Manipur: The women in this troubled Indian state are defying the army

On June 19, 2023 in New Delhi, India, Manipur women hold up signs as they demonstrate against the ongoing violence...

a recently circulated. video. a dramatic series of scenes were photographed by the Indian army in the violently divided state of Manipur.   .

Unarmed women are seen arguing with soldiers on a busy street in the two minutes and 14 second video. Women are seen congregating around an excavator on a disrupted road, as well as glimpses of agitated women, a hive of SUVs and cars, an ambulance speeding through a picturesque valley, and a mix of cars and cars.

Over 100 people were killed and 60,000 people were displaced by clashes between the majority Meitei and the tribal Kuki communities in Manipur nearly two months ago. Ethnic violence is still roiling the state today. This is true despite the presence of tens of thousands of security personnel in both the hills, where the Kukis live, and the valley, which is primarily populated by the Meitei community.

However, as the video illustrates, reestablishing peace is a slow and challenging process in an atmosphere of intense division and mistrust. The video, titled "Demystifying myth of peaceful blockade led by Manipur women," leveled some pretty serious accusations.

For starters, it claimed that female protestors were "helping rioters flee" and were riding alongside them in cars and ambulances. Additionally, they were "getting in the way" of security operations and the movement of logistics, and they had dug a path to a paramilitary base in an effort to "cause delay," it continued. As the video came to a close, it made a plea to the populace to assist the security forces who were "working day and night to bring peace and stability.".

A group of Indian women hold aloft a banner as they stand naked outside the headquarters of the Assam Rifles paramilitary force in Imphal the capital of the far eastern Indian state of Manipur, 15 July 2004, to protest against the 10 July killing of an alleged female insurgent.
In Imphal, the capital city, the Meira Paibis shocked the world by stripping in front of a military camp in 2004.

In a second video, a patient soldier and a group of agitated women are seen having a tense exchange. It makes no difference. You leave," a woman tells the soldier as other women huddle close to her. Last week, the army also tweeted that it had liberated 12 local insurgents during a search operation after they had been "surrounded" by a 1,500-strong "mob" of women in the state capital Imphal's East district, where 16% of Manipur's estimated 3.3 million residents reside.

The Meira Paibis, also known as Imas or "mothers of Manipur," or "women torchbearers," are thought to be the majority of the women who are defying the security forces in the unrest-stricken valley. They shocked the world in 2004 by exposing themselves in front of a military camp in the nation's capital, Imphal, while holding a sign that read, "Indian Army Rape Us," in an outrage over the alleged gangrape and murder of a 32-year-old local woman by paramilitary soldiers.

The Meira Paibis, a majority Meitei group, are typically married women between the ages of 30 and 65, with or without a formal job. According to historian Laishram Jitendrajit Singh, they are loosely associated with the group and resemble a disciplined cadre. According to researchers, they date back to the early 1900s, when like-minded women organized a successful protest against forced labor in Manipur, where men between the ages of 17 and 60 were required to work for the British ruler for a predetermined number of days each month.

A woman sits in a relief camp at Sialkot village. On May 3, 2023, ethnic conflict erupted in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur between the Meitei people, a majority of whom live in the Imphal Valley, and tribal communities in the surrounding mountains, including the Kuki and Zo.
Around 60,000 people fled their homes as a result of the violence, and a woman sits in a relief camp in Manipur.

The Meira Paibis have become well-known since Manipur joined India in 1949 for their tenacious fight against drug and alcohol abuse. "Being flexible and lacking a rigid structure allows them to tackle any issue affecting their community. According to Shruti Mukherjee, a Stony Brook University researcher who studies women's activism in Manipur, the Meira Paibis are now a group that is not limited to agitating solely on women's issues.

These activist-vigilante women took on a larger role when ethnic conflict and insurgency erupted in Manipur in 1980. The contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), which protects security forces who might accidentally kill a civilian or do so under unavoidable circumstances, was passed into law in India in 1958. It has been partially held responsible for the forces' "perpetual immunity.".

According to rights organizations, security forces in Manipur are accused of carrying out up to 1,528 fake encounters, also known as unlawful executions, between 1979 and 2012. A Meitei man was arrested by the security forces in 1980 after the Meira Paibis marched to a police station and demanded his release. He had been suspected of being an insurgent. The women "held night vigils with flaming torches or stood guard against the army taking away their boys by banging electric poles, or beat a gong, or banging bamboo poles on the ground," according to Mr. Singh.

The long-standing mistrust between the populace and the security forces endures in a state where insurgency has been a simmering problem for more than 40 years. Three officers from the local police's Rapid Action Force were suspended and accused of setting homes on fire after the violent clashes in early May. There have been claims that some paramilitary soldiers with ties to one group turned a blind eye when militants attacked some villages.

Manipuri women run their business in Ima Market in Imphal, Manipur, India on 23 November, 2018. A market exclusively run by women it is called the Ima Market or the Mothers.
The largest all-women's market in South Asia is run by Manipuri women in Imphal.

The women are "not happy with the role of the army," according to Thongam Joymala, a leader of Meira Paibi. They can't deter the armed Kuki miscreants in the hills, they say. Therefore, there are infrequent demonstrations against army movements in the valley. We think the violence needs to stop, and operations [to flush out criminals] should be carried out both in the hills and the valley. If not, we won't support [army] operations," she declares. The Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace's Binalakshmi Nepram echoes a similar sentiment. "The'mothers of Manipur' believe that some security personnel were actively sowing more hostility and discord. As a result, they have flocked to Manipur in their thousands, according to the woman.

Instead of posting the video on social media, Ms. Nepram claims that the army should have "shown the courage" to speak with Meira Paibi leaders and collaborate with Kuki women to help bring about peace. "Manipur's women must be included if the state is to experience lasting peace. ".

Few will contest that. Manipur is not a matrilineal society, but women take an active role in politics there. The largest all-women's market in South Asia is operated in Imphal. Irom Sharmila, an activist, went on a 16-year hunger strike in a hospital room in Imphal while being guarded by armed guards and nurses to protest the atrocities committed by the armed forces. Local women now patrol the militarized buffer zones in conflict-ridden neighborhoods.

In 1904 and 1939, women in Manipur took part in two significant mass uprisings against British rule known as "Nupi Lan" or "women's war.". According to Ms. Nepram, "torch bearers of Manipur," this is the third brave, non-violent war of women. According to Ms. Joymala, the Meira Paibis seek peace. "Our farmers cannot access their fields. Our supposed mothers are unable to go to work in the market. Our world is under siege. " .

Dhiren A Sadokpam in Imphal contributed more reporting.

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