Celebrating Womanpower

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Yesterday was Nupilal Day, a day to commemorate womanhood in the state which rose to momentous social callings in 1939, just as they did before in 1904, to force the then British administration to retract certain policies that hurt the common people both materially as well as spiritually. It is common knowledge today that in the earlier instance, it was forced labour enlisted by the British authorities they protested against and in the second it was the export of rice from the state while there was a famine-like situation on account of two consecutive inadequate monsoons. In both the cases, the women ultimately had the government rethinking. While these historic events are important as significant landmarks in the portrayal of womanhood and womanpower in the state, they must not be allowed to be relegated to routine occasions for official functions and empty political rhetoric. There is nothing static about womanhood or womanpower in the state, and these qualities are very much a living culture. Evidences of these are everywhere in every act of resistance to injustice and oppression in the state. The most dramatic of this was the July 15 incident in 2004, when women disrobed in front of the Kangla Gate, to challenge troops then stationed within the complex, in the wake of the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama. Then of course, more than even this explosive outburst of emotions, there is Irom Sharmila Chanu, doing her lonely long distance run, covering distance that no human has ever covered and is unlikely ever to emulate.

Manipuri womanhood is a live phenomenon. It is a potent energy capable of bringing about immense social changes, although today there are powerful subversive patriarchal forces trying to rob it of its autonomous existence. Still, nobody would doubt that without the state’s immense store of womanpower brought to the fore during any momentous upheaval, nothing can actually move. Celebration of events such as Nupilal Day, should be an acknowledgment of this strength within rather than merely a commemoration of past chapters of history. Indeed, on many practical fronts, this energy has had to be called forth to address vexing issues facing the state. Manipur’s recent history being troubled and its present too replete with unresolved issues, the responsibility on the shoulders of this celebrated force will continue to be vitally relevant always. As a matter of fact, we are of the opinion it must again come forth now to gauge as well as forge a tangible public opinion on which way the future of the place lie. In particular, it must be the agent to make an honest assessment of the nature of the resolution the public has in mind to the issue of insurgency. Is it time for a negotiated settlement of the issues at stake or must the violent antagonism continue? Must these issues undergo moderations or should they remain unaltered from what they were conceived to be at their inception? Etc. These are vitally important questions, and nobody, not even the government or those waging war against the government, must presume to have the answer. These answers must not be a matter of fiats of anybody or any institution, however powerful they may be. Their answers must be refreshed periodically too, and there is nobody better to shoulder this responsibility of conducting continuous referendums than the warriors who made the Nupilals virtual tidal waves of change throughout the place’s history.

Many speakers on the occasion did make discreet references to the potency of this force and its continued relevance in putting back the state’s peace train back on its track. We do hope these words prove prophetic and many with levers of state power would practice what they preached. But as we say this, we cannot help suspecting everything would be back to the chaotic normal of Manipur and the seemingly solemn pledges sooner forgotten. In the celebration of Manipuri womanhood all who joined in making extravagant eulogies of it, not once mentioned somebody who has become an iconic symbol of this womanhood or the loneliness of the valiant long distance runner – Irom Sharmila Chanu.

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