In the present time how do we understand the idea of ‘Manipuri Nupi gi Thouna?’ To answer this, we need a historical approach towards this question. A clear example of this is the First and Second Nupi Lan of 1904 and 1939 respectively. Nupi Lan – which literally translates to Women’s War – is one of the most important movements in the history of Manipur. Both these movements were Manipuri women’s mass uprising to save our society from the exploitations of the British colonial rule, and for a strong and healthy nation free from any sorts of flaws and defects. The movements sowed the seeds of a new socio-political reforms during the early 1940’s.
Another example is the institution of Meira Paibi which means ‘women torch bearer.’ However, this institution emerged later after the British rule. After Manipur became a part of India in 1949 through the controversial Shillong ‘Merger Agreement,’ demands for political autonomy, self-determination, and then an armed insurgency emerged. In response to all the political aspirations of the people the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act,1958, was imposed on the people. Under this law, human rights violations and extra judicial killings by the Indian paramilitary forces became the order of the day in the state.
Consequently, for the first time in 1977 at Kakching, the women’s civil society ‘Meira Paibi’ was formed to protect the citizens of Manipur against state oppression. So, what can we infer from these? What were the Manipuri Nupi fighting against during 1904, 1939 and 1970s? They were fighting against the evil of the then society and it is this power that runs through the blood of Manipuri women. Thereupon, what is the evil of today’s society? The evil of 21st century Manipuri society is patriarchy.
How did Manipuri women live during the early days when patriarchy was embraced as social norm and thus unquestioned? Even though they lived in highly patriarchal society, it is pertinent to know that Manipuri women had been the backbone of our economy. The women market Ima Keithel stands magnificently as a symbol of women’s resilience and empowerment. During the time where educated women were very few in number, Manipuri women had huge participation in public life and domestic markets running the state’s economy successfully.
Now that Manipuri women are educated and live in a very modern age, shouldn’t this potential lead us to a society where there is huge participation of women in politics and administration? Yes, there should be. Unfortunately, there is meagre participation of women in politics, state administration, the judiciary etc., and we live in a society where socialisation of ‘slut-shaming,’ misogyny and moral policing of women, harassment and violation of rights become the order of the day.
Our society has fallen into a deep pit of irrationality, misogynistic and patriarchal norms. Today, even the women’s civil society, Meira Paibi, has largely become an institution of patriarchy and its agent; preaching and safeguarding traditional gender norms.
The politics in Manipur runs around toxic masculinity and no institution is devoid of it. One can further ask why our society hardly progress given the strength that is within Manipuri women. The precise reason may be the fact that powerful strand of women empowerment runs parallel with the evil strand of patriarchy. During this twofold course, the resistance from the evil strand of Patriarchy to the former leads us to this deterioration.
We hear people say ‘manipuri nupi gi thouna kai chatkhre, thainagi manipuri nupi nattre houjikkan nupi.’ Why such discourse arises now? Is it because Manipuri women now don’t give birth to a dozen of child or is it because they wear so called western clothes or we don’t burn woods and cow dung based fuel for cooking? It is even appalling why a pageant contest called ‘Meitei Chanu’ includes a test where the contestants cook burning woods and fuels as a part of their selection process?
Giving birth is one’s very personal and private choice and you whosoever don’t have the right to even speak about it. Cooking is not an identity of Manipuri women. Burning woods and dry fuels to cook is not our tradition to keep, rather it is an indication of lack of development.
‘Manipuri Nupi gi Thouna’ is neither silently bearing her sufferings, nor it is a quotidian life of a housewife which is glorified much. The ‘Thouna’ of Manipuri Women is the ability to fight against the evils of society from time to time. We Manipuri Nupi are celebrated in history for this and keeping this legacy is our conduct. The time has come for another ‘Nupi Lan’ that starts from our home itself against patriarchy. If not, we will remain complacent to a society of rape culture embedded in our tradition, customs and belief. We deliver this as a culture for our future generation and it is sure that they will never forgive us. The 21st century Nupi Lan will wipe out the discourse of ‘Nupi-angang gi wa loude nupa naha gi wa da.’
Nupi Lan and the Idea of ‘Manipuri Nupi gi Thouna’