Single Woman, North-Eastern, Not Alone

Makepeace Sitlhou, a young North Eastern origin woman shares her thoughts on her identity and her feelings after the recent exodus


Guest Blogger Makepeace Sitlhou is Co-Editor & Community Manager at The Alternative, an online publication on social change and sustainable living.

In the spate of every man made conflict known, women’s bodies have always become the site of offense and defamation. This isn’t, of course, reserved to states of emergency as the saying goes even in healthier times, “Akele ladki khuli tijore ki tarah hoti hain (A girl alone is like a safe left open). And to be frank, the times are such that you don’t need a riot or World War 3 to break out to scale the heightened level of caution and insecurity we already live with.

Only two weeks ago, all my senses were heightened like never before and a singular aspect of my identity burdened me more than I would like to admit – all because of an alleged rumour! Now whether it was a rumour, a few or many isolated attacks or in an incoming riot seems less relevant in the given context as compared to the fear and mental anguish that had built up from this. Up to 20,000 chose to heed the rumor (in many cases, even personal threats or warnings)and left their livelihood in the city that once fostered their growth but now posed a threat to their life.

During the time and post the drama, I read various opinions and editorials analyzing the situation to mostly a hysteria of mass whisper, particularly spread amongst the migrating labour class working in security, administration and hospitality. The upwardly mobile, well educated and discerning mid-level professionals in the midst of mainstream society was apparently beyond this, much like they positioned themselves in Anna Hazare’s war against corruption.

Agreed that the latter likely challenged and questioned the credibility of information as opposed to ‘the herd’ who believed hearsay at face value. Moreover, the advantage we suppose that the educated have in a reliable support system (self perceived or real) living in a safer neighbourhood while we swim with the assumption that the lowly stick amongst their own kind in ghetto-ish areas. The question, however, still begs to ask that what difference does your class and education make to a potential extremist and the opportunist hater?

The literature readings that once made me wonder and movies that I watched with compassion suddenly became all too real for me. I feared in my identity as a single woman in the city (an identity I was slowly coming to revel in) when my mind drifted to the women strategically used as collateral damage in communal riots showcased in movies like Khamosh Pani, Train To Pakistan, Parzania and Firaaq. I feared in my identity as a minority (and a racially apparent one at that) in a strangely new way like Suranjan Dutta, the protagonist of Lajja, suddenly became too aware of his largely closeted identity of a Hindu amongst the majority of Muslims in his social and intellectual circles.

It’s easy to objectively dismiss me as having over reacted to the situation at hand as the amount of blood spilled and honour slain in these epic massacres is offensive to even compare to. Yet, it’s not the physicality of the situation as much as the mental trauma, maybe even the scars that would live of the fear of an anticipated attack, that must be appraised with due respect and consideration. One must understand similar circumstances, outside of the racial profiling routine, with the Sikhs in the United Statespost 9/11 or the not-so-long-back attacks on Indians in Australia.

The police and administration brought the situation under control before it could mindlessly turn volatile (simply because as a country we have the communal effervescence to) and people from every community came out in support through public meetings and a group on Facebook even offered their abodes as safe haven, for those in need. It made a greater difference in safety assurance to have city dwellers (many of whom were not necessarily my friends or people from my community) offer dependable help than any patronizing advice and worst, frantic phone calls from everywhere else to stay indoors or to pack your bags.

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A cousin’s relative kept indoors for four days straight while I, much like Suranjan, prowled the streets of Bangalore, in safe company and conveyance however. I preferred to rely on my own eyes, ears, instincts and improvisation to the situation aside from what was churned out in news and social media. But is this kind of bravado recommended, especially for a girl?

While the nation outpoured its sympathy and support to people from the North Eastern states, I fear there might be a growing resentment towards the global favourite of a target community – Muslims. Flipping to the other side of the victimized coin, the largely Christian converts (apart from Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and other sects) from the North East have only begun taking baby steps towards mixing in the society, assured in their unique identity than crippled by it. Such an incident could very well lead to reverting to some of these differences becoming wider. It is not as much the prejudice towards people from the North East that I worry of but their prejudice towards people in the mainland – whether it be Muslims, South or North Indians, Hindus etc.

We need to judge the bad guys individually and as factions of separatists living amongst us and not as one community pitted against the other(s). And that we certainly will not achieve by writing open letters, like Arindam Chaudhari, that singles any one of us out but by connecting (as Kavitha Buggana does in this story) and empathizing to the isolated but universal experiences of alienation and imposed identity.



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