Teresa Rehman is a mum, an award winning journalist, Founder–Editor of Thumb Print online news magazine, and now an author of ‘The Mothers of Manipur’ by Zubaan books which will soon be released in this year.
She shares with Mums and stories her memories of her childhood, a glimpse of the times in the North-east region, the perceptions of the region and on being a mother to two lovely daughters, Tamara and Kyra.
“I was fortunate to have grown up in the pristine surroundings of a small town in Meghalaya and to erstwhile middle-class liberal family. I had a happy childhood. We had a sprawling house in a colony on top of a hill, where we could play around the peach, pomegranate, berry and olive trees. We were a whole bunch of kids of almost the same age in the colony and I still savour memories of the picnics we used to hold in our backyard. When I look back, I feel I am fortunate to have grown up amidst the splendor of nature. I was privileged to have grown up in real space, in a cloistered world of childhood charms – imagined kingdoms and victories, fanfare of doll’s weddings and the pleasure of sneaking up to the tree-house and holding our secret meetings. Had it not been for this unspoiled early life, I would have been a different person.
My mother was a teacher and always encouraged us to study. She had always insisted that my biggest ornament will be a sound education. She allowed me to make my career choices and I ended up being the first journalist in the family. My mum is no more. Now that she is no longer there, I realize how important she was in shaping my life. Her quiet and poised ways created a cocoon for us. I wish she was with me today to share my stories and tell stories to my daughters.
I have two daughters, 5 and 10 year old. They have a normal childhood and I try to keep them away from any disturbances. I have done hardcore conflict reporting and have flirted with danger several times. But that was a time when I never really cared for my safety or thought about my family. I was even caught in a cross fire once. But now, I feel that there should be support system for journalists reporting from a conflict zone
I wish I could do something to change the lives of children, especially in states like Nagaland and Manipur, who have been victims of conflict or rather forced to grow up seeing commandoes with AK 47s around them. It leaves a dent in their psyche which is difficult to heal.
I know of many children who have grown up in an atmosphere of fear and low-intensity war. It definitely is not a normal childhood. And many young students venture out of the region in search of greener pastures and also face abuses and racist attacks. This is basically due to the lack of understanding about the region. The region is out of the radar of the so-called national media and whatever news pours out of the region reinforces the stereotypes.”
On her decision to write the book ‘The Mothers of Manipur’, she says, “Thangjam Manorama (1970–2004) was a Manipuri woman who on July 10, 2004, was picked up from her home by the Indian paramilitary unit, 17th Assam Rifles on uncertain allegations of being associated with People’s Liberation Army. The next morning, her bullet-ridden corpse was found in a field. Five days after the killing, 12 middle-aged women walked stripped naked in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters, shouting: “Indian Army, rape us too… We are all Manorama’s mothers.
It’s a story I always wanted to tell the world. I met some of these mothers during the course of my reporting assignments in the border state. I was always intrigued by this unique protest in this extremely conservative society. One of them was surprised when I quizzed her about the day she took the momentous step. She told me that nobody ever tried to meet them or ask them what they felt and what they wanted. I decided to track them down, meet them and learn more about their lives. I have tried to cobble together history, contemporary stories and legends, anecdotes and most importantly, voices of women. I have tried to travel further beyond the news headlines, violence, bloodshed and the stereotypes that are connected with the state of Manipur. “
Regarding her other work ventures which she has undertaken during her career she says, “ I have met many single mothers in Nagaland and Manipur whose husbands have died of HIV-AIDS. Life was difficult for the young HIV-positive widow especially when she has children to look after. I remember this group of gutsy women in the women’s wing of the Imphal-based Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+). They decided to go public about their status and create awareness on how married women in monogamous relationships are the new visage of the epidemic.”
On her entrepreneurial venture of Thumb Print magazine she says, “Believe it or not, this magazine has evolved more like a cottage industry. I am running this magazine from my laptop and my living room in a remote district located in Assam, a state of the Indian union. This is the might of the cyber world. I have invested my hard-earned savings and set up this portal.
As a woman, my media venture, The Thumb Print is a fulfilling experience in the sense that I have been able to work from home and take care of my two daughters simultaneously. I am my own boss now. I have something that I can call my own. In fact, enterprising women journalists can take advantage of the immense potentialities of the cyber space and carve a niche for themselves.”
We end this amazing story with the wish Teresa has for her daughters, “I wish them to have a safe and healthy (both physically and mentally) childhood. This is my wish for all children in the region.”