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Why did you give me

this irreparable world to inherit

Tainted with stains of history

the world is lost to my kind

Your gallant invoking of mere two battles

fought by women

amuses me to no end

for you know not

I live and die fighting

innumerable ones everyday

It is claimed that women in the Northeast of India in general and Manipur is particular have a significantly higher status as compared to her counterpart in the rest of the country. This is rather a strange comparison as one assumes it will be natural to compare the women of the society to the men of the same society to come to any sort of a conclusion of the status that each occupy. The myth of empowered Manipuri women is not only a part of mainstream erroneous idea but also sometimes propagated by the same community.

A brief scanning of the articles in local dailies based in Manipur and website/s which claim to be a global platform for Manipuris would however put such notions to rest. A preoccupation that is seen in the articles (which is a reflection of prevalent thinking) is the morality of the women, her role as the sole propagator of Manipuri culture (which translates into her wearing the traditional attire of Phanek-inaphi), the astonishment and shock that women are changing with the times. Newspaper reportage and column articles have been particularly insensitive to women which rather than an impartial analysis presents a very damaging picture of women as the sole causal agent for all social wrongs.   

Women's groups organising themselves and their mobilisation has been held as an example of success among most civil society organisations in India. While the society's obsession with the mother prototype could be seen in the proliferation of women organising themselves and calling themselves/being called as Ema (mother) is a subject of introspection, if one assumes the success of women's group it does not necessarily translated into women's being treated at par. There are frequent incidences of violence against women, the insensitive reportage married women eloping from their marital homes, women vigilante groups preoccupied with morality catching youngsters from the various restaurants and putting up their pictures in newspapers blatantly overriding the individual's right to privacy. Regardless of frequent claims of the mythic egalitarian Meitei civilization and the academic discourse around 'empowered' women, one cannot help but be apprehensive about the groups and their affiliations.

Much work as vigilante groups with extra-legal powers and take surveillance to be their duty. As the ideal of motherhood is privileged only when it meets the stringent rules of patriarchal society and the organisation is worried of transgressions out of wedlock mothers is one of the many such possible transgressions; hence the vigilance. There is a presence of various such different groups/ organisations which are not restricted to women's groups alone which dictates a set of prohibitions which is not only accepted but reinforced in the sense that the individual/s or group/s at the receiving end is chastised by the larger community. Such forms of censorship are widely accepted in the valley to the extent of various individuals and groups sending out appeals to such supposed 'authority' to intervene (through the medium of local newspapers) in case of familial disputes or otherwise. The recent banning of the organising of the popular beauty pageant, - the Miss Manipur contest can also be seen as the extension of such ideas of censorship. The press release states that the beauty pageant is 'sex-oriented' and looks at women as 'commodities'. While one can continue the debate on beauty pageant one can also look at the uncivil nature of such censorship by so called civil society organisations. The rationale that it 'insult the dignity of women' is amusing, in fact many women would find the former's thinking that women are sole inheritor and carrier and propagator of the so called Meitei culture as being odious and oppressive.

The not only offensive but discriminatory tone of the press release which also shows no respect to another human being solely because of their (alternative) sexuality is very damaging. Indeed in the gender discourse, transgender are in the same adverse situation as women and women's groups attacking the transgender (Nupi-Sabi) reveals the lack of a plan/vision (of the groups') to engage either with issues related to women or with gender, one would also be tempted to think of a possibility of ultra conservative and right-wing thought influencing their action. Their preoccupation with the attires of women and the diktats placed on it reminds one of the earlier diktat placed on school uniform. It will not be erroneous to state that the womens groups are being used and appropriated by other groups/individuals/advisors. Just as the women uses and projects the idea of motherhood, the latter appeals to the former projecting themselves as their progeny.

While one is not attempting to dismantle the idea of motherhood as an effective tool in the emotive appeals that it has, however the legitimacy derived by the women's group working by placing themselves under the fictive kinship frame of motherhood means that they sideline issues related to their own rights. After all, the archetypal mother is self sacrificing to the extent of effacing the self. Thus agitation by women and women's organisations to generate entitlement for themselves is rarely seen; rather the possibility of them working as mouthpiece of other groups seems to be more than an undertone. With the centrality of motherhood in almost all women's groups/ organisation in Manipur valley, the focus of the location of women is always vis--vis the man and the state, thus one should not assume sensitivity a 'natural' sensitivity to women and her rights as such. The 'causes' thus adopted by the group inevitably reveals other associations and affiliation rather than a genuine concern for women.

No group either of mothers or their progeny as is with any other group or organisation is sacrosanct. The complete lack of self-criticism and well as acceptance of opinion different from one's own has led to the situation that one encounters today. One is wary of the next set of undignified impositions that they together would impose on women in the name of upholding women's dignity. Women are tired of being icons and mothers, a woman sometimes just want to be a woman and human.


More about Soibam Haripriya

Soibam Haripriya is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. She holds an M.Phil degree from the same department. Her writings have appeared in East Wind - The North East Journal (2006), The Telegraph [Kolkata] (2007), Alternative Perspective (2007), Indian Currents (2009), The Sangai Express (2010), Eastern Quarterly (2010), Imphal Free Press (2011) etc. As a scholar of Sociology, she is currently engaged with documenting and analysing changing meaning of "sites" in the cultural landscape of Manipur. She has special interest in reading and writing poetry besides translation of Manipuri literary work to English. Her poems have been published in The Sangai Express (2009-2010) and Our Private Literature (2009-2010). Soibam Haripriya’s poems has been included in an anthology of poems called “Tattooed with Taboos” published by Loktakleima Publications (2011), Imphal, Manipur.

Her blog is titled Nambul Turel. Nambul is a proper noun and the name of a river which flows through the heart of Imphal. Turel means river.

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