Ngathingpei Khayi

You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis

Stranger in One’s Own Country

Few days back she was in every news channel talking for Arunachali boy Nido Taniam who was beaten-up to death in the heart of the country. Binalakshmi Nepram a social activist speaks out the harsh reality of being out casted in its own country.

There are many reasons for which we are proud of our country India, one of which is unity in diversity. If one starts his journey from northern part of the country Kashmir to southern tip Kanyakumari and from western most state Gujarat to the east Arunachal Pradesh he will find that this country does not belong to any one but a lot of different people of different religion and race coming down together as one. There are snow clad peaks, desert, ocean, lush green mountains and what not, here you find all. But recently an incident in the capital put the whole nation into shame and makes to think that things are not rosy as it looks like in this great nation.

Nido Taniam a college going boy who studies in Jalandhar came out to Delhi on vacation to visit his sister. But on 29th January 2014, holidaying of this Arunachali boy became mourning for his family and friends. Nido was beaten up by locals in Lajpat Nagar after altercation with a shop owner. The reason of disagreement was nothing else but his hair style. All he did was just asked an address, to which he didn’t get the direction but ridicule on his look. Things didn’t end here, the worst is to come. Police came and took him but to be dropped at the same spot because of which he was thrashed again. Next day in his sleep due to injuries from the beating he succumbed to death. This led to series of agitations and protests by the people from north-east India and then only police filed an FIR against the culprits.

Leading from the front in the whole episode was Binalakshmi Nepram who is a social worker, running NGO in Safdajung Enclave in the capital. “I arrived from Tripura on the day Nido Taniam was beaten but when I checked the news channels and newspaper the next day, it was not covered by any media house which was really shocking. Details came out only when some Arunachali group updated it on Facebook. Just imagine that poor 20 year old young fellow was beaten up not once but twice by the same people even after the police intervention. He had nine different points of injuries on his body but can you believe it police made him sign that he was physically alright and dropped him back to the same spot. Medical reports have confirmed that because of severe beating water was lodged in his lungs, head and chest and ultimately which led to his death,” Binalakshmi with a deep sigh lies back on her chair feeling the pain as she speaks.

“Then we went to support the protest near Lajpat Nagar police station just to find that police were giving out wrong information that compromise was brought between the two parties. It was heartening to see many young people from the north east coming out from their comfort. There we realized that the problem is root deep and each of the youth in the protest must have gone through the situation like Nido. A professor from IGNOU and me went to Arunachal Pradesh Bhavan and started this journey to bring justice for Nido. We had candle-light march, demonstration at Jantar-Mantar for a week, major politicians like Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal came out in support, committee was formed because of which all the five culprits are now arrested and the case is in the fast track court,” with a smile says the soft spoken crusader who is wearing traditional Manipuri sarong and shawl. “We wanted a committee in line with Justice Verma Committee’s report in the Nirbhaya case. In this country people still deny that there is racism but that document will be a defining document which will say racism exist and how you will response to that. Following that we have asked for the enactment of Discrimination Law which will benefit not just the north-easterners but anybody because India is becoming a very xenophobic closed country which says you don’t belong here so go away. And we have formed a forum called the North East Forum against Racism.”

Binalakshmi has spent her childhood in Manipur, then Shillong for a while, done Masters in History from Delhi University and M. Phil in South Asian Studies in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University Delhi. She has also written books, journals, and articles on the things happening in the north-east India. “When you research on a topic only two things can happen – one, you research more about it, write more, and become a philosopher or you want to do something about it. I took up the second option and focused on social action.” Recently, she was named in the list of 100 most influential people in the world for armed violence reduction. The Real Heroes Award 2011 by CNN-IBN for empowering women survivors of gun-violence conflict in Manipur, recipient of the WISCOMP Scholar of Peace award by the Dalai Lama Foundation, voted as one of the promising 50 young Indians making difference to the society by The Week in 2008, and the Sean McBride Peace Prize conferred by the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. She has launched the Manipuri Women Gun Survivor Network in 2007 and co-founded the Control Arms Foundation of India in 2004, India’s first civil society organization working on conventional disarmament issues.

Coming back to the topic, “People from other parts of the country connotes to north-easterners that if it is boys, they take drugs and girls, they are available. After working back home, then here in Delhi and for a while in London what I realize is that there is a huge knowledge black out and blanking out of the north-east in the rest of India. For example, nothing is mentioned about us in the school history text-books. The only thing you will find is that once Cherrapunji used to be the rainiest place in the world. At some level I feel that it’s deliberate, why after so many years of Indian independence we don’t see it. It’s high time! How can you delete the history of forty-five million people belonging to 272 ethnic groups in the north-east? How can you just delete their consciousness? When people come and ask me to which country I belong to, my citizenship is being questioned. If so get us separated which we won’t be allowed so do something to make us feel home.” Well that was a big statement and indeed a valid question which has to be answered.

Here she is not just unreasonable but also trying to reason the situation. “In a society there is always some spoiled one so you can’t generalize the whole community. Only coward will do wrong things, a sensible citizen will not beat up another citizen to death. So right now we are in conversation with various organizations and in touch with policy makers to include north east elements. We should look into the situation and the government should also understand why youths are coming out from their home states. There is no infrastructure hence no hope for development. Otherwise who wants to leave the comfort of their home?” Talking about the bad governance brings us to a very important point as she is working on it with her NGO Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network. “They say neither there is racism in India nor conflict in the north-east, just a law and order problem. Then why put army in the first place, why Armed Forces Special Power Act? North-east India has been in a state of conflict for more than 60 years which has brought out thousands of widows across the region. So we started working in year 2007 responding to humanitarian crisis making sure that there is food on their table, no matter whom and where, giving opportunities to rebuild their lives.”

After all this she looks back and shares the reason why she has taken up this cause for which she has received threats on her life. “When I see smiles on the faces of people who are going through problems in their life, it’s worth it. One touching moment was when Nido’s mother hugged me and told me that our struggle in Delhi gave her strength when she was in the hospital after hearing the brutal news.” And her inspirations are people who selflessly work for the people. “It has become cliché in the beauty pageants but I really look up to people like Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Teresa who have done amazing service for human kind by sacrificing all their life with humility.” However, looks like this trait was already in her, “From my younger days I used to be one who helps people. That’s why my parents thought that I will grow up to become a physician but destiny took a different turn for me. The good thing is that I am still helping out people yet in a different way!”

(Published in Society May’14, Page No. 48)

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2 comments on “Stranger in One’s Own Country

  1. Wungramthan Shongzan
    March 13, 2014

    Well written. Is this published in the Magazine? Let me know the link.

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