Manipur is no stranger to the spectacle of bands for days on end. Not a year goes by without one major bandh or a series of protests playing it out on the roads and highways. Though the degree does vary, it goes without saying that bandhs and their ilk disrupts the lives of people by curtailing their movement and in the process, their access to health care, food and livelihood. Yet, bandhs are considered as a means of registering protest and are fairly common in the state. Called by various civil society groups or associations of people who feel they have been aggrieved, bandhs do not really lead to solutions to the issue at hand but can well contribute to making matters at hand, more worse than they started out with.
The imposition of the indefinite bandh in the valley districts of the state following protests over the December 18 incident at Chandel where actor Momoko was assaulted and two artistes fired upon stands as a prime example of something that could have worked to ensure that justice is served in each and every case that has got to do with the safety and dignity of women. Unfortunately, the cause for women got derailed in the greater mischief that was unleashed by the emotional outbursts of certain individuals who instead of focusing on the act of an individual found it more important to highlight the community he belonged to. That the accused in the Chandel incident belongs to the NSCN (IM), an armed group now engaging in talks with the central government led to the protest overshadowing everything else. Putting the spotlight on the brutal assault on the actor at a time when there is a debate all over the country on the matter of a woman’s safety in public spaces following the Delhi rape case, would have been a logical course of action. Instead, we saw a movement that was violent and lost steam with mischief mongers adding more fire on the streets. Doctors and para medical staff, press and other essential services were all caught up in acts of immaturity. Young boys, not necessarily aware or serious about gender justice, played tough and confronted people going about their duties with rude behavior. With the report of an alleged attempt to molest a young girl and robbing people under the guise of supporting the bandh coming in, it is indeed a matter of great shame and irony that another similar case of molestation would happen on the sidelines.
If we think and believe that gender violence is something that comes in from the outside on “our own” and meted out by “them”, it would be the greatest folly. A turn back of media reports for this year will give the tell tale of even male family members resorting to physical assaults, molestation and rapes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the rise in gender related crimes, including domestic violence comes from a position of power and of knowing that one can get away with it. The lack of a pro-active police and a legal system that is yet to wake up the need for gender justice gives perpetuators the ‘confidence’ to do what they do. The strong hold of patriarchal values and belief systems also mean that in every occasion of gender violence, society tends to question what the girl was wearing, who she was with and what was she doing. And then of course, one looks into the identity of the girl: whether she is from the minority community or the majority community. Gender violence within a marriage in our society is rarely discussed and when done, is confined to blame giving to the woman. Only a tough legal protection and their effective implementation can halt the rate and manner of gender violence as it exists today.