Day 15/16 When violence is the means to an end, it is women that are wronged
She was 34. Born the year that I was. I knew what it meant to be that age, for a woman living in a city and pursuing a career and vibrant social life. One juggled deadlines at work and invitations to wine and cheese soirees, the struggle with self doubts and body image was giving way to a strange but unsettling peace and irreverence, making me wonder if it was the signs of menopause. But I couldn't possible imagine or know what Manorama's life was like. And yet, the news of her passing and the manner in which she was brutally murdered by security forces set me thinking and reading into the life and times of women caught in the web of militarism and violence.
The year was 2004. Thangjam Manorama had been found dead in a field, her body ridden with six bullets including one in the genitals. The forensic report found semen stains on her skirt, suggesting that she may have been raped before she died. She was pronounced a separatist leader who specialised in improvised explosive devices and security forces claimed that she was responsible for several bomb blasts by the People's Liberation Army of Manipur, a revolutionary group that was trained by some of India's neighbours and was fighting for an independent socialist state of Manipur. Her family claimed that she was a peaceful activist, though many journalists privately agreed that she did belong to an underground outfit. She was picked up from her home, without an arrest warrant and was tortured and brutalised before being killed in cold blood. Even if Manorama was guilty, she deserved a process of interrogation, court proceedings and then a jail term. Not a brutal death at the hands of uncouth men in uniform. Her death remains shrouded in controversy even today, with security forces refusing to adhere to norms, refusing to attend court hearings and taking cover under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which insulates them from the mandate of ordinary law.
The Indian government's apathy towards growth and development of states located in the North-East of India has sparked off many a revolution in that part of the country. Geographical barriers already posed a huge problem. Lack of infrastructure and disdainful government officials added to people's woes and they constantly struggled with basic issues of life and survival. Did Manorama pay the price for raising her voice? She did. And in a manner that only a woman could have. Seventy middle aged women proclaimed themselves to be mothers of Manorama and paraded naked before the offices of the security forces and demanded that they too be raped. It was a poignant and shocking reminder of the plight of a woman in this country. It was a symbol and sign of the need for women's movements to curb the tendency of male patriarchy and feudalism to treat a woman's mind and body with scant or no respect.
History will reveal and bear testimony to the truth that every time communities become vulnerable, it is women that bear the maximum brunt. Men have waged war for centuries, in the name of territory, honour and religion. Women, perceived as symbols of honour, were kidnapped, brutalised and sexually abused to avenge. Modernism and the era of technology have not changed our plight. We continue to pay the price for being compassionate, gentle child bearing humans whose mind seeks progress and fulfilment for the self, the family and the nation. Through perseverance, sanity and lawful means defined by dignity for every human.
My country continues to burn with the shame of brutality against women. Widespread protests against rape, media hype and agitated discussions in living rooms may have sparked off rage in the minds of the educated middle class. But we are still grappling with the means to changing the way a woman's body and mind are perceived by men. Why is it important for us that these men sense us differently? Because religion, governance, human rights and institutions are shaped, defined, interpreted and delivered by men and men alone or for the most part by majority. So we are at the receiving end of their perceptions and misconceptions. The RSS, a Hindu right wing organisation in India has a program for young women, the 'Durga Vahini.' Durga is a Goddess who in Indian mythology represents the infinite feminine energy capable of nurturing us and destroying the forces of evil. Strangely, in total contrast to the concept of Durga, young girls from Hindu families are taught the importance of being docile keepers of home and hearth only, inspiring their men to heights of glory and shouldering the responsibility of the future generations as opposed to western cultures which destroy the fabric of a peaceful family! They are taught martial arts and self defence, for the sake of protecting their chastity, yet there is no perceived need for them to be contributors to the state, the nation, governance or delivery of justice.
I quote my father who once said to me "If a nation or community hopes to progress with sanity and peace, it must extract equal participation and contribution from men and women alike in matters religious, social, economic and political, else it will be overwhelmed by the brutal forces of patriarchy and aggression, heralding the downfall of humanity."
His words ring loud and clear every morning, as stories of inequality and indignity stare back at me from newspapers and publications. How do we make a beginning? Is retaliation by violence the answer? It is clearly not, for then we would merely be aping the men and their philosophy. If we look deep within ourselves, we will all experience the rage that comes from having been treated as insignificant to life processes, except the uterine. The answers lie within our minds. We must congregate in larger numbers, for everything that we do. We must participate in everything related to life, with an opinion be it education, marriage or childbirth. We must raise awareness and financial resources for provision of social security to women who chose to resist feudal mindsets and systems and walk out of them.
In resistance lies the answer. That which is persistent, indomitable and will not be subdued by forces legitimate or illegitimate. Inspiring us is Irom Sharmila Chanu, a civil and political rights activist and poet from Manipur who refused food and water in the year 2000 and is till today on a hunger strike to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It is my dream to someday act in a play based on her life. A role that will speak of the spirit of a woman not afraid to live her life for a cause. Who dares to speak where thousands seek to silence her. Who gave up on her personal happiness to live on as an icon of resistance, on a hospital bed, tubes wrenching her frail body. Frail she may be, but the Durga in her is omnipotent. As she lives, in every one of us who fights the vagaries of the life that is thrust upon us, one we have not chosen. Which one of us will start making choices first, I wonder?
This blog series is an initiative of the Stop Stoning Women Campaign hosted by WLUML - campaigning to bring an end to Stoning.