Zooni Dash is a full time volunteer with Initiatives of Change India. She wrote this letter to the Naga newspapers, following a visit to the north east of India, and it was published in March 2014.
I come from Mainland India, the only time I use this identity is when I am in the north east and I question why. I get some answers and I think it would have been much better if we could have left it to be just a geographical identity, if at all we needed to use it.
This is my fourth visit to the North East of India and second time to Nagaland and each time, I am overwhelmed by the love and care I receive. I am here for a wedding and never before have I seen friends and family helping so much; I had never seen people in cars calling out to people standing on the streets asking if they wanted a lift. And also, I had never met anyone who felt as strongly about their identity as people here do.
Feeling that 'I do not belong' is one of the worst feelings ever, be it in the family, at school, or the place we live in. During my last visit to Nagaland, I saw the pain, the hurt you still carry in your hearts. I felt responsible. Since that day more than a year ago, my heart is full of acknowledgement and apology for all the hurt you carry against India, a country you feel you do not belong to. My deepest wish is to help you come out of the hurt and bitterness.
I am sincerely and deeply sorry.
But here, I want to share one more thing. I am a 25 year old woman and I love travelling. Many times, I am looked at as an alien or an object in my own country. People from different states laugh at my way of speaking. I often get into an argument with the rickshaw wallas in Delhi because they never charge the same price and I feel so angry. But, what I don’t want 'is to feel like a victim'. Yes, there are people who are indifferent, who taunt me because I am fat. Who make me want to run away but I know that I am not the only one who feels that way just as I am sure you too feel in the rest of India.
There is indifference in the world but we need to remember that everyone is fighting a battle.
I agree that the way some of us from mainland India behave with people from the North East is just not right. But at the same time, there is injustice against some of us the moment we step out of our houses.
I am beginning to understand what you must feel coming from your traditional backgrounds trying to develop your relation with a very ancient civilization like India. I also understand that you have a very deep rooted history. I still do not know much about it but I understand that it is underlined with blood, pain and loss. But should we let the past ruin the present and the future of our children? My uncle here says 'Hurts not transformed are always transferred'. Are we unknowingly doing the same?
I just want to say that you are not alone especially when facing difficulties, the intensity and context I am sure are different but we face it too, I face it too. We are fighting against humans when we should be fighting for humanity, for ALL of us and with love!
No one can make you feel like a victim, like you do not belong, till you let them. We need to hold hands and work towards creating love and peace in the world. It is in the shelter of each other that we survive.
Please help me, I love you and belong to you as much as I belong to my own brother.
'What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for others?'
Will you be my friend?
Yours, most sincerely,
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.