“In families, localities and the society at large, women themselves often look down upon their counterparts. When the son indulges in an unwanted behaviour outside the family, no mother bothers seriously. But when the daughter-in-law does a tiny mistake in family, the mother-in-law scolds and even ostracise her, as if the former has committed an irreparable mistake in life. Women exclusion are not wholly the perpetration of the opposite sex, women themselves depower their own folks.”
By: Neken Seram
As discrimination is a human nature, everyone or every group everywhere feels excluded in one or the other way either mentally or physically. Human beings, in various situations, are excluded politically, socially, economically, religiously or ethnically from existing social entities in different forms for one or the other reason. Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional process of progressive social rupture, detaching groups and individuals from social relations and institutions, and preventing them from full participation in the normally prescribed activities of the society in which they live. Dissatisfaction of certain individuals or groups in matters of co-existence may be referred to as social exclusion. Among the many facets of social exclusions prevailing in Manipur, the most commonly encountered is the gender-based exclusion of women.
When a married woman indulges in illicit extra-marital sexual relationships with other man, she is ostracized by the family, relatives, locality and society at large. However, in case the same thing happens to a man, he is accepted by the society. Even if the man brings home second wives to the family, the society does not resort to punish him. Hence, no matter the act committed is socially sanctioned or not, the treatment meted out to women is much more contradictory to that done to men.
The mother, a woman, who prepares food in the family, always attaches priority in feeding the husband and the sons. When the boys finish their dinner, the mother will eat with the daughters the rest of the items – no matter it is enough or not for them. Most women have the mentality to treat girls as inferior to the boys. Feeding, clothing, educating and health care for women or girls are often considered as secondary tasks as compared to those for men. In this regard, Educationist Konika Khuraijam commented that women in Manipur face exclusion in almost all sectors. Issue of women exclusion has to be dealt with right from ‘Chaga Chaba’ (eating the unwanted over-baked rice) to ‘Aremba Chaba’ (eating the remains) in the traditional Manipuri families; she said adding that the society has wrongly modeled a picture of good women as submissive women.
Paonam Thoibi, a Clinical Psychologist gives her opinion that there is the male preference in every walk of life starting from expecting a new baby to decision making in the family. The society even relies on a mentally unsound man rather than on a cautious woman. Solution lies in encouraging participation and empowerment, according to her. Male folks should also be empowered to enable them to swallow their pride and accept the need for equality with women. Another woman activist, Anita Sougaijam pointed out that when a man and woman together do something which is against the social norms; fingers are pointed more to the woman even though both are part of the act. Women are often discriminated in decision making process although her role is considered important in it, she lamented.
According to Liklainu Chanu Maisnam, a young government employee, women in Manipur have become more assertive nowadays. However, women are under represented politically. We need to produce more women engineers, scientists, astronauts, rock climbers etc. in order to break the male-bastion in this domain. As we often hear of women discrimination in the work place, women should be fully equipped to meet the challenges, she suggested.
It is said that the status of women in Manipuri society nowadays is considerably improved. Ladies role in important seminars, workshops and functions which was generally limited to badge-pinning of VIPs, bouquet presentations and tea distribution, has now widened to participation in discussions and deliberations with the appearance of a number of women intellectuals, journalists, social workers, politicians and responsible officials. The picture, however, is not all rosy everywhere. There are still reports of domestic violence, coercion, rape and atrocities against women. Most Manipuri women face hardships in earning, feeding and serving families. Many women are still living under coercion of their husbands. Women are always victims, if their husbands indulge in immoral activities. There are also men who forcibly take money from their wives to use drugs and to have drinks and also men who live with second wives out side families.
More disheartening is involvement of woman in perpetrating violence against another woman. In families, localities and society at large, women themselves look down upon their own counterparts. When the son indulges in unwanted behaviour outside the family, no mother bothers seriously. But when the daughter-in-law does a tiny mistake in family, the mother-in-law scolds and even ostracise, as if the former has committed an irreparable mistake in life. Women exclusion are not wholly the perpetration of the opposite sex, women themselves depower their own folks.
Women and children infected with or affected by HIV are the most discriminated in our society. In her personal observation of the issue, Ms. Binobala Nongmeikapam opines that the taboo affected women and children have to live with is traumatic and lifelong. In spite of many awareness campaigns, not much justice is done for them. She observes that amid repeated mental or physical harassment, the society at large sees women as something not to be forgiven and not to be supported. It is only in paper that status of women in Manipur is penned as better off nowadays, but in reality it is different.
The mysterious killing of an HIV-positive woman, Moirangthem Ongbi Rasheshwori (33) wife of M Ibomcha of Seijang Mayai Leikai in Manipur in June last stands testimony to the fact that the magnitude of gender-based stigma and discrimination related HIV and AIDS is still high amidst the long hands of statutes and active policies on the disease. She was allegedly killed by her husband for keeping her HIV status concealed.
“The worst discrimination women face in Manipur is that of HIV afflicted widows whose husbands gave them the virus and died, leaving behind kids, either HIV positive or otherwise, only to be fed and groomed by the women. Meanwhile, people particularly the male folks started to raise fingers on their chastity” commented Chanam Urmila, a woman columnist of Manipur.
In a recent interaction session held at Imphal, a 15 year old girl who lost her father to AIDS eleven years back shared her ordeal in the most emotional tone as “I am on second line ART (Ante-Retroviral Treatment) now. My father died in the year 2000. Four years later, my mother left us to live with another man …………” The HIV positive girl along with three other sisters is struggling to survive today. Her elder sister of 22 years takes tuition and works in an NGO to earn their living. The hapless girls do also make soft toys to supplement their income. A number of affected girls either orphans or living with single parents, are facing the most notorious form of social exclusion in the state.
An HIV affected widow in her early thirties, on condition of anonymity, revealed that many acts of oppression on her and a host of other women of her stature are committed by the opportunist male folks in the workplace, sometimes even at the health service centres, only because of their hapless status. Such types of discrimination, victimization and oppression are not uncommon in Manipur society.
Discrimination of HIV infected people in Manipur society is not a new story. The stigma and discrimination attached to HIV infected people are due to ignorance about the disease by the general people. When the ignorance and misconception surrounding the HIV and AIDS menace is removed, when we all realize that HIV virus is not transmitted via social gatherings, we will not discriminate infected people. When we avoid the thinking that HIV and AIDS are behaviour related ailment, we will not stigmatise the HIV infected people. In spite of having the AIDS policies at national and state levels to prohibit any kind of discrimination against HIV AIDS infected or infected people, there are still cases of exclusion of the affected.
The solution to the age-old gender-based exclusion prevailing in the society lies in framing and implementing an Inclusive Policy solely to prevent gender discrimination. Besides the related government departments; the civil society organisations, intellectuals, journalist community, NGOs, CBOs, religious leaders and law makers need to collaboratively devise an Inclusive policy locally suitable to Manipur situation. All the existing policies and programmes for uplift of women community are required to be monitored to ensure their reach to real beneficiaries. When the women are empowered economically, politically and socially to meet the hardships of gender biases, the mindset of the people – both men and women will change to the better.