Women’s Groups in Manipur – Against Militarization

Throughout Manipur, Meira Paibis and other women’s groups take up issues related to militarization and military excesses.

Valleyrose Hungyo, editor of Tangkhul newspaper Aja Daily, recalls in 1967, when she was just ten, the army attacked her village. Many villagers were displaced, never to return; many were killed. The government provided no records of villages destroyed in the name of counter-insurgency. In 1974, a young Tangkhul girl in the village was raped by armed forces, and she later committed suicide. The community, especially women, rose in protest and formed the Tangkhul Shanao Long, a women’s group.

All over the state, women set up Meira Paibi groups in their localities. Ordinary women of villages and towns form the rank and leadership of these groups.

Meira Paibis patrol neighborhoods at night, flaming torches held aloft, to safeguard their communities against search operations by security forces. When something untoward happens, anybody can sound an alarm and other women would rush to the spot. Meira Paibi groups set up shelters called Meira Shanglens, in their localities.

Virtually every community in Manipur developed a strong women’s front and carried out similar action for protection of the women, children and men of their area. In 1994, women from 13 Naga tribes of Manipur met in Ukhrul and formed the Naga Women’s Union, to campaign for women’s rights, and strive for peace through women’s mediation. Women’s groups in the state include the Naga Mother’s Association, Kuki Women’s Association, Lamkang Women’s Union, Mayan Women’s Union and Chothe Women’s Union. The women’s groups are well known as active guardians of their communities, and campaigners for women’s rights.

All these groups oppose militarization, and AFSPA. They also take up issues specific to women, such as rape and molestation. They are uncompromisingly pitted against state violence, and frequently work with each other across ethnic lines.

In 1980, most of Manipur was declared a Disturbed Area and AFSPA was imposed. On 14 May 1980, women submitted a memorandum to the chief minister demanding removal of the Disturbed Area clause and revocation of AFSPA. They held a mass meeting at Mapal Kangjeibung, Imphal, and formed an organization called Manipur Nupi Kanglup (MNK). MNK organized a rally on  28 May, at which some 10,000 women gathered, defying a ban on mass meetings. Police cracked down on the gathering and arrested a large number of women, and took them away in trucks. A twenty-five-year-old pregnant woman, Piyari Devi of Salanthong, fell from the truck and died.

Ima Taruni, a senior Meira Paibi leader, relates, ‘The government did not care. But we could not bear the loss of one precious life. After Piyari’s death, we became all the more committed to the cause of putting an end to all such atrocities.’ Whenever the army picks up a youngster, Meira Paibis try to protect the young person from arbitrary injustice. They argue that unless AFSPA is removed, youngsters would continue to join underground groups.

Rather than curb insurgency, the Act is actually motivating young people to become insurgents. Ima Taruni notes that insurgents are ordinary boys who lack good education and dignified livelihood options, and, angry about army atrocities, take up arms. Meira Paibis consistently try to protect youngsters from the recruitment efforts of insurgent groups.

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