By Reena Nongmaithem
Women of Manipur collectively had always been taking crucial role in certain critical stages in the history of Manipur. They acted like a warrior in safeguarding political and economic discourse after Manipur lost her independence against British Empire in 1891. While, their significant role during the war against Awas (Myanmars) in 1817 which led to the seven Years of Devastation cannot be sidelined by the present generation.
Even though the status of a Manipuri woman in general was not very significant individually, perhaps they were the main contributor to the economic prosperity. They were made as un-emancipated and unsatisfied participants, as the practice of polygamy were quite prevalent at that time. However most courageously it was the women who protested against the Political Agent of then Manipur- Mr Maxwell- against forced labor (Lalup Kaba) on Manipuri men. The aggressively angered women pressurized the British Government protecting their male counterparts against such system and the British had to withdraw it on 1904. That incident is still mark as ‘First Women war’ (Ahanba Nupi Lal) in Manipur. The women were involved in the wide spread demonstration against the increase of Water-Tax by the British Government. It is quite clear that, since then women in Manipur played unique roles not only in the economic activities but in political reforms too.
Again, keeping a critical view on the raise and cause of ‘Second Nupi Lal’ (Anisuba Nupi Lal) of 1939 against the trade policy of the then sate Maharaja has valued day by day while depicting the current status of contemporary women in Manipur.
The Manipuri women’s movement which demonstrated against the more export oriented trade policy of the state Maharaja and Marwari Monopolies, irrespective of the limited production of the food grains, later evolved into a movement of constitutional, political, and economic reforms in Manipur. Many of them got injured from the bayonets and butts of the soldiers’ weapons and many of them were thrown to ponds by the soldiers on that cold winter day of December 12, 1939 on which the present generation observe every year as ‘Nupi Lal numit’.
Manipuri women’s responsibility towards its society have never been paralyzed ever, nevertheless, it’s been incarnated in a form against illicit drugs in the society since 1970s, and the movement of the ever approaching ‘Women Torch Bearers (Meira Paibi)’ started on 1980s.
Since then and now Women folk of every community whether Meetei, Meetei Pangal (Muslim) or hill women have been taking major role in every aspect of life, society at large as per their capacities. However, the condition of Women during that period of Monarchy and that of British era and again after 60 years of independence is observed with mere difference. Of course, educational level among women has raised, many have joined different professions including politics, even if, larger section is running here and there at market to sale vegetables to feed their family. A number of them are selling their flesh in the war of survival. Women including children are working as house maid instead of attaining class in schools.
Do such responsible women folk in Manipur deserve to live with fear and insecurity in their mind from sexual perpetrators? Do they deserve to be victim of domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, murder, kidnapping, trafficking and more? Do they still have to endure the ever victimizing social culture trend? Do they still have to keep mum while their elders make compromises with her rapist with a grand feast under the tradition of so called customary laws?
Definitely the answer will be a big ‘No’. By now they must be warming up for another Women War which ultimately has to fight against victimizing them in every aspect in the name of current social, political and economic unrest, conflict ridden sate, drug affected society and many other more excuses.