“…I am unclean because of my identity”

My family left my village Ninchou in the early 70’s and came to Imphal for better opportunities not because we had a plan or a better future but for survival.

Life has been a treacherous process filled with uncertainties of eviction of house to the complexities of conflict between different ethnic tribes as well as the hill and valley divide and the real struggle has been about our daily sustenance.

As we grew up being a minority, there has been a time when abusive and derogatory term has been referred to us, recalling one incident where I was told not to come inside the kitchen of a small hotel by two ladies because I am “unclean” because of my identity.

When I came to Delhi also, I had very less friends from my own community. Even until today people make fun of the accent of my mother tongue and I really don’t care as well as mind. I have also been often told that I am not an original Tangkhul because of the accent, flair and the grammatical mistake I make when I speak.

Maybe my mistake was me being born in Imphal and not having enough friends of my community and my parents being away in posting place sacrificing the warmth of home for building the future of other students in faraway Kamjong. Yet by God’s grace and the opportunity given by my community I represented my community of approximate 10,000 people as their General Secretary, Tangkhul Katamnao Long, Delhi. Why I am saying all this is because we are in a conflicting situation where we are often tested and asked about who we are, about our identity whether in Ukhrul, Imphal, Delhi etc.

I keep asking myself, Who are we? Who do we represent? What are we representing? Even if we speak our mother tongue as fluently and as sweet as we can yet if we don’t know who we are and if we are not representing the best of us for our community, everything becomes useless.

When I was chased away calling me unclean, when I was told that I don’t look or speak like my own community, I held my identity proud and gave my best. Today I am known as the “Tangkhul Guy” who is working in the field for the young students around the borders of Manipur, in Harvard, Hong Kong University, Delhi School of Social work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to name a few and in the regions of the country.

I am sharing this part of my story so that we can represent best of our identity through our character and our works at home as well as wherever we are placed.

Are we representing our identity with our inflated egos and pride? By being anti social elements in areas where we live? Are we being hypocrites? Are we the people other communities respect?

The choice is ours and I send everyone greetings from the border where it is about bread and butter to represent the best of us wherever we are, in spite of all limitations.

Mathanmi Hungyo is the Founder and Managing Director of Teach For North-East and Co-Founder of Recognize Rise and Empower Association.

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