Updated: March 8, 2020 8:44:03 am
(Written by Lourembam ongbi Nganbi)
Manipur used to be an independent kingdom, till Bir Tikendrajit and Thangal General were hanged and it came under British rule in 1891. On the day Tikendrajit was to be hanged, Manipuri women came out with clothes tied around their necks in protest. The British denied their pleas to spare Tinkendrajit and this hurt is still etched deep in the heart of every Manipuri.
Manipuri women have been at the forefront of our region’s struggles. In our folklores, Queen Longthoingambi, Moirang Thoibi (princess of Moirang, in Bishnupur district) and other contemporary women have protected the land, daring death.
In 1904, Manipuri women launched the first Nupi Lan (Women’s War) against the British for their subjugation of Manipuri/Meitei men, who were pushed into forced labour. In 1939, the second Nupi Lan was waged against an artificial famine created by the diversion of our rice. This resulted in immediate reversal of the policy.
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Even after independence — which was declared on August 14, 1947, for Manipur — women continued the region’s struggle. A people’s government came up after the 1948 election, but on September 21, 1949, Maharaja Bodhchandra was put under house arrest and made to sign a Merger Agreement with India. Manipur is still to forget the forceful merger of the state with the Indian union on October 15, 1949.
Subsequently, Manipur became a breeding ground for unrest and turmoil. In 1970, the draconian AFSPA was introduced in the hills. As allegations of assault on women by the forces surfaced, Manipuri women started their third Nupi Lan. The movement was also meant to check the spread of drugs and alcohol in the state.
In 1980, the AFSPA was extended to the valley areas, and high-handedness, torture and encounter killings continued. It was this that led to the inception of Meira Paibis (Torch Bearers), as part of which women kept vigil at night to protect their own.
In June 2001, 18 people were killed after the CRPF guarding the Chief Minister’s bungalow opened fire upon a group of protesters who had stormed the residence. The women decided they must lead again.
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On July 14, 2004, a woman called Thangjam Monorama was arrested by the Army and found raped, killed, and shot through her private parts to destroy evidence. Five days after the killing, 12 women stripped and held a nude protest before Imphal’s Kangla Fort, that was the headquarters of the 17th Assam Rifles back then, shouting, “Do what you want in broad daylight, in front of people”.
I was among them. I shouted, “Rape Us, Kill Us, Flesh Us. We are all Monorama’s mothers. We are Manipuri ladies, understand, we are not like your Mayang (mainland Indian) security forces… Even animals do not copulate if the female is not willing.”
But even after 16 years, Manorama is yet to get justice.
Manipur is facing many issues — both internal and national — manufactured by the Government of India, whether it is the Framework Agreement (on the Naga issue), Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Inner Line Permit or border problems.
On September 13, 2017, another incident underlined that the government doesn’t care for Manipuri people. A missing Manipuri youth, Pravish Chanam, was found to have been declared “unclaimed” by Delhi Police and cremated, despite a missing report pending with it.
For the first time, I and the others raised the slogan “We want freedom. We want sovereignty. Let us restore the pre-merger status of Manipur”.
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There are attempts now to wipe out small indigenous communities and to erase their culture, identity, tradition and economic structure through outdated colonialism. Under the AFSPA, civilians have been killed without trial; women preyed upon in the name of administration. There are no avenues for the educated, or for women in decision-making processes.
At the same time, more women are now educated, aware of how the society looks at them. With global news travelling to them in seconds, they know that non-delivery of justice by a government is not democracy. Women can no longer be kept suppressed and oppressed. As such, protests by them are growing everywhere.
It is a shame that in a democratic country like India, people are being killed. The accounts of my fellow women protesting against the Indian military will go down in history in golden ink. We cannot eat or sleep amidst the wailing of orphans and widows. We are ready to face the Army and government even if we lose our lives.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 8, 2020 under the title ‘She Said: All around on streets, echoes of Manorama ’. The writer is a part of the Meira Paibis women’s movement in Manipur
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