‘Growing up in violence-hit zones deeply affect children’s psyche’

After seeing the riveting excerpts from Bidyut Kotoky’s latest film Xhoixobote Dhemalite or Rainbow Fields, I was reminded for an essay I wrote in 2010, when these disturbances were all around us.

This was anthologized in the volume “The Peripheral Centre”, edited by Preeti Gill, published by Zubaan, New Delhi, in 2010. The title of my essay is ‘Who Killed Mother Teresa?’ and is taken from a true incident.

Watching the stunning visuals from Xhoixobote Dhemalite, it took me back to those horrifying days. I still wonder about the impact of this violence on young minds, and the long term effect it will have on them, and on society.

Here are some relevant extracts from the essay:

Who Killed Mother Teresa?

The negative effects of this kind of long drawn conflict on young minds can well be imagined. There is, for instance, this true story that was often narrated with anguish by a noted journalist. His grand-daughter, a little girl of about five or six at the time, was with him watching the news of Mother Teresa’s death being shown and discussed on TV. Her reaction to the death was to ask her grandfather, “Who killed Mother Teresa?” This, though the little girl herself lived in an urban middle class family, cocooned from the kind of violence that victims of ethnic violence in relief camps, for instance, routinely see when violent deaths take place in front of their eyes. Yet even this little girl, growing up in a “normal” family situation, could not conceive that death could come in any other than violent means.

Is this, then, what we are heading for? A society where natural deaths, where people dying peacefully in their sleep is becoming so rare that children will need actually to be taught that these things also happen?

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Most young people in the state have grown up, personally “knowing” victims of the violence. Since Assam’s is a small, closely-knit society, most people are in touch with even comparatively distant relatives, and have the time and inclination for friendships. Most people, young as well as old, personally know victims and families of those who have been kidnapped, or killed, or both, over the decades. In any case, the media is full of news of this kind. And much of it deals with horrors that take place close to home.

What, one wonders, has this done to the mindset of the young of this land? Like the little girl who wondered who killed Mother Teresa, have they grown up thinking killings are normal in today’s world, that extortions are the only way to make money? Have they grown up with a warped moral sense? Are they left with any respect for the law whatsoever, when the atmosphere around them is one of total lawlessness? One fears to even think of the consequences of what this so-called “low intensity” terrorism that has existed all around for several decades, is doing to the young.

It is not possible, and has not been, for some time, for children growing up in Assam to have a normal life. Bomb blasts, kidnappings, extortion, firings, bandhs, curfews, processions – with so much unrest all around them, a part of everyday life, can any child grow up normally? There is fear everywhere, and persons of authority in their lives, their parents and teachers, for instance, suffer visibly from it. What kind of effect has this had on entire generations who have been born here from the Eighties onwards?

Xhoixobote Dhemalite or Rainbow Fields is a feature film by national award winning filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky. The film deals with the mental trauma of children who grew up during the turbulent years of 1980s in Assam. It is a sensitive portrayal about children growing up amidst violence during the Assam agitation in 1980s, which leaves an indelible mark on their psyche and how that later influences their destinies. The film is semi-autobiographical in nature, being inspired by true incidents from the director’s life. The film releases on January 16.
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