Women’s Resistance in Manipur

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not disrupt business as usual, they are marveled at, desired,
and even respected. Otherwise, they are to be restricted,
consumed and fenced. Institutions such as marriage,
prison and family are enough to show the prowess of the
state on women. Through popularized discourses of the
single-mother-on-welfare or the oppressed-third world, the
state expresses its desire for supple, malleable women.
In the Northeast of India, state supported violence
has been on display for almost fifty years. Preoccupied
in its romance with Indian economic growth, the mainstream
Indian media has rarely taken note of the region.
But it awoke to a rather disturbing
story in July 2004. Forty women—
twelve of them naked—stormed the
Army headquarters in the state of
Manipur, holding signs that read,
“Indian Army rape us!” The women
aged between 45 and 73 also shouted
to the astounded guards, “We are all
Manorama’s mothers.”
While it was the abduction, sexual
assault, torture, and murder of Thangjam
Manorama Devi—a 32 year-old
woman alleged to be a member of
Manipur’s banned People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—that
triggered the protests, the gendered violence at the hands
of the Army personnel had been all too common. With
their protest, the Manipuri women shamed the Indian
army by parading the very female body that brought
humiliation and death to their sisters. What’s more, with
their raw anger and amazing mobilization, the women
refused to be knocked down by the “rape culture” that
counts on a demoralized victim.
Human rights violations in Manipur are connected to
the special status of this region in the post-independent
India that has led to excessive military presence, often at
the cost of essential infrastructure. Efforts of political
autonomy and determination on the part of the Northeast
were met with heavy militarization of the region. Further,
the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958,
grants enormous powers to armed security forces to
search, arrest, or detain anyone on the grounds of suspicion.
The consequence has been the systematic misuse of
AFSPA, which has fostered, according to Amnesty International,
“a climate in which agents of
law enforcement use excessive force
with impunity.”
The AFSPA became operative in the
entire state of Manipur in 1980s, aiming
to curb the “insurgency.“ Legal protection
to military operations has led to
unchecked instances of arbitrary detention
and torture. It has also made the
possibility of political dissent extremely
difficult. A pattern of apparently unlawful
killings of suspected members of
armed opposition groups has resulted
from the systemic use of lethal force, as an alternative to
arrest by the security forces.
As if special powers are not enough, the Armed Forces
Special Powers Act goes on to provide security forces protection
from prosecution! The Committee on Human
Rights has documented 55 selected incidents of arbitrary
killings of women by security forces between 1980 and
1996; none of the cases have been resolved to date.
The privilege and power enjoyed by security forces in
Manipur has unmistakably turned toward the invasion of
women’s bodies. Threats of sexual violence loom large on
social spaces. And the long and tiring judicial battles since
the 1970s have not delivered justice. The women of
Manipur continue to organize under these tumultuous
conditions. The Meira Peibi (the torch bearer) is such a
collective that started out in the 1970s, documenting arbitrary
searches and arrests of civilian men and women.
In a slightly different context, the feisty student leader
Irom Sharmila has charted out a defiant civil disobedience.
Shramila and her colleagues have been on a hunger strike
protesting against an arbitrary public shooting in 2000.
Women’s resistance in Manipur is not unilinear; it spans
over a range of possibilities. Their struggle is very much
part of a unique socio-historical frame; and yet it has a lot
in common with other struggles around the world. The
women of Manipur continue to fight the misogynist state,
knowing fully well that the answers may lie in getting rid
of it altogether.
The Amnesty report can be found at: http://lib.ohchr.org/

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