As long as I can remember, the last time I was chosen on a team was almost ten years ago. I was chosen as one of the players in our local basketball team. I was just a mediocre player who could barely do a lay-up and dribble the ball. I think the only reason why our local coaching-staff chose me was because I was young and active. I never missed practice and always be the first to arrived at the court. But our local team was one of the poorest organised teams across our state and when we did play the state level tournament, we were knocked out on the first round, a debacle that could have been the worst losing record. To make matters worse, I was not able to be part of the team because my chronic illness came out at the most unwanted time.
Well, that was my first experience as being selected and be a part of a team to represent something at some event. I have never been chosen since then. But recently, I had received an invitation from an international organization through our institution [MZU] to be part of a team that would represent our state. In receiving that invitation, my gratitude as well as my timidity was profound. I cannot explain the extent to which my appreciation and self-deprecation started doing some kind of comparison in my head. But, I told our liaison, the ever selfless and affable Student Council leader—Tleipuia that I accepted the invitation.
Later, I received an email from the organisers about the event and the purpose of it. It was from Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM Delhi) that they would be organising a ‘Youth Debatathon’, focusing on gender inequality, child labour and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in collaboration with Plan India, an international NGO, in Guwahati. First, I was excited because it [the themes & purpose] is relevant with my subject—economics, the queen of social science. Second, as an aspiring economist, the thought that came in my head was ‘What would be the cost and what would be my benefit?’. But Pu Robert from Social Welfare Department called me up and reassured me there would be no cost needed to be incurred by me, since all of the required expenses will be paid by the invitee. Then he also told me that my teammate is also going to be from our university. Then it was finalized and we were bound to be heading to Guwahati. Somehow, my teammate got my number and texted me—Patrina from sociology department.
Later, we boarded a plane—my first experience though I won’t write much about it since I’ve already written it in my vernacular—and arrived at the lofty Don Bosco Institute at Kharguli in Guwahati. We were given separate room and the other teams form other states were yet to come. Taking this opportunity, we paid a visit at one of my staunchest non-Mizo friends at Beltola and we even dined there. My visit to my avuncular friend Mr. Abani was just awesome. The hospitality and care we had received was something I never expect. It reminds me that all North-Easterners are not bigots and insular.
The next day, we started the much awaited ‘Youth Debatathon’ by doing introduction and breaking the ice with other teams and delegates form various states across the North-East. Almost all of the representatives from other states were from Social Work department and their teams comprised more than 2 members while my team (team Mizoram) was only the two of us. Had it supposed to be a combat war, we would surely lose, the probability of defeat was certainty. Then we built a state charter and poster-mimed two things that addressed the problems in our own respective state. The need for more hands was real. After this, we lunched and exchanged pleasantries with delegates from other state. There was one damsel who caught my eye—a slender curly fair skinned girl from somewhere in this God forsaken corruption ridden land.
After lunch, we presented our respective state-charter and then picked out the ones which have similarity across the region. We chose Drop out from school and Child marriage and teenage pregnancy as the theme of our youth debatathon for the next day. Pradeep, an expert from Plan India, presented us a PPP of Gender Vulnerability Index (GVI) across the region which was quite insightful. Then we chose different stakeholder lens—self, family, community and government. I opted for theme one and chose government as my stakeholder lens. When we finally finished the first never-ending it seemed session, it was already dark and the sun calmly set on the bottom of the Brahmaputra as if it were tired of the soporific weather. The first day.
Many experts, prominent citizens, scholars and analysts were already discussing something when I entered the hall. The jury members were already being seated and without much further ado, we started the debatathon on the first theme—Drop out. There were theree of us, Jeet, representative of Assam, Maryta, representative of Manipur, who chose the government stakeholder lens. On rpund one, each of the stakeholder groups presented our point(s) of view and the possible solutions before the jury. Round two was a surprise round where we switched our stakeholder lens, and round three was the round where we came up on agreement and forward our ultimatum to the jury. In each round intervals, we had questions and answers round and it was thrilling, exciting and nerve-cracking.
The same steps and procedures were done on the second theme and then the jury members expressed their opinions and even counselled us. They were all empowered women and their mild ostentatious demeanours swayed the crowd and everyone was at attention. One jury member was so gorgeous and beautiful that I kept looking at her and Patrina had to shake me off from my daydream. I rued the fact that I was born so late, so far, so unequal and so out-of-her-league form her. Finally, it was getting dark again and our facilitators—Neha and Shruti did the vote-of-thanks like thing and day two was over. I don’t know why but when I was about to head for the exit, one Ma’am from the jury called me, shook hands with me and congratulated me. She told me that she liked my arguments and point of view and even said, ‘I can tell that you read a lot of things.’ I was somewhat flabbergasted and be like how I always do whenever someone complimented me—scratch my head with an awkward smile.
On day three, representatives of each state presented the youth-charter to the team of experts form Plan India and I did a presentation on the first theme. I was a bit edgy and I had butterflies in my stomach since I’ve never had before, presented and explained something in front of such experts. But, the clocks ticked and the earth was revolving as I doing, and I finished just fine. We made certain modifications as per the recommendation of the experts and another state representative presented the youth-charter for the other theme. Then after spieling at length about probable solutions, we had come to a consensus and finalized the youth-charter. Then the much anticipated moment took place—the declaration of the names who would be representing north-east at the final stage of the youth debatathon. Pinky madam, one of the jury members declared the result and somewhere, I heard my name being called out, mu vision was blurry and I thought for a while that ‘It was a mistake’, but it was real. Then I awkwardly shambles toward the dais to collect my not-believed trophy. Everyone was clapping and chanting my name, it was ‘STRANGE’.
Then to make the moment much more memorable, Pinky called out my teammate’s name. Yeah, even Patrina was a bit surprise, I could see from the looks on her face. Yes, the both of us has gone through the test of fire and ready for the final battle. Daphi, of Meghalaya was also chosen among the three top-representatives and another three were selected as members of Team North-East although they were not among the top three. Another vote-of-thanks like was done by our facilitators and SPYM gave each of us a memento—a bamboo beer mug. Curtain closed and the show was after three strenuous days of brain-sucking and painstaking meeting.
Whenever I have been given a platform to raise my voice and opinion, I always attend and rush for the front seats like an uninvited guest at a party. The youth are often being neglected even though we are the pillars of tomorrow for our country. Especially when it comes to key issues related to growth, development and upliftment of the poor and unprivileged people, our opinions are often neglected.
I thank Plan India and SPYM for providing us the right platform and the opportunity to express ourselves. My faith in humanity has been rejuvenated on witnessing that many organisations and their people have been selflessly fighting to remove poverty and inequality and voice out for the under-privilege people. As a welfare-oriented aspiring economist, the things that you’ve ben doing is exactly what I aspire to do as well. It has been a huge, authentic and unique experience for me. It was one of the grandest weekends I’ve ever spent and my takeaways are huge. Father Jerry’s words reverberate in my head, ‘Give the youth some spaces to freely rebel.’ The way we’d rebelled for the weekend would surely make at least one person better-off.
I hope, Delhi would be awesome as well. Hey Delhi, can you hear me? Team North-East is coming. And remember, It’s a part of India.