Reports of violence against women in Manipur have been rising rapidly in the last few years. Despite being accorded respect and honour at home and public platform, in recent years, women have been at the receiving end of escalating violence.
By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Manipur, a tiny state with an area of 22,327 sq. km in the north-eastern part of India is home to diverse ethnic groups and sub-groups. The sex ratio, according to 2011 census is 934 per 1000 male and has decreased as compared to 975 per 1000 male in the last census. Manipur has a literacy rate of 79.85% with male literacy 86.49% and female literacy at 73.19%. In general women hold a high and free position in Manipur. Manipur is a state where women occupy a very unique position in the society since time immemorial. The Manipur women enjoy much more freedom to move around and so are much more enlightened and intelligent unlike in other parts of the country, where women are kept shut inside their homes. Women have always been held in respect and accorded honor in Manipur. Manipuri women are usually inspired by ideal women depicted in literature both mythology and legendary. It may be said that most women while discharging their duties in the families are still following in varying degrees, the principles and norms prescribed by IMOINU, a mythological Goddess for the maintenance of peace and welfare of the family.
In addition to their household responsibilities, women also participate in social function and religious ceremonies. Since early times, women have been taking active parts in the performance of religious rites and rituals. Another important contribution of Manipuri women is in the field of art and culture. They have added a lot to the cultural heritage in dance, literatures and the like. The world famous “RAS LILA” is performed by female artists only. Manipuri women have also contributed a lot in the field of sports. M.C. Mary Kom, Kunjarani Devi, L. Sarita, Bombela, Bembem, Bala etc. are acclaimed sportspersons of the state. The responsibility of running the family was by and large entrusted to women in the absence of their menfolk. The work participation of women in Manipur has been fairly high. Sometimes women also supplement their family income by weaving cloths and selling them in the market. At the same time we all see the street vendor’s emas (women), who are taking major role to sustain family economy/income, though they are deprived of their comfortable seats. They are in fact very industrious in many sectors. The most admirable feature of the Manipuri women has been their capacity to resist any imposition on them, their families or their state, be it in the social, political or economic field. From the very ancient times, Manipuri women as a group played active role and participated in the political and social movement of the state as indicated by the two Nupi Lal of 1904 and 1939. Ema Keithel or Nupi Keithel is one of a kind in the World as it is exclusively run by women. Rani Gaidinliu is another woman who had strongly asserted the political rights of her people against the British authority. The Nisha Bandh movement started in the seventies to take up steps to prohibit the use of liquor and drugs in Manipur. The Meira paibi movement in the 1980s as a voluntary organization of the womenfolk to prevent violation of basic human rights of the people in the hands of the armed forces. The Meira paibis also work for the eradication of social evils which are harmful to the development of the society as a whole. The Manipuri women as a group, played active role and participated in political and social movement of the state. Manipuri women make crucial economic contributions and hold a distinctive position in social, religious and political life.
However, reports of violence against women in Manipur have been rising rapidly in the last few years. Despite being accorded respect and honor at home and adorned on public platform, in recent years, women have been more and more at the receiving end of escalating violence to which there is no limit, both in the public domain and private arena of the family. Man-woman relationship in the society continues to be a dominating-dominated relationship. Much of the violence in the public sphere has been a direct result of the conflict situation in the state which is accompanied by an atmosphere of vagueness, fear and insecurity to aggression. Violence in the public domain –shapes the choices women make about their own mobility and those of their family members and the choices family members impose on women which have lasting consequences when mobility is necessary. Violence against women has become an endemic part of our society today. When one subscribes to the view that the status of women in Manipur is very high, the question arises as to why women are then vulnerable to all forms of violence? Many women fulfill multiple categories in their varied roles inside and outside the household. A heterogeneous form of patriarchy looms large behind the unwavering perception of women’s elevated position in Manipur, a perception common both within and outside the state. As customary practices are reshaped by modern legal and social norms, patriarchy in the state has evolved, yet subordination of women is still prevalent. Just as violence against women has a close connection with women’s status and position, it also has an intimate connection with the ideology of patriarchy, especially in the context of Manipur. In patriarchal society like ours, violence against women occurs in every step of life in different forms—mental, physical, economic, emotional and sexual. Despite the involvement of women in agricultural production, Paid employment and household decision –making, women are still excluded from formal decision-making institutions. However high the women’s status in any given society, as long as there is no quality and freedom in the realm of politics ,economy and decision-making, the patriarchal element will reign strong and supreme.
Reports of incidence of violence against women amounting to killing have been on the rise in recent times. The present state of conflict situation has also compounded the problem. Increasing crime against women is an escalating problem in Manipur. Women of Manipur have experienced multiple forms of gender-biased atrocities including rape ,molestation, kidnapping ,intimidation, cheating on the pretext of marriage proposal and job opportunities and various types of verbal, psychological ,sexual harassment and abuse of women including eve-teasing. Such action deepened the sense of victimization and helplessness of the women of Manipur and brought both physical and psychological insecurity. All these are again catalyzed by social media of IT product. Manipuri women fit the portrayed of what is called victimization of the victim. Manipuri women have been the victims of various forms of violence. Yet the strong sense of subsistence and survival compels them to be the source of sustenance for their families. In spite of such strength, the burden of all misfortune and adversity has taken a toll on their lives. They have not been given their due recognition for all that they are worth which is why women in the state still victims to copious crime and violence. There is no economic, political or social empowerment of women in true sense in our state. The deteriorating law and order situation in the state has added to the sufferings of the womenfolk. It is quite tragic and painful that women are increasingly unsafe, whether within or outside their homes. The harsh reality is that the elevation of women to a high pedestal in the socio-economic realm is only another side of the coin because as individuals, most women in Manipur fall prey to one or the other form of violence. Rape and murder are no longer sporadic cases and has become some sort of an epidemic in the state. Lives of women have been severely affected to such an extent that in both the hills and valleys of the state while doing their day to day chores, many women have been tortured and raped and sometimes murdered. There are various instances where the raped victims conceal their awful stories because of fear being stigmatized by the society.
In tiny state of Manipur, violence has become a way of life with an ever increasing incidence of different forms of violence against women. Though violence against women has increased in Manipur, going by the rate of conviction in cases of violence against women, it would not be wrong to say that the law and criminal justice system has failed to respond or deal effectively with it. Women therefore continue to suffer without adequate legal or other redress. What is needed is an active and sustained engagement on the issues of violence against women in the form of collective people’s movement and not just the collective women’s movement. To combat the menace of violence against women, a woman-specific movement is the need of the hour.
(Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst Prof, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal and he can be reached at email@example.com)Manipuri Women, Crime against women