisation that even one voice can cause a ripple effect in the society. When, collectively, all of us echo the same voice, no problem will be daunting enough. I feel it is imperative for us, the young educated folks away from home, to understand where we are lacking and help in cutting the chains that still bind the ankles of our sisters and mothers back home. Because freedom should feel liberating.


* Angellica Aribam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is currently studying Public Policy on a full governmental scholarship at Peking University, China. She was former National General Secretary of NSUI and also the first NE student to be elected in Delhi University. She tweets at @AngellicAribam
This article was posted on October 09, 2017.


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