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NE women writers discuss State, language and identity

Coordinator of the North East Women Writers’ Meet and Editor of Nagaland Page, Monalisa Changkija, is flocked by participants (teachers) who came all the way from Jorhat. (Photos by Jemima Jamir)

Through an anecdote, Prof. A.C. Bhagabati, while opening the North East Women Writers’ Meet (NEWWM), said, “Creative writers must be created with the resources of the region.” Prof. Bhagabati was sharing his experience of bringing out the stories of tea garden workers through their own language while inaugurating the NEWWM, organized and sponsored by the North East Zone Culture Centre (NEZCC), in coordination with the Nagaland Page, held today at the NEZCC in Dimapur on the theme of “Shared Experiences”.
In his analysis of literature from the region, Prof. Bhagabati in his address as chief guest stated, “Ethnographic fiction is the main form of writing that emerges from this region and women have contributed immensely to this body of literature.”    
The first day of the Meet saw three sessions by eminent writers from the region. In the first session, Dr. Temsula Ao, retired Professor from the Department of English in the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) and prominent Naga writer, set the tone of discussion for the day with her paper on ‘Contemporary Literature of the North-East’. “The erroneous view that we are a compact group with homogenous identity continues to influence the rest of the country, and the imbalances among us are rarely considered,” says Dr. Ao, reflecting on why contemporary writers from the North East focus much on identity.
“There are 420 languages, dialects and sub-dialects in this region. How can it be referred to in one breath?” asks Mitra Phukan, author of The Collector’s Wife and much other literature from the region, agreeing with Dr. Ao, through her paper on ‘The Emergence of English as a Language of Literary Expression in India’s Northeast’. Both scholars pointed to the eminence of the English language in literature from the region that shapes the identity of the personal and political. As participants got ample food for thought, Dr. Ao highlighted the influence of folklore on contemporary literature, while Ms. Phukan talked of the “urbanization” creeping into writing from the region, with “rootedness” phasing out. The discussion presented nuances of both oral and written forms.
Prof. Nahakpan Aruna Devi, through her paper on ‘Women’s Voice in Manipuri Poetry’ explored in depth, the oppression and rise of women in Manipuri literature. This novelist and Professor at the Manipuri Department of the Manipur University detailed the literary progression, through poetry, of Manipuri women from that of being oppressed, signified as unintelligent and low, to an image with a high degree of responsibility, far from being subservient. This transformation began with Manipuri women taking over the pen from the latter half of the 20th century, becoming the creator, not just the created.
“Writers were banished from Plato’s ideal Republic, considered disruptive to governance, influencing young minds,” was Dr. Tilottoma Misra’s introduction to her paper, in the next session, on ‘Writing as Empowerment; Women Writers from North-East India’. This accomplished literary figure has written novels, translated some and edited two volumes of The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North East India. Going into the politics of it, Dr. Misra presented ideas of the univocal nature of the nation state, and its relationship with the multi-vocal nature of the North-East. It brought out the contribution of literature to the language of politics of the region and what a woman here could make of her identity.  
Exploring ideas similar ideas, but also drawing from experiences of Khasi women, was Prof. Streamlet Dkhar’s paper on ‘Redefining “Woman” in the 21st century: her status and role in the society’. Prof. Dkhar is a Professor in the Khasi Department of NEHU. Questioning the identity of women, with respect to her ethnicity, political and personal belonging, and giving a it a shape through her experience of living in various cities of the North East was Dr. Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte’s non-academic paper on ‘Negotiating Multiple Identities: The Woman Writer in the Northeast’. Through some of her poems, this Assistant Professor in the Department of English of Mizoram University, painted a picture of the ‘self’ that both men and women of the region can identify with but also the peculiar experience of women here that shape their identity.  
After lunch, the last session drew from the works of Mamang Dai, renowned writer from Arunachal Pradesh. Papers were also presented by Tidolis Snaitang, an employee of the Government of Meghalaya and a poetess, on ‘Coping with Trauma’ dealing with sexual violence and ‘Redefining Identities, Redrawing Cultural Boundaries’ by Dr. Thounaojam Chanu Ibemhal. Dr. Ibemhal, who writes under the pen name Arambam Ongbi Memchoubi, is a scholar of Manipuri literature and mythology.
The Meet was attended by personalities like Khrieleno Terhuja, film makers, journalists and teachers representing various educational institutions.

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