India’s Northeast is under a near-constant state of political upheaval, with tensions frequently erupting between locals and the Indian security forces. Manipur has been especially disturbed and has been the face and voice of the turbulence in the region.
What is common across conflict situations is the vulnerability of women to various forms of gender based exploitations- as easy targets of settling scores between warring groups. Whether it is the security forces or the insurgents- humiliation of and violence on women is seen as a potent weapon of war. What is however significant in case of Manipur is the resilience that women have demonstrated, despite their unenviable position.
From Sharmila, the lady who has been fasting for close to a decade now and surviving on forcible nasal administration of fluids, Manorama who was killed in an ‘encounter’, the poignant picture of naked women -these are the most persistent pictures of protest with the women at the forefront. In addition to such stark examples there are numerous instances of women engaged in rallies, demonstrations and other forms of popular protest.
There are also important women’s organizations in the area founded and led by common women. Meira Paibi, for example, is a women’s association and one of the largest grassroots human rights movements in the region. The organization started as ‘Nisha Bandi , ‘an uprising that began around the mid 70’s against the sale and consumption of liquor and intoxicants, leading to successful implementing of prohibition order on sale and consumption of liquor in Manipur. Over time, with the rise of insurgency and counter - insurgency policy in the state, the women started spending nights outside their homes, patrolling the streets and guarding their locality against any surprise attack They took up the “Mira” an improvised bamboo torch and it became the symbol of their movement, and thus lead to what is known as “Meira Paibi Uprising”. (). Organizations like Manipuri Women Gun Survivor’s Network help the survivors of gun violence, to control the use and spread of small arms and to find ways to the community as a means to arrest violent conflict.
The road has not been smooth for these women who have joined these movements- besides the ire of the family there are allegations of alleged links with the insurgent groups. However, the women have been carrying out their activities with a focus on bringing in peace and ensuring protection of rights. They are now, at the same time, symbols of resilience and symbols of a promise of change. Can ‘mainland’ India please stand up to their cause?
Why do you think that women’s groups are so active in Manipur?