Dr. Annapurna Boruah
Department of Petroleum Engineering and Earth sciences, Energy cluster
University of Petroleum and Energy Studies Dehradun.
A report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2019 highlighted India’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) of 0.501, indicating disparities between men and women in terms of achievements in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. Despite entering the 21st century, there remains a significant amount of work to be done in uplifting women, who constitute half of the country’s population.
This article seeks to examine the challenges and issues faced by women in Manipur and explores the actions taken at both national and international levels to address these concerns.
The empowerment of women represents a significant societal phenomenon that requires a comprehensive understanding of its multifaceted impact. It serves as the cornerstone for bolstering the nation’s socio-economic development, acting as a catalyst for the progress and advancement of the entire society. However, persistent gender inequalities give rise to a multitude of challenges that women continuously grapple with in their lives. To address this, women must be provided with the means to participate without hindrance, on par with men, across all spheres as integral members of families, societies, states, and even at the international level.
The principle of empowerment is firmly embedded in the Indian Constitution, evident in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties, and Directive Principles. The topic of Women’s Empowerment is a complex matter that sparks extensive discussions on a global scale. It has become a subject of significant attention in India, with various rights movements and individuals lending their voices to the conversation. Political parties in the country have also joined in, often championing compelling slogans, especially during election periods. However, despite the fervor surrounding this issue, the core challenge remains unresolved. The proposal for a 30% reservation for women in the Parliament Bill, while well-intentioned, has yet to achieve its intended impact.
The reduction of crimes against women hinges upon achieving gender equality within society. It is imperative to initiate an extensive gender sensitization campaign that aims to raise awareness about women’s rights.
In the Indian context, particularly within the Hindu faith, female deities like Saraswati, revered as the Goddess of Knowledge, Lakshmi, revered as the Goddess of Wealth, and Kali, revered as the Goddess of Power and Strength, are worshipped. While there are historical indications of women enjoying elevated social status during the Vedic period, their position gradually eroded over time, relegating them to a secondary role without rights to partake in education, legislative processes, and more. They found themselves marginalized and overlooked in a society largely dominated by men.
Turning our attention to Manipur, a relatively small state in northeastern India bordering Myanmar, women held a position of high regard. They were accorded the revered status of “Mother” or “Emma.” As a result, the term “Emma” is prefixed to the names of several local deities, such as Emma Emoinu Ahongbi, Emma Panthoibi, Emma Phouoibi, Emma Leimarel Sidabi, and others. This practice underscores the esteem in which women were held within Manipuri society.
A deeply distressing video has surfaced on social media, capturing a horrifying incident in Manipur where a group of men forced two women to walk naked along a road. The video’s widespread dissemination has sparked significant outrage and demands for swift action. According to a tribal organization, the women had previously been subjected to a gang rape in a field.
The distressing incident occurred on May 4, 2023 within the Kangpokpi district, located about 35 km away from the state capital, Imphal. This information is based on a statement issued by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF). However, the police have contradicted this, asserting that the incident occurred in a different district, even though the initial First Information Report (FIR) was registered in Kangpokpi.
One day prior to this recorded incident of horror, clashes erupted between the Meitei community, who constitute the majority in the valley, and the Kuki tribe, primarily residing in the hills of Manipur. The clashes were triggered by the Meitei community’s call for Scheduled Tribes (ST) status.
In Manipur, something familiar happens again and again. There is violence against women, nobody gets punished, and people don’t seem to care.
In 2004, Meira Paibis made a strong protest. They took off their clothes in front of Kangla Fort and held signs that said, “Indian Army Rape Us.” This was to show how sad and angry they were about the army raping and killing people. But even after a woman named Manorama was violently raped and killed, not much changed. Some news talked about it, but laws didn’t really get better. The police knew about this terrible crime, but they cared more about their own interests than making things right.
The difference is that Meira Paibis chose to use their bodies to fight against the government. But for Kuki women, their bodies were hurt on purpose to make them feel bad. This is like hurting their minds and bodies. This is how strong politics that try to hurt people happen.
In 2019, a group of people went to a party in Utlou, Manipur. They hurt the women there, took their clothes, and took pictures and videos. This was really sad, but people didn’t seem to care much. Maybe it’s because people hurting and humiliating women wasn’t seen as too bad.
Meira Paibis went into a private party and said they were disrespecting Manipuri culture. But it was the women who were hurt. They were pulled and hit, and they were stopped from drinking alcohol and wearing short clothes. In 2011, Anna Hazare went on a hunger strike. A lot of people saw this on TV. People got angry and made the government change laws. But Irom Sharmila, a woman from Manipur who went on a hunger strike in 2000, didn’t get much help for her fight against a bad law called AFSPA. She did the longest hunger strike in the world for 16 years, but not many cared about the human rights problems in her area. People didn’t get really angry about what was happening there.
This not caring and not helping isn’t just between the Kuki and Meitei groups. It is also the crumbling away of trust in electoral leaders at both the federal and the Union level. This affects more groups in the area and how they see what’s happening because of this fight. The violence disrupted the education system, many important national exams were cancelled in the state. It’s like a prediction that said the area would have problems and be unsafe, and nobody did much to stop it.