By Anamika Aami:
“You are not going to such a far off place like Shillong, it’s all militants and terrorists there,” was Amma’s first response when she came to know that I cracked my journalism entrance to English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU). It was hard to convince my parents, as northeast has largely been portrayed as a militant inhabited area by the media. While a peep into the wiki page of Shillong was more than enough to convince me to set off to the land of clouds, some of my friends were unaware of the existence of such a place in India; they asked “Why would you go to China to learn journalism?”
Coming from far off south state to a northeastern state was difficult. The three day train journey was pathetic. The toilet had no doors, the train was shabby, and there weren’t any female travellers in my bogey. It was also difficult to adjust with the food, the language. However once I reached the “Scotland of the east” everything was fine. People were friendly and warm. It was green and raining, unlike my place which was scorching hot.
I arrived in the month of July, and one month passed too soon. As August approached, interested in knowing about Independence Day activities, which used to be vivid and colourful at our place, I enquired from the seniors. “No there isn’t any independence over here. Get Maggi and good movies in your pen drive and don’t step out of the hostel. It’s a bandh on the day,” said a senior.
Soon after the ‘Independence Day bandh‘ a huge row of bandhs was awaiting us. The University used to shut down for every other hartal. There won’t be any shops, there won’t be any person walking through the lanes, it used to be silent and fearful. We Keralites used to believe that we are the leaders in the number of bandhs, but bandhs in Kerala weren’t ever this silent.
Being new to the place and unaware of the political situation, each bandh seemed to be absurd and useless. But once I ventured into the history of north eastern politics and their long era of unrest, all of it started making sense. The distance between the north east and the rest of the country wasn’t just physical, but also in culture, and in policies. In the modern era, the Malom incident, wherein 10 civilians were killed by the Assam rifles in 2000 began a new level of political unrest. People like Irom Sharmila are still fighting for their bigger dream of peace in the area. It was pretty clear why the people were so afraid to get out.
Having spent one year in Shillong, I got acquainted with the custom of bandh, even though I could never acquaint myself with the fascist idea of imposing a bandh. I was sad to know about the things that the kids out here were missing. Whatever the politics of Independence Day celebration or so called nationalism, celebrations like these were fun. It was good to see a parade, to be part of a parade or to walk on the lane with a fluttering Indian flag.
This year, after many years, Meghalaya could celebrate Independence Day without any bandh or curfew. The governors’ house was opened for common people to visit. There were parades and celebrations, but still, certain places still bore markings of the past – silence.