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Nellie, Me and Impunity: Uddipana Goswami

This is a guest post by Uddipana Goswami

I was born around the time the Assam Movement started and grew up in an atmosphere of intense xenophobia. Everywhere, we heard anti-Bangladeshi slogans – which often translated into expressions of anti-Bengali sentiments. Our parents tried their best at home to protect us from such influences. We were sent to convent schools which often isolated us from whatever was going on outside the school walls. But we felt the tensions in the air and tasted the fear. We heard the names of places and people, killed, maimed, tortured.

Nellie was one such name we grew up with. There were others – Dhula, Gohpur, Phulung Sapori – where other genocides happened, but the name Nellie stayed with me. It fascinated me and brought to my mind the image of a distraught woman. Many years later, when I started researching the Muslim community of East Bengali origin in Assam, this amorphous image of Nellie started taking a definite shape. And it translated into a poem one day – ‘If Nellie Was the Name of the Woman’ (Northeast Review).

As I wrote the poem, I realized that I could myself be Nellie, a woman, battered, bruised and abused because of my ‘otherness’, because I could – and would – not sacrifice my ‘otherness’ in my quest for oneness within the institution of marriage.

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