Request: Please read the whole post before you make any judgment about me. :) I love Manipur!
Leening Meetei is my classmate at University of Hyderabad. If there is one word that describes him, it's Manipur; he eats, drinks and sleeps Manipur. When a research or writing assignment is given in class, no effort needs to be taken to guess what Leening would do. It would invariably be about Manipur.
I have very often been amused by this. I am a very proud Malayali; but I do not take up Kerala for every damn thing like he does. I have often thought; why such forceful assertion?
The other day, Leening was doing rounds in the class with a signature petition. It was addressed to the President of India against the fake encounter killing that happened in Manipur recently that took the life of Chonkham Sanjit (27). My turn was over and I was casually watching him. Then, I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen before - some amount of passion and a lot more of pain.
That's when I started thinking more deeply than I used to. Earlier, my thought process was something like this. 'With the very little knowledge I have of this huge issue, I know that most North Eastern states demand autonomy. Yet, there is a North East quota in my university (and probably in many other places in the country) and they are all duly filled. I mean, if you want to get separated from this country, why use the infrastructure here? That's sheer selfishness! If you want to take advantage of the facilities here, might as well stick to the sovereignty of the country!'
The pain in his eyes told me that he and I were different. I was born in a part of India that, post independence, has not witnessed a massive conflict of any sort. A place where democracy is probably at its best with everyone taking their right to life and freedom of expression for granted. I have hardly seen a person from the Armed Forces at work in the part of Kerala that I live. My perception of violence, freedom, civic sense and security is different because of this.
Leening, on the other hand, has probably spent his childhood in fear. To quote Tehelka, "Life in Manipur is like a lottery. You are alive because you are lucky." He did most of his education in Andhra Pradesh because the situation in his state was not condusive. He hasn't seen his family for months together now, because conflicts are consistent back home and travelling during our last vacation would have been dangerous. He has probably witnessed the death of a relative in the hands of people who are supposed to ensure security - the Armed Forces.
I have now realised that a comparison between him and me is futile; we are so darn different. It is because of the North East quota, that I used to detest, that Leening is being able to give wings to his dreams. It is because of his belief that change is possible in this country, despite all the atrocities that his state is witnessing, that he is still going on with that signature campaign. If he does not deserve to be a citizen of this India as comfortably as I am, with all the security that I was born with and am used to, then who else is this India for?
Many North Eastern Indians migrate to other parts of India in the hope of a better life. But is it any different for them? Armed Forces may not attack or kill without a reason, but what about civilians? They attack with detesting looks that speak on the lines of "Why the hell have you come over to our place?"
Just the other day, I was comfortably seated on an APSRTC bus. A North Eastern family comprising a young man, an almost-girl-like woman and their tiny kids got into the bus. The mother clad in a saree was a far cry from the stylish and sleek looking North Eastern girls I have seen on my campus, I thought. I noticed that people maintained a safe distance from the rough looking short man as though he was a terrorist, an intruder.
As the kids dozed off leaning to their mother's shoulder, I kept on gazing much to the discomfort of that woman. I was thinking how similar these four human beings were to any other random family in that bus. Yet, how different! It wouldn't be easy for them to get a house to live or a job to earn a living. The struggle to garner an identity was clearly visible on all the four faces. Even if they wanted to think of themselves as Indians, we the 'original Indians' would not let them do so.
Unity in Diversity is probably the most overrated myth that is taught in schools. You will grow up to learn that equality, let alone unity, is still a dream for many in this country.
Which is why I love you Debo! I love you for the fact that you are one of the few people who can think broad enough to assume a North Eastern Indian as close to you as I would assume a Malayali to me.