“The feeling that people experience when standing on the edge of a ledge isn’t the fear of falling, its the fear that they might jump.” ~Paul Bettany, Margin Call
Start a conversation about the inclusion of differently-abled with Disabilities Inclusion Act that replaced the 1993’s Disabilities Services Act, and there have been amazing efforts by people and organizations alike.
A 28-year-old Rahul, was about to embark on a new journey in a new home, a new job in Societe Generale in Bangalore after a stint at HCL, with his wife stepping into new married life.
Arre’s Official Chukyagiri’s second episode had just released when a friend of mine texted, “Dude did you check out Chukyagiri? Bohot fun series lag rahi hai.”
And it was. A break from the regular melodrama, the series brought fun and fresh content for an audience like me — the ones in their 20s, the ones who struggle with bai negotiations, people sharing flats or are first jobbers. The struggles, the language, the triumphs in the series — are real. Like bagging a pre-placement interview.
“A lot of the show’s content is as close to reality as possible. Like in almost every story, our intention too was to make Official Chukyagiri relatable to every person who had to painstakingly work their way up”, says Sizil Srivastava, the director of the web series.
A boy from Lucknow, Sizil has spent a tireless ten years to make his mark in the TV and advertising industry. Despite some successful ad films in his kitty, it doesn’t sound like he has had enough. In fact, while promoting the series, Sizil was seen very actively engaging with their audience, taking feedback even personally, over chats and calls.
If you look around, with the help of Google, you’ll find some of the better, socially relevant television films and commercials under his name. I’ve included one here that I remember went viral during beef ban.
“Like any other college going kid, I struggled to find my calling. I kept looking for something I would love to keep going back to. I think that’s how we choose a profession or rather, that’s how we should choose a profession”
Sizil topped his Communication Design batch at NIFT, and when it was time to decide on his career path, the event management industry seemed like a great platform to practice his creative pursuits.
“The stint lasted for 3 years, and I was able to achieve a lot of creative satisfaction through my work, but something was amiss. I wondered if there was anything more to discover, and if there was a way to make my creative voice reach a larger audience. Eventually, one of my clients gave me the opportunity to work with MTV and that’s where my desire to make films kickstarted. It was an experience that paved a way to where I stand now.”
But all wasn’t sunshine and roses at first. His first challenge came in the shape of his unfamiliarity.
“In my first two months at MTV, I was only trying to ‘figure out’ what everyone was up to. There were talented artists, musicians, VJs, movie stars walking in and out of dazzling shoots – I simply wondered if I would ever fit in.”
At this point, it isn’t difficult to draw a parallel between Spandan and Sizil. Hungry to pursue this new profession with passion and to prove himself in unfamiliar waters, he grabbed every opportunity that came his way and left no stone unturned.
“The moment you step out into a big media house like MTV and start from scratch, the first challenge is to make people trust in your potential. Since it’s a rather fast-moving industry, the onus lies completely on you to learn and grow as quickly as you can. I decided to become my own teacher through trial and error. And thus started a 10-month long journey of writing everyday. I had put myself in a challenging place, but I loved it. ”
Eventually, he did find his own place in the madness.
“At first, I was intimidated with the amount of talent the people there had. But I decided to take it all in a positive stride and began forming creative partnerships. It was not all that easy, but at the same time, MTV India was shifting its vision to becoming a primarily Hindi channel back then. Writing in Hindi and Urdu was a big change and everyone took time to warm up to. My ‘supposed’ weakness soon turned to strength and I brought a certain social relevance to the message in my scripts and eventually, my seniors started believing in my writing.”
Since then, Sizil has won multiple awards for his campaigns for Durex, Nescafe, Gaana and MTV Indies. When he was approached by Amrit Pal Bindra and Anand Tiwari at Still and Still Moving pictures for Arre’s for Official Chukyagiri, so much about the show was relatable to his past work experiences, that he instantly decided to do it.
“Isn’t it overwhelming, now that you get so much attention, suddenly?”, I ask.
Sizil decides to answer this with a small story from the past.
“Years back, during my first shoot at MTV Roadies, Raghu asked to arrange some food for him. It perplexed me; all my years of education and work experience…for this? But, I decided to be professional about it and told myself that no job is too small. At that moment, I could’ve either resorted to negativity or worked hard to render myself indispensible to the creative team. And today, when I look at all the trophies, I’m glad that I chose the latter.”
And yet again, Sizil needed to break out of the comfort zone and that triggered him to move out of MTV India and venture into advertising.
“This is when I stepped into the world of advertising, a natural progression of my career. I directed a few prominent ad films and I definitely want to work on a feature film. But it is easier said than done! On the path of moving closer to a feature and to keep honing my skills, ad films and web series feels like the right place to be.”
However now he feels the bigger canvas is not too far away.
The real journey of our lives begin when we believe we are truly free, and we are in a happy-anxious ‘Don’t Settle’ state to find what we love.
“Have you felt that?”, I ask him.
“I experienced that when I had come to Mumbai for the first time. I had to see off my parents at the station and go to college. I stood there till the train left. That moment when there was no one I could recognize in the crowd – that gave me a realization of the excitement, of possibilities, of being lost and the chance to find myself all over again.”
There are words that keep us true to our paths and give meaning to our actions. And Sizil found them in the speech by Charlie Chaplin from Dictator, we know all too well.
“The kingdom of God is within man. Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people.”
“Watching that movie, that speech, is when I realized that I am privileged just like anyone around me. However small or big, I don’t want to lose out on any chance to tell my stories.”
Ngurang Meena and Reena are from Arunachal Pradesh. A state of multiple tribes. The state of the famous Ziro Festival. A state with immense beauty of mountain ranges from the Himalayas. The kind of scenes we drew as children in our drawing class, a mountain range with a rising sun with a valley and rivers. There is a bitter reality that the people in the Arunachal face. Polygamy. Child marriage.
Reena is one of the 9 siblings in her family from 2 mothers. Reena’s mother was married to her father at the age of 13 even before she even hit puberty. The tribal customary laws support the ways of child marriage and polygamy, exchanging women in marriage for Mithuns and stones. Her mother was a victim of both these practices. Reena’s mother got married at the age of 13. Her father married another woman when Reena was around 10 years old. The practice of multiple marriages is followed without restrictions as there is no registration of marriages which would, in an ideal scenario, prevent it. Meena the eldest among the siblings in the family understood her mother’s dilemma and repercussions of another woman in the house.
“We don’t have grudges towards our father anymore”, says Reena.
They come from a very rural family. Reena’s father lived his entire schooling in one vest and two underpants. He walked barefoot until he was 16 when he got his first pair of slippers. Her father was interested in politics and worked hard to make a name in the society.
Both Meena and Reena understood that the only way to lift their region out of the abyss of these horrifying practices was to educate themselves. Meena moved to Bangalore to pursue her graduation in Economics, History, and Social Sciences. Whereas Reena moved to Delhi to pursue her graduation with a major in Social Sciences from Delhi University. Even in their colleges, they were both very active in politics and student unions, a trait that Reena says they might have inherited from their father.
“I think the silence of women towards these atrocities is what pushed us to Social sciences and to educate ourselves so that we could be their voice. The way they couldn’t voice their troubles and fight for themselves made us want to do something about the way things were.”
Meanwhile, Meena was all set to move to London to pursue further studies, but family’s financial constraints she had to return to Arunachal in 2011.
“Once you’ve had experienced new cultures, opened up to new possibilities, formed a certain mindset, and then you come back, the society doesn’t allow you to let alone change but even have an opinion different than their own”, says Reena.
This is when Meena started questioning the institution of Arunachal, the way things were. So Meena decided to leave the family and started living on her own. Things had to change. But the habitues looked at a woman living by herself as ‘weak’. She protested for proper roads to women rights, and in the past three years set up the ‘Ngurang Learning Institute’ with the aim of giving opportunities to women like their mother who were never given a chance to read and write.
“Since they were illiterate they aren’t able to enroll their children in schools, fill forms, use banking facilities.”
For a long period of time, Meena ran the institute without any money from the women she taught. She used to pursue part-time jobs and fend off for herself and teach these women. Reena would come to Arunachal for 2 months every semester and help her sister run the institute.
“These women didn’t know how to thank us. They used to bring in royal food, or native rice and meat to show their gratitude.”
In return, they had endured threats from the husbands of women. ‘She is my wife. She is supposed to cook. This is no age for her to learn how to read and write’, they would say. Since their father had a political influence, people didn’t act on the threats they made.
“One of the husbands of the women came to my sister’s place with a sword and threatened to stop teaching his wife or else..”
The women they taught, inspired and enlightened told them that they wanted their stories to be heard. They wanted the world to know what they went through so that no one ever endures what they did.
“One of the women who went through such atrocities was 3 years of age when she was married.”
Both the sisters decided to organize a pageant based on the stories of these women to share the progress they have made and to enlighten others about the prevailing condition of the state. Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh, Mother of Substance. The first proof that things are changing is the fact that, their father wholeheartedly supports the event and is the chief advisor for the same.
With so much news about how we’re progressing, initiatives to employ and empower women, help improve education, advance technology and what not, there is still a part of where such unearthly traditions are followed. Communities here do not appreciate the change. But as Elon Musk said, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is a disaster.” And these sisters have certainly put the first dent towards a change.
The finale of Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh is on 26th of November, with Mary Kom as their chief guest. Here is how you can get in touch with them to know more about them and the pageant. Email email@example.com and Facebook page to know more about the event. I would strongly recommend people who are in the vicinity to visit the event and show support for the courage of these women.
They have started a movement to celebrate brave-hearted women who have stood up for themselves and others as well, who for some haven’t been able to. Here’s their page to know more about the same.
Today, I write with the utmost respect for mothers, working or homemakers. You might be able to relate to this. I have a mother who tries that neither me nor my sister has to cook a meal unless necessary. And then I wonder what is it that she has done solely for herself. Not for the lack of space and time, but she didn’t pursue her passion. Not that she ever complained or didn’t have the support from us, believe me, she did. But what was it, age, apprehension, judgment, convention, or the just fact that she wasn’t given a chance to do so? Only a mother would be able to answer these.
So, I had the opportunity to meet a Mrs. India Earth contestant. A mother of two, 39 years old, Kanchan Korani from Rajkot lives in Hong Kong with her spouse. I know better now to say that these pageants aren’t just about tainting and painting.
Kanchan got married right after she completed her B.Com and moved to Hong Kong for her husband’s work. She started her own shop there, importing Indian groceries and food for people living in Hong Kong and other countries.
“Meri khudki pehchaan chahiye thi mujhe (I wanted a name of my own)”, she says with pride in her voice.
She started after her son was born. Kanchan wanted to have some connect with her native place and hence she started off with Indian food, sharing it with others who felt and craved what she did.
The wife of a man who assembles watches, Kanchan was trying to find her feet, nurture her kids, and do justice to her life in Hong Kong. Not that her husband wasn’t supportive, he was, but there are things you want to do, things you love without giving up on either one of them.
The 39 year old Kanchan Korani I met is beautiful, elegant, graceful, and looks way different from socially accepted convention falling under mother-of-two. But she wasn’t the same after she got married. With a shop to run and kids to manage, Kanchan had gained weight. Her daughter persuaded Kanchan to apply for the Mrs. India Earth Pageant.
“I had come to India for my brother’s marriage. All through the marriage I heard comments from relatives, ‘She’s married and has two kids, her youth is done for’. That moment shook me. I realised that I am not what I used to be. It wasn’t about how I looked, but how I felt about myself. In my head, I didn’t prove to anyone but my self. ”
That is when she joined a gym and started working out. Simple, no? No. A fit body undoubtedly requires a lot of hard work, which too doesn’t matter, if not clubbed with patience and determination.
“I used to weigh above ninety kilos in my brother’s marriage. Today I am forty-two.”
With the support of her husband, her kids, her younger brother and his wife, Kanchan participated in the Mrs. Earth India and moved to becoming a finalist.
“With their support, I won the subtitle of ‘Mrs. India Earth Beautiful Skin’.”
Kanchan is known amongst the Indian community in Hong Kong because of her established grocery business.. After her recognition in the pageant, she was approached by a lot of women in the community so that she could give strength to them as she found her strength in her kin. She is even the face of Closet Love a fashion app who styled her during the contest.
With this, I ask her what’s the next mountain she wants to climb? And she was ready with her answer.
“I want to study, I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. So I’ll pursue that, I’ll help further the cause of education. I didn’t pursue higher education. But I want to and would love to help others who want the same.”
Kanchan believes if she will think that she’s forty and is too old to pursue such endeavor, people will always accept the easier and let her, because we have grown up in an environment where no one wants us to step out of the box but keep steady at our places, maybe because that challenges their way of life.
Shreyans Mehta, who came up with the idea of India’s first Microsoft enabled digital school in Kota is on his way to improve the state of education.
I met her in one of her sessions on ‘How consciousness can help?’ I couldn’t help but smile as she spoke, excited and jumpy, a session filled with examples from her own life answering questions that were asked by the audience but invoked by her thoughts. I just knew, I had to speak to Aditi Surana, so I scheduled a call with her for the next morning.
“My father was a South Indian Communist and my mother is a Maharashtrian.”
She tells me as she reminisces about her childhood, where every decision had to have a reason, dinner table conversations were spent debating politics, an outing was attending art exhibitions or seminars. An environment completely different from kids her age.
“I did a lot of theatre workshops and documentary filmmaking as a teenager, something I still remember and smile about. I still remember as a child when I wanted to become a filmmaker, I asked my father, ‘How do I start and what do I do?’ and he told me if you want that, you’ll have to observe people.” That is when she kindled in herself, a fire of curiosity to observe people.
She was a very curious child, about how people think, how they look at life. Aditi’s intrigue towards how people think took her to a level where she picked it up as a part of her vocation. But her father, an art director, who had been encouraging and progressive for so many things, couldn’t absorb the idea that she chose a field of social sciences and human development.
“My father was my idol and I looked up to him, but for the first time then, I didn’t agree with him. So, in his own way, he got so worried that he asked me to leave the house, assuming I wouldn’t leave or I’d come back, but I didn’t.”
So, at the age of 18, she left her house where many of us have absolutely no clue what we should or would do. She started her professional life as by analyzing handwriting at a Cafe Coffee Day, through which she paid off for her education. She didn’t want to study handwriting analysis initially and work with the human mind instead, but her father wanted her to pursue something core or filmmaking as opposed to what was considered tangential.
“After I left home, I met my friends in a coffee shop. In a middle-class family we didn’t spend hundreds on coffee, but I went to meet them. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t talk to CCD, they might want you to analyze handwriting for people’, and I met all 5 western region heads and analyzed their handwriting, explained the idea and surprisingly, they agreed. I used to charge Rs. 50 for each analysis.”
During this phase of her life, she struggled a lot with speaking the dialect fluently because she came from a vernacular medium and the people who came to CCD were from upper-middle class or youngsters who smoked a lot, a complete contrast to the environment she grew up in.
“When you visit any counselor they kind of tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but since I was too young to know anything of that sort to anyone elder to me. So, as I didn’t have answers, I used to ask them questions, because I could see that they had fixations that they were operating from. Merely asking would make them rethink and get them to move them from their fixed ideas of life.”
Slowly she got called at events as a speaker to talk about handwriting analysis and of course people had a lot of questions because the subject was new to them. This is when her theater training helped her become an amazing speaker.
During her childhood she had a lot of trouble reading and which other people mistook for tardiness, because she could answer questions, and that meant she wasn’t a dull kid. So, this came as a surprise to me, when she mentioned during her session at AMA, that she was dyslexic. I suppose, it was a surprise for her as well, because she discovered it at the age of 25.
“When I explained to one of my friends how I had difficulty reading, remembering, and how I avoided bank work, she said, “Hey have you taken, dyslexia for adults test?”. I did my research and I had one of those, Oh-shit-I-wish-I-knew-this-sooner moments.”
Things did turn out for the better for her as struggle paid off when she approached two radio stations at the age of 22, and within 15 days she was live on the radio doing a radio show. She started her own company and worked along with her two friends, like a small team. Now they had to reach out to people and corporates weren’t giving her any response.
“I literally approached 100 companies, but I don’t think the corporate India wasn’t ready for something like this, even though I had my certificate and a radio show, but people were open to handwriting analysis on a personal level.”
In an attempt to reach out to people they went for an HR conference in Delhi.
“I literally bumped into HR head of IBM with his wife, and I was like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Can I analyze your handwriting?’ And they said yes. I remembered we talked and how much we laughed and laughed. That evening, he had received the best HR professional award, we had dinner together and spent pretty much the entire evening together. People started approaching me in the conference asking questions like ‘Who are you? Why this person was hanging out with you?’.”
She got an assignment with IBM nationally, to analyze their executives’ handwriting. From then on she got signed up to big names like ISPAT too(now JSW), Torrent Pharma, and celebrities like John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, and Smriti Irani et. al. All along the way, she kept studying and honing herself in different skills.
“My father collected newspapers, so from 1980 we had every single newspaper that came to our house. So for me learning to upgrade yourself or investing in you to add value to you was a very normal thing to do. Between the next birthday gift and a course, it was encouraged that I chose the latter, which I still hold today.”
The one we know as Aditi Surana today once went around by the name Chandraprabha. She felt that without knowledge she was providing feedback to these people, that she wasn’t growing. So she let go of her staff and took a sabbatical for two and a half years.
“I looked at everything that I owned and thought as to what am I creating here? So I went for a transcendental meditation, a thing which people take up after they have retired. At 25, I changed my name to ‘Aditi’. Aditi means unbound. I could do whatever I’d like to do.”
During this period she got married too. It mattered to her if whatever she was doing is making her happy or not. According to her very few people really pay attention to whether they are enjoying their life or not.
She went through a lot of emotional abuse as a child, physical and emotional. For people, it wasn’t okay to be different or dyslexic for that matter.
“As I married my entire name changed. Suddenly, I was a nobody. I wasn’t amongst high end people. The yoga teacher in Rishikesh, where I went, didn’t care for who I was. All of that shed a lot of myth of achievement and success that we have.”
But you never know what the future has in store for you. After her sabbatical, she returned back to work. She started realizing that she wasn’t the wife that he had in mind. For him, it was fun being with a random and unpredictable person, but playing that game, in the long run, is something neither of them was ready for. They looked at each other and said that probably they didn’t want to do this. But as fate had it, things didn’t stop there, along with this came another wave,
“As I had started to work again, my father started falling ill and husband had decided to call off our marriage. Again I was a stage where I had no clue, I had to go to my father to be the caretaker.”
With so much resentment in the past, she went to nurse her father. Where she hadn’t spoken to him in years, now she had to be there for him. She tells me how it was one of the toughest phases of her life. Her husband filed for a divorce and in December her father passed away. Her husband stuck around for a couple of months as he knew she was in a very fragile state.
During this, she jolted herself back to the realizing that she cannot shut down the connect she has with consciousness and the experience with people she gained over the years. Aditi has changed 13 apartments, so far.
“Then, I moved to a different apartment. I realized that I was losing on everything that mattered to me, the connect with body, consciousness, and connecting with the universe. I couldn’t shut down. I met a friend who was a client and she told me about Access Consciousness.”
She couldn’t stop, a course that usually takes 2-3 years to complete to become a facilitator, she completed in 11 months, and I went to Italy, for my certification training.
“After my father’s death, everything that was unresolved between us showed up and I couldn’t go back to him and talk. I used to cry for my father, somebody I didn’t meet for 7-8 years. But Access Consciousness help me get through it and resolve the conflict within me. I realized through Access, that I didn’t have to blame him or rationally understand to choose all that I want. I could reconnect with mind and body, which is what gives me the intellectual kick I need.”
During no point in the conversation did I feel her voice losing confidence. You hear people’s version of their struggle. At no point in her life did she give up whether she was aware of the problem or not, the abuse, her dyslexia, her relationships, she kept believing in herself. She has an aura brimming with confidence which makes you feel there will always be problems but if I have a calm like her, you’ll get through it like a fish in water.
“I have been average at a lot of things. Average at studies, badminton, cricket, table tennis, lawn tennis, etc.”
A large portion of our 7.2 billion world population is average. So, on a scale of 0-100, most of us lie are in the middle. Is that defeat? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it is that being the jack of all trades doesn’t mean you can’t master any. This one isn’t a mathematical equation and you needn’t balance it.
“If players are being picked to represent a kabbadi team, I’ll make it to the team but I won’t stand out as a performer. For some reason, maybe I am not that good a player. That’s the curse, isn’t it? Making it to the team but not being good enough.”
Yash Shah, who was brought up in a nuclear family, with his father a businessman and mother a homemaker. Early on in the childhood, he was exposed to a lot of options.
“My pre-high school was at Amrit Jyoti. I think that has contributed to help me get where I am today. They had 18 co-curricular activities apart from major subjects. Things that I didn’t know were taught at school.”
He entered NIT-Surat & picked up Mechanical engineering following the herd as a sheep. His average skills got him accolades and publishing papers. Mentioning Abhishek, his close friend since his school, he says,
“We participated in a lot of competitions together. This one competition at my college won us an internship at IIM Ahmedabad, under professor Anil Gupta.”
The moment he mentions the name of the professor, I know about his experience. They worked on different projects, including designing a platform for GTU students. The relationship with Prof. Anil Gupta went even after the internship. They got exposed to the disruptive ideas of the start-up environment. This wasn’t ‘Aaha!’ moment that got them to initiate a start-up of their own.
Yash and Abhishek used to participate in a lot of Business plan competitions as a hobby. They even have a patent filed in their name. Yash and Abhishek met Anupama at CIIE during a Hackathon where Anupama presented an idea and both of them joined up with her to work on the same. All of them graduated and moved on with their average work-a-day jobs.
“I got a job in a bank in Mumbai. But still all of us were working on projects together, but now instead we thought of working for clients providing them services as such. Over a period of 5-6 months we figured we were using multiple tools for communication.”
That is when they thought if three people since such a long time are facing this then probably, other established companies also face this. They did their basic research and collated the results.
“Instead of building a specific functionality for a generic user-base, we’re building generic functionality for a specific user-base.”
They have a 12,000 user base, but none of their customers asked them what is so different about them than other platforms. So, Yash out of curiosity went to one of his old customers as to why they weren’t questioning how they were better.
“One of my old customers told me that as a business person all they cared about, was saving their time and money. But there are a lot of competitors, and I look at it in this way, ‘It’s a fairly interesting problem to solve and I’m not going to get bored anytime soon’.”
The average boy from Amrit Jyoti has a come a long way. I asked him about his happiest memory with Gridle and he reminisces about the bitter-sweet moment that made him feel, “It was all worth it”.
“We were pretty small then, and one day our server went down for an hour and half on a Wednesday. I was sleeping after pulling an all-nighter and I started receiving calls from people and of course that shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad, but our absence was noted.”
Gridle has received investment and is a profit making company now, but initially, when they started, Yash tells me they decided not to take money from their parents or put in their own individual money either.
“Previously we had participated in Bplan competitions as a hobby. So, again we participated in 13 Bplan competitions and stood in top 3 in nine of them. That itself gave us an initial corpus of 4.5 Lakhs.”
Nearing the end, I asked him if he wanted to leave Ahmedabad to which he says,
“Although I am a huge fan of being worst of the best, because there is a lot of space to learn. There are few SaaS companies here, but we’ve decided we won’t move out of Ahmedabad, because if we do, nothing will change. There are a lot of efforts by incubators and government to make the ecosystem feasible to work here. We’ll do our bit by staying.”
Once upon a time, more than 2 decades ago, in the far North East, there was a 5-year-old little girl. In a small town in a village, she was out shopping with her folks. She was intently waiting for her parents in the car, and that is when she heard the first gunshot. Seconds later, this was followed by the sound of a hail of bullets. A stray bullet flying towards the car got stuck in the rear windshield.
“I still remember my dad came and took me out of the car window. We rushed inside a nearby shop and switched off the lights. We stayed in for an hour and a half, all through which we could hear the continuous firing of bullets.”
Suddenly there were people banging on the shop door, threatening them, ordering them to surrender themselves. Her parents raised her hands, but she couldn’t understand as to why they had to surrender. With the innocence of a befuddled child, she was bobbing her hands halfway, as she saw her parents do the same. As they walked out they saw their surroundings engulfed in a fiery inferno, their car burning, hundreds of shops on fire, gas cylinders in houses exploding. She was made to lie down on the road the whole day, face-forward, it bruised her knees.
“I don’t remember this, but years later when I spoke to my mom about it, she told me that I had slept off for a few hours on the road amidst this.”
That’s childhood rife with Bandhs (curfews) for Limabenla Jamir, who lives in Nagaland. As kids, it was an occasion to rejoice that they were let off school, she now realizes how adversely it affected their education, their upbringing. Every day someone would get assassinated, or taken away, the insurgent groups or the Indian army would come checking disrupting the lives of civilians.
In 1997 though, the GoI and NSCM (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement after a series of peace talks, which has ensured some stability in the region. After numerous rounds of talks, a framework agreement was again signed in 2015 between GoI and NSCN(IM), which basically lays the framework to pave the way for a final settlement on the Naga issue, according to the information given by the Prime Minster’s Office and NSCN (IM) one of the Naga Political groups.
It’s been years since the Indo-Naga conflict has affected the lives and prosperity, but the real question here is why is taking such a long time? History and open dialogues, so much resentment and grudge because we don’t understand the predicament of the other side. “Are you Indian? Are you from Nepal?” Maybe we do not ask the right questions when we meet our brothers from the east.
“I was going to Delhi, to drop my sister who was to start her studies at Hindu college. Indian Army stopped us in Kohima, it was just another day again when the security was intense, and asked, “Kaha jaa rahe hai?” (Where are you going?), which flight are you taking? etc. I responded to all their questions in Hindi and they were shocked. I fail to understand why they enjoying asking such random questions with that laughter behind every statement.”
Now, I don’t mean to generalize for an entire section, but even one such incident is like fuel on fire. All this because you don’t know the predicament of the person on the other side or the environment in which they grew up in.
“I was in 9th grade I opened Seventeen magazine where I saw girls attending different universities in Delhi or Bangalore. It was a big deal for me that they were attending UN events, and that’s how I planned my bachelors in Delhi University.”
“Now, that I was pursuing psychology in Delhi, I began to question the situation in my region and began analyzing the conflict. That is when I decided to pursue my masters in the UK. My research was around how young people are affected by these conflicts, and the results showed that these people did show lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction and affected their mental health.”
Like many conflicted regions, these results were prevalent in her region amongst her people. During her time in the UK, she got introduced to several United Nations Program and Trainings. She came back to India and with the help of an enthusiastic bunch of young people, founded a platform called NEIMUN (North East India International Model United Nations).
They train young people, conferences, platforms, and events under the UN4MUN program established by UNDPI, WFUNA across different states in North East India. They encourage young people to question, to read the newspaper more often, to think about the world beyond our state our region. It is a platform to which helps them learn about public speaking, negotiation and develop their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for students from different states to visit the North East, starting with small numbers to attend 3-day event. They have people from Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Punjab who came to attend the conference. The conferences and events revolve around discussing on the sustainable development goals, international politics, etc.
“In one of the conference, during the feedback session this young person mentioned that someone close to him was killed in the India-Pakistan war. Whenever he thought about Pakistan, he was filled with anger and frustration, but attending this conference he had to read about Pakistan, their problems and he said, ‘I see that we have similar sufferings in Pakistan and Nagaland, but the young people there they want the same dreams, a good future. My anger and frustration are no more’.”
I was short on time, but not on the length of the conversation. I know we must not always ask for solutions before the time is right, but sometimes it’s hard not to think, ‘How to resolve this?’.
“I haven’t thought of this before this, but since you ask, I think of interstate collaboration amongst students of states or governments of states on different projects and programs, instead of communication with the centre. Exchange programs for teachers and students, and young people in policy making process so that we don’t just comment on policies after they are made but are a part of their formation.”
History is important. Sometimes its filled with frustration and sorrow but without that piece with us, we’ll repeat the same mistakes. We’re from the millennial generation, that means we have unlimited access to information, not to sulk or lash out for what was wrong in our past, but to improve our future and ensure that not just our generation but the next one as well, has a chance at creating a future without any boulders obstructing their flow of thought. Nagaland is at peace. It’s not a conflict zone anymore.
‘Start a conversation, not to find a solution but to do justice to our childhood pledge, ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’. I had a conversation with Limabenla Jamir and Reena Ngurang, if not all of it, I know my country a little better now.
Limabenla Jamir was nominated as a Global Shaper by the World Economic forum. She is also the Founding Curator of Kohima Hub, WEF. She spoke at the TEDxDumas platform and shared her experiences with the audience.