PUCL Bulletin, February 2002

Womens' role in human rights and peace in the northeast

By Dr. N Vijaylakshmi Brara

The Situation: There are hardly any avenues for the young people in the Northeast. Economically it is one of the most backward areas. We have no industrial development, no infrastructure. It is subsistence economy. There is a trend, where the rich are getting richer while the poor are becoming poorer. Begging, which was unheard of even 2-3 years ago is showing its dirty heads. Corruption is rampant. The rich who are getting richer are mostly the ministers and bureaucrats. There are allegations of siphoning off the centrally sponsored developmental funds and taking of bribes. Every government job has a price tag. There is no bargaining. In the rush to get government jobs, families sell off their paddy fields and pay bribes and hence get further impoverished.

The solution is not that simple and straightforward. There is a complex political situation here. No part of a democratic system can function where, along with a strong growth of demand of national identities, there are high indices of corruption at high levels and where the army, that seems to outnumber the local population, is telling you by the butt of their gun, "Hey! You are Indian", and suspecting each and every civilian of the region of conspiring against the Indian Union. For a true democracy to survive, especially at the grassroot level, two things are very important: people should not have any fear and they should genuinely feel themselves an integral part of their country. We know that Democracy and Human Rights are synonymous. But how do we remove the fear? How do we make ourselves an integral part of this country? And in the Manipur context, how to make different ethnic groups feel part of each other? Do we keep on churning out hen and egg theories of peace first and then development or development first and then peace, and land up nowhere?
The Naga complain in Manipur:

The Nagas have been socially discriminated against by the Meities since the time of the kings. There was and is specific term used for them - Hao, which has derogatory connotations. Economically discriminated; when they were ordered by the king to do loipot; most tough and menial jobs. In the present times, the valley utilizes most of the development funds while the hills get neglected. Politically they do not have enough representation in the Assembly, therefore in spite of a Naga being the longest serving chief minister, the interest of the Nagas get drowned by the voice vote. Many more Nagas have been killed and humiliated than any other ethnic group by the security forces. Emotionally, therefore, the Nagas have not been able to align themselves with Manipur, where when one says a "Manipuri" one automatically means a "Meitei". You ask a Naga as to where he is from and he will say "I am from Manipur" and never "I am a Manipuri". The question of identity therefore raises its head from this premise.

The Meitei complain:
We have been brothers since immemorial. How can Nagas be now separate from us? And there are no Nagas in Manipur; we have only Thangkhul, Mao, Marings, etc. Economically they say that they are as under-developed. Besides the Imphal town the other Meitei dominated areas have similar problems as that of hills. No schools, no medical facility. No communication and no connecting roads. Politically they say that they have been struggling together against the discriminatory practices of the central government and the virtual seize by the armed forces over their entire state. The Nagas should not separate themselves from this common struggle.

Would these questions of identities and nationhood be met with such emotional zest had the youths of both the communities had the employment opportunities, other avenues and a developed infrastructure. Would there be assertions of such non-compromising stands if there were no excesses by the security forces?

Women in Manipur have understood such problems. Among the Meities we have the "Meira Paibis" (the torch bearing women). They hold Mashaals and roam in the locality to keep a watch on drunkenness and drug-abuse. They make a human wall in cases where innocent local youths are forcibly being taken away by the Armed Forces in the name of insurgents. They are the only one who can dare to warn and scold the people in under-ground movement for their accesses. Everybody is cautious of them. They dare to get lathicharged, to sit for hunger strikes and even go to jail for a right cause. So are the women's groups in the hills. The Naga Mother's Association and the Kuki women's association are the guardians of their respective tribe. They played a pivotal role during Naga-Kuki clashes, where barbarism got unleashed in its naked proportions in the name of ethnic cleansing. It was at that moment that NMA and Kuki women went long stretches in the hills (sometimes walking 3-4 days continuously) to meet their respective under-ground outfits to tell them to stop killing each other. Manipuri women's groups are the Watchdogs of their society. They are the MOTHERS. Like any other mother they can go to any extent to safeguard the lives and interests of their children - their society. These women have such tremendous organizational skills, which cannot be compared with any other group in the world. The mothers rather than any other social group desire peace. It is their children who are killed in any act of various ethnic groups. If they join hands in seeing and acting upon the peace initiative for the whole region, it will definitely leave its impact. Most of these women are also competent self-employed weavers, traders, and farmers. They should be brought to the level of policy makers to draft a development program and a path for the entire region.

The voices of these mothers are heard. If they shed their ethnic loyalties and come together only as Mothers, not a Naga mother or a Kuki mother or a Meitei mother peace and development will not be far. Unless there is peace, Human Rights and Civil Liberties are neither safe nor possible. We should call the mothers. They should be targeted and focussed by the social planners and activists who are interested in this region. When they speak the society will listen. Human Rights activists have to work towards these objectives as a pre condition of establishing an atmosphere of "Human Rights for all."

Home | Index