Mathanmi Hungyo, alumni of Delhi School of Social Work, in this exclusive interview with acadman.in talked about his early life in Manipur, how AFSPA affected his life, life at DSSW, working with APDP, being General Secretary of Tangkhul Student Union – Delhi, to co-founding Recognize, Rise and Empower Association.
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How would you like to introduce yourself to the students across India?
I am a professional social worker and have completed my Masters in Social Work from Delhi School of Social Work with specialization in Family & children, Urban & Rural communities as well as conflict mitigation & Peace Building. I have been part of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), Centre for Equity Studies and APDP Kashmir as a part of his field work. My area of interest has been Human rights, Public Health, livelihoods and Sports and sustainable development.
My father works in the education department and my mother is a homemaker. I have three older brothers who are working in different fields.
I am also the Co-founder and Director of a Non-profit organization called Recognize Rise and Empower Association.
Please tell us about your early days in Manipur? What kind of exposure, environment, and aspirations you had during school days?
Life has been a roller-coaster. Conflicts affect you in many ways and they shape your perception as well as your personality. I still have nightmares sometimes about men in uniform banging and barging in the house, dismantling our bed, asking our IDs in the middle of the night. Conditions grew better as we grew up but situations happen regularly. Combing operations, identity frisking is a natural part of our childhood which is the saddest thing and which no child should face it.
There use to be curfews when we were in the middle of the class so our van drivers would come rushing to pick us up. Bandhs after bandhs which I believe greatly affected the education of our generation.
Life was chaotic but I believe we count our blessings more as our life was not easy. I wanted to be a doctor but I didn’t have the temperament and the brains to be a doctor.
I was in a boy’s school in my high school after which I did my secondary schooling in Shillong. It was a cultural shock for me as it was a matrilineal society and suddenly I was in a co-ed college where we didn’t wear uniforms and I can do whatever I want as it is very peaceful.
How did AFSPA impact your life there?
AFSPA affects the lives of all people who are living under it. All of us suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and it’s all about the level of the effects it has on us individuals living in the conflict region.
Childhoods of many are lost in translation during the most actives phase of AFSPA and I believe childhood plays the most vital role in human development.
Situations are getting better but there has to be accountability as no one is above the law and above all men in uniform.
I heard that you confronted Hindi for the first time in class 10th. How was that experience?
We had Hindi classes till 8th standard and for all the right and wrong reasons I never took it seriously as a result of which I was very weak in Hindi. I participated in the All India Quiz Competition in 2008 which was held by India Today Group at Bokaro, Jharkhand.
It was the first time I went out of my state and I met students from all over the country, in the audio rounds they played Hindi songs where I was clueless whereas the other students answered it with ease. It led me to self-realization of the importance of knowing different languages. Now I speak fluent Hindi with the help of my roommate and my hostel mates in DSSW.
When did you decide to come to the University of Delhi? How was your first week in Delhi?
My brothers had studied in Delhi University so it was certain that I will also be studying in Delhi.
My first week was hard in terms of adjustment as Delhi has a very fast paced life as compared to our small cities like Imphal and Shillong where I lived for two years. But I had relatives helping me in every step so it became very normal later.
How did you get interested in social work?
I was attending my SSB interview where I was asked about the AFSPA and I answered that there has to be accountability. For whatever reasons they didn’t select me, the mood of the interview was changed after I answered that.
As I moved out the interview room, I felt a sense of pride that I achieved something for standing up to what I believed in; where I could have lied and got the higher paying job.
I got the second rank in the entrance for Masters in Criminology in Sadar Patel police University Jodhpur, I got my admission done there but I received a call from Delhi School of Social Work that I have got into the Master’s course.
I had to decide between criminology and social work. However, I chose to go back to Delhi and until now I have not regretted a single moment for coming back for social work has given me meaning and purpose in my life.
Would you like to give us an overview of your life at Delhi School of Social Work?
Life in DSSW was one of the most important phases of my life. Sharing rooms to two different unique persons as roommates were challenging as well as an amazing experience as I look back today.
I had some trouble in the field but I had a co-worker Nairitee who had helped me in my first semester to adapt to different people in communities. Friends from all over the country with different experiences and personality shape my interactions and the growth as well as learning has been immense through them. Except for a few teachers, I will not give any credit to my learnings and growth.
As a whole, I learn more from my roommate Rohit and my friends Prashant, Ankit, Sanjeev, and Harsh. Foods, walks, support group discussion, reports, football, badminton sums up my two years in DSSW.
How has your experience been interning with APDP? What kind of work was provided to you?
Conflict areas have always fascinated me and it was very natural for me that I intern with APDP for my block placement in Kashmir. My experience has been shaped by the people I met along with the narratives I witness. Therefore the experience was very overwhelming and I wish I could have done more and better in capacities beyond me.
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I was made to analyze 15 years data of enforced disappearance for the 10 district of Kashmir along with field visits to various places in the valley. I started a comparative study on enforced disappearance between downtown Srinagar and Ukhrul, the research has not been completed and I hope to finish it in the future.
Would you like to tell us about the anti-India sentiments you might have seen in Kashmir?
The concept of India is very broad and the idea of Pro-India can also not be summed up by shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai verbally or standing to the national anthem. It goes beyond that and likewise anti- India can also not be summed as people seeking justice and fighting for it.
Sentiments differ accordingly to the different geo-political scenario. Working on cases of enforced disappearances made me witness people with sentiments of self-determination.
Every human has the right to self-determination as much as India’s right against the British to decide their own future in their freedom struggle.
I believe the fight everywhere in the world is not against any country per se but it is a fight against oppression, discrimination, and evil mechanism that are hindering the goal of equality and empowerment of every section of our society.
Yes, there is a violation of human rights in Kashmir and Manipur, so sentiments will flourish.
You have also been the General Secretary of Tangkhul Student Union – Delhi. How was that experience?
I was not certain when I was told to contest in the Student Union election even though I was interested in it since I was in college but my family members were not very keen about the idea of it.
Our union has a strength of around 10,000 members which is one of the biggest north-eastern student union in Delhi. There were a lot of challenges yet it was an experience which has made my goals and alignment to my career possible.
Police cases, helping out in the death cases of our members, protest against the anti- tribal bills, protest against the district creations, and the confluence of career opportunities, legal awareness were some of the activities that were part of the experience.
This experience has given me the skill to organize, communicate, dialogue, plan and implement which I think are very important skills that I would have lost out otherwise.
There was no reward; no salary but the blessings to fight and help for others was more than anything I could have asked for.
I lose out on my marks of attendance in the department; miss out on many occasions to enjoy and even to sleep by being in the morgue, consoling relatives of those who died, taking coffins to the airport at midnight.
Yet when all is done and dusted, I cannot be more than thankful to my people in the community to be a leader for them and for the opportunity to be part of them and our movements.
How do you look at the Inner Line Permit Issue in Manipur?
Everything has its own merits and demerits along with a lot of perspectives so I won’t do justice by just briefly commenting in this interview. Hopefully, in a better time and space, we can elaborately discuss on the inner Line permit issue of Manipur.
What is Recognize, Rise and Empower Association? How did the idea come into your mind?
Recognize, Rise and Empower Association (RREA) is a non-profit organization based in Manipur, working for the socio-economic empowerment as well as sustainable development of women in and around the troubled peripheries of North-East India, and the neighboring South East Asian countries through various methodologies. It is registered under Sec-8 of the Companies Act 2013.
It is an organization which stands for gender equality, justice and empowerment. Our focus areas are health, livelihood, sports, sustainable development, research, and consultancy.
I was in my initial phase of wanting to start something of my own rather than taking the campus placement, then the idea for RREA was initiated by my partner Theimipei Raleng who was a Ph.D. Scholar from JNU, who had similar passion and understanding of the need to do something for our people. We deliberated for months and finally, once our vision and the mission was set we registered. The shared commitment to work for marginalized women survivors of conflict zones founded this non-profit organization to provide a platform for these women to come together and share their experiences.
What would be your message to the students across India who are interested in social work?
Regardless of the politics and the different dynamics of Institution and faculties, social work as a course curriculum is an amazing field which will hone students as well as bring a comprehensive understanding of the affairs of all sections of the society.
The field component is the most important of the course where you will meet people from different walks of life and equipped you to become a social worker and above all a better human being. Therefore it is a course which gives you a lot of learning opportunities.