By Joyeeta Talukdar:
Today is the 70th Independence Day of free India. But what does independence really mean to all?
Everyone has got a unique view-point and so do I.
Here are some incidents from my life. Many face these situations, every day, several times.
This was a few days back when I was travelling from Guwahati to Mumbai. A young lady and her brother boarded the train from Guwahati too. My friend and I were talking in Hindi.
The lady smiled and asked me, “Are you both from Assam?”
I replied, “Yes”.
She re-questioned me, “How come? You both are talking in Hindi.”
Taken aback by this educated lady I said, “Why do you think we both aren’t from Assam?”
She replied, “You should have been speaking in Assamese if you are from Assam and not in Hindi”.
I snapped, “Isn’t Hindi supposed to be our national language?”
She grew angry, “Yes, Hindi is our national language but then you should be speaking in Assamese if you are from Assam”.
I asked her, “Where are you heading Madam?”
“To Mumbai, I work and stay there”, was her reluctant answer.
I smiled and said, “So you talk there in Hindi or Marathi?”
She replied, “Hindi because I don’t know Marathi and Hindi is the layman’s tongue there”.
I smiled and said, “You have answered your own question, Madam”.
The only question which ran through my mind was that, to prove that I come from Assam, do I need to talk in Assamese?
This is a single incident. There are a couple of more.
It was in West Bengal a couple of years back where I was working as a trainee in a renowned medical college. After six months of training, when my friend and I went to receive our certificates from the Co-ordinator, we spoke with her in English.
The first question she asked was, “Where are you from?”
We answered, “Assam”.
“So you are Ashomiya?” she queried again.
I replied, “Bengali by birth and Assamese by heart”.
She looked through her round retro black spectacles and said, “You can speak Bengali?”.
I replied, “Yes”.
“Then why did you talk in English?” was her question.
Reluctantly I answered, “Because English is our official language!”
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “You can get your certificate only if you talk in Bengali”.
I remained silent and after the whole day of silence,I wasn’t given my certificate for not talking in Bengali. The next thing we did was, we went to the Dean of the College to fetch our certificates.
The only question which ran through my mind was, “Am I an Indian or am I Bengali or Assamese?”
Many incidents you try to forget in your life but you can’t. This is one of them. He is a renowned physician who now resides outside India (NRI, in other words). During his one of his visits to our lab, I was taken aback by his mentality.
Dr. asked me, “When are you getting married?”
I answered, “No, plans yet”.
He questioned, “So you aren’t getting married?”
I said, “As long as possible, no”.
He cunningly smiled and said, “If you Bengalis don’t get married then how will you increase the population in Assam?”
I was dumbfounded and remained numb for a while. I tried to regain my consciousness and then said, “I am more an Assamese than Bengali. Moreover, before anything else, I am an Indian. Can you stick to that?”
He felt the anguish through my eyes and said, “Sorry”.
But, is this sorry enough? What about the unseen scars which one has to face by this regional stereotyping every time?
Can we not have the single identity of being an Indian?
This Independence Day as we hoist our national flag, the only wish I have in my heart is that everybody should be known as an Indian first, then be represented by his/her state and language.
Jai Hind Jai Bharat