By Raju Athokpam
Marriages are solemnised between the two persons they addressed each other as their better half and a life long companion in all walks of life. But right from the very marriage day, these young people are made to go through a series of gender inequality customs. On the marriage day, the husband dines before his wife and she is made to dine from the left-outs of her husband’s plate. Talking a spoon of food from the used plate and to continue the dinner from her plate, is although becoming a contemporary trend. However, the questionable thing is the underlying theme of woman’s subjugation and male’s chauvinism. The wife is not allowed to eat with her husband by sharing the same curry or any other eatables. When in menstrual cycle, she is even not allowed to serve a cup of tea to her husband, let us forget her going in kitchen and preparing it. During this period, she is not allowed to enter kitchen, touch utensils etc. In other times, she is equally prevented from the mentioned activities unless she has taken a bath. All these activities, if conducted, are treated as desecration. One of the most barbaric forms of human nature, the ‘untouchable’ still prevails in our Meitei society in a disguised form.
There has been a mix of religion and other social institutions. When a woman is suppressed by the custom, the act is being prejudiced and the reason put forward is mostly on the man’s fate. In other words, her breaking of the defined tradition will lead to the husband’s ill luck. Most societies do have unexplained customs which they ‘valued’, but the surprising factor in our case is that, there is no vice versa. Objectively speaking, for good or for bad, if a tradition is maintained, it should be applied to all, irrespective of sex. The gender inequality has been perpetuated by manipulating it on religion.
One reform can be thought by bringing a consensus on a religion-culture dichotomy and inculcate the public on the agreed consensus. For example, mopping the floor should be custom and praying is religion. Even the ways of praying can be custom. Similarly, when the emancipation is achieved from various other religious-cultural practices, the reform in custom will be relatively easier as it will be free from ‘fundamental’ aspects.
God is one and all the religions are His manifestations. No religion will teach discrimination but justice. A taboo should be free from religion. The Truth is obscured, when religion is mixed with taboo. In Meitei mythology, the Goddess “Panthoibi” signifies the high status of women in the society. The name says: “Pan”- taibangpan (universe), “thoi”-athoibi (winner), “bi/pi”- pokpi (gives birth). In the test of time, an opposite turn had occurred somewhere and women were left behind. Historically, the “Nupilan”, the “Ema Market”, the “Meira paibi” etc do say a lot on woman’s participation on public affairs, but that’s only political. The social and cultural aspects are still in stone age.
The projection of female as a flower, the association of her with red/pink colour, their coolness character as that of moon; all leads to a child girl’s cognitive construct that she should be shy in nature, be submissive, etc and on the other hand; boys are taught to be outspoken, be smart, be brave, be a risk-taker etc. As these basic differences have been taught since a child is born, it is not surprising to see that it is mostly the women who have maintained domestic gender inequality. Mother’s love to father and sons for their well being, sister’s love to brothers and father, wife’s love to husband etc which is above all, the most beautiful human nature. But the love is adulterated with superstitions and the whole discussion of this article is the manifestations of this adulteration. We should try a totally different means to capture and continue this root emotion, the love.
Chauvinism is culturally inhibited amongst men. Some people tease their friends as adha-mora, which nearest meaning would be an unholy moron. Such words can be heard, when the society feels that a man is living under the whims of his wife. Such prejudice, in most cases, later came out to be a gender neutral family. Among men, outside their family, they will make mockery of females as fools, hang out to nearby pan-dukan and woo woman shopkeepers surreptitiously. The shopkeepers, in order to sell a cigarette extra, would somehow accept the gestures. Aware of these facts and to avoid unwanted situations, usually her husband or mother-in-law accompanies her from a distance. They also try to introduce themselves impressively, real or fact, to her. They seldom accept returned changes/coins when the cigarette bill is paid to a beautiful shopkeeper. The mentioned situation is much uglier in traditional wine vendors, mostly in tribal community, when these people go there to booze.
I’m not a total reformist nor do I claim that our history has been full of taboo. Rather, I would like to cause to take up a difficult task of segregating the good tradition and preserving it and at the same time reform certain taboos and outdated customs, modernising them, so that the rich culture is preserved at its best as ‘social dynamics’ rolls by. Every Meitei man and woman will be happier of their culture.
The writer (Raju Athokpam) can be reached at raju.athokpam AT gmail.com