A fiercely passionate and ambitious Manipuri girl in Delhi – Angellica Aribam landed in Delhi to study but soon enough student politics became her calling. Not only is the city infamous for being unsafe as host to its women, it is also not among the most gracious to the North-Easterners. Yet, how Aribam made this city her own, navigated through its idiosyncrasies to come to a position of influence and kick up a storm around her grievances, is a story you don’t stumble upon very often. Elected as the first north-eastern female secretary of the National Students Union of India, even as her story is still coming of age- her attitude, her strong opinions and even diehard resolve are the main ingredients of this firebrand’s exclusive interview with Binjal Shah for Shethepeople.tv:
You have always harboured very strong opinions about women’s rights, as well as the treatment of north-easterners in other parts of India. What makes you feel so strongly about each of the issues?
As a woman and also a north-easterner staying in Delhi since my childhood, I have been at the receiving end of both the types of discrimination which could have been mutually exclusive or inclusive. Interestingly, I have at times also faced discrimination as a christian because of my name, although I am not one. And, I have always been known to express my opinions strongly; I think my voice now gets more resonance because of my association with the NSUI. In retrospect, probably being outspoken and opinionated were the primary factors that led me towards an active political life. You would rarely find a strongly opinionated woman staying away from any opportunity to be vocal about the issues they are passionate about in any sphere of life.
When did you decide to vent out that passion and frustration as a student activist?
I didn’t plan on activism and was pursuing a career in Biochemistry. Right before my graduation, a Manipuri boy was killed in a hostel in Bangalore and that’s when I decided to do my bit to bring about change. I joined Law Faculty, contested elections on an NSUI ticket and, thankfully with the mandate of the student community, ended up as the first North-Easterner to be elected in the Executive Committee of Delhi University Students’ Union. Ever since then, NSUI has been giving me a platform to voice my concerns and work towards an equitable society, even to the extent of making me speak at the All India Congress Committee session held in Jaipur in 2013 to highlight the plight of the North-Eastern diaspora living away from home to an auditorium full of leaders and decision-makers.
Elected as the first north-eastern female secretary of the National Students Union of India
Being in the youth circuit of mainstream political parties, what has been your reading of the governance in Delhi? Especially as a female citizen- have you felt shortchanged government after government?
To be honest, I’m of the opinion that we can’t leave everything to the government. There is only so much that the government can do. We need to sensitize & change the mindset of the people. We need to make them aware that : a woman is no less than a man, NorthEast is a part of India, LGBT people are humans too and so on. As you can see, it all boils down to the mentality of the people. Changing that is the difficult part. What the government can do is create awareness, put in place a system which sends a strong message against subjugation and denigration on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation and set precedents which would serve as deterrents.
As a Manipuri woman, did you ever feel a glass ceiling existed that you broke, as you escalated up the rungs? Not only towards your gender, but also your ethnicity?
I don’t think so. Since time immemorial, Manipuri women have been known for their activism and strength. Did you know that the Manipuri women fought two all-women wars against the British in 1904 and 1939? Irom Sharmila is about to complete fifteen years of her hunger-strike against AFSPA. I’m just an ordinary 23-year old girl striving to be an addition to the ever-growing womenfolk who are doing great things to make their voices heard.
What do you hope to achieve while you are in office with the NSUI? What’s on your personal manifesto- so to say?
As an NSUI National Office Bearer, I am responsible for organizational activities in my incharge state alongwith other added functional roles. Organizationally, I have been working to groom more potential female leaders and help them lead the student community as a start. As for my personal manifesto, I want to sensitize the society towards the issues of gender and garner more voices. I believe that one simple act or a lone voice can lead to ripple-effect in the society. Take, for example, when I took on two men who were misbehaving on an Indigo flight, the issue became a talking point on social media and subsequently in the mainstream media. Hundreds of girls have, since then, written to me saying what I did has inspired and encouraged them to raise their voices instead of silently tolerating such creeps. It was with this same hope to bring a small but essential change that I wrote to the Commissioner of Delhi Police to provide sanitary napkins in lock-ups, a subject which people shy away from talking about openly.
What do you feel about this whole negative connotation gathering around the term ‘feminist’? Why do you feel that is – and have you ever faced friction and hatred directed at you, in your journey of feminism?
I’m a proud feminist. Unfortunately, the definition of feminist which is ‘any man or woman who believes in the equality of the sexes’ got misinterpreted into ‘anti-men’ which is how the negative baggage came about. I’ve come across women who are all for equality but were dead-against the terminology, upon explaining the real meaning now they flaunt the tag as proudly as I do. Nowadays, I am seeing this welcoming trend of men calling themselves feminists which will definitely help in losing the negativity surrounding the word.
Also there’s a myth associated with feminism which is the notion that women want preferential treatment which is again against the very essence of feminism. It is purely gender bias. We’ve never aspired for preferential treatment, all we want is equality. I’ve made it amply clear to the men who show any kind of friction that I’m not going to play the gender card and usurp away opportunities that could have been theirs. My idea of feminism is this : if I’m not deserving or qualified enough then don’t give me opportunities solely because of my gender; but if I deserve it then nobody should dare take it away from me because of my gender. I’m deeply inspired by feminists the world over. For the uninitiated, I would like to recommend them to watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on feminism which is available on the web. It would definitely clear a lot of doubt about feminism and why it is important for both men and women to work together for gender equality.
How would you advise female students in Delhi to make their college life worthwhile, and get involved in the thick of things early on?
A college is a place to learn and unlearn. We learn not just what our respective area of study demands from us but also the essentials of being a responsible citizen and a better human being. We also unlearn and let go of the prejudices and clichés we carry in our minds. The first aspect begins with standing up for ourselves, our rights and place in the society. I would advise students (both male & female) to take up issues that affect them and other students. They may or may not choose to be political, but should always take up issues that affect them. The second part is important too, that we must leave behind our pre-conceived notions and clichés against people from different backgrounds, caste, community or gender.