As women wake up to the need to fight for feminist rights in Manipur the issues remain an assortment ranging from an embedded patriarchy, deprived education, unfulfilled empowerment schemes, family discords, and a rising number of heinous crimes – which all boil down to one constant accompanying factor to these, which is, there seems to be no end in sight to the sufferings women go through regardless of how much they may be willing to sacrifice for others, be at office or home. R.K. Lakhi Kant speaks first to leading academic Dr. Arambam Noni and then to women’s rights activist Nonibala Narengbam on the emerging feminist movement in Manipur and why irrelevant social notions need to make way for new ideas for women’s liberation.
Dr. Arambam Noni, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, DM University, Imphal. He takes a keen interest in public issues and academic freedom. He has authored two books.
RKLK: How does patriarchy and gender-bias function in Manipur’s education system? To what extent does it affect the students?
Dr Arambam Noni
Dr. Arambam Noni: Firstly, any reluctance I might have in answering is because there’s always the danger of male interference in the domain which is very independent and exclusive to women. I want to acknowledge this fact.
Concerning education, it is an ongoing process of empowerment. Also, women’s empowerment and feminism are very different trajectories. Because of the presence of a binary, empowerment discourse is engineered by males. We shouldn’t be too hopeful of this discourse because the dominant state psyche is the male psyche. To know women’s feminism, more than empowerment it has to be modern, which means emancipation and women’s liberation.
Universities and colleges in urban centres have reasonably higher numbers of women. In rural institutions enrolment is low and effective participation of women very low. The number of women’s dropouts in rural institutions is high from middle and secondary level. In India only 1% students remain in higher education, and logically, the number of women is still lower in this.
There are a lot of challenges in education. But to resolve the shortcomings one cannot rely too much on scheme related projects. Numerous government schemes are there; they have been going on for the past 70-74 years. But due to the unchanging psychology of dominant discourse and ideology the emancipation of women in the actual field is not happening. There’s the women’s council, women’s commission and others who are doing a lot of work, but they should rather work on revolutionising and changing dominant psychology. For emancipation the structural mind set needs to be changed.
Despite the fact that a lot of budgetary allocation is there for women, since the institutions are male driven these schematic investments through policies are not giving a lot of fruit. There’s an unchanging pattern of social psychology against women. We can’t say these investments have not been there, as it will seem to be rhetoric. But even taking that it has been invested fully, in schemes like the MNREGA women are given Rs. 5-6000 but this money has not been able to empower the women.
In the private sphere women still carry a lot of social and cultural baggage. Even if they are employed they have to do domestic activities for husband and kids, hampering their own growth in turn. Women are exploited in the unorganised sector and they don’t get their wages and salary. The emphasis should be on the unorganised sector where there is no social security and women particularly are never accountably paid. The rising criminality against women is also deeply rooted in the psychology that operates in and around the society. Despite living in the post-industrial world crimes against women are increasing instead of decreasing. There may be many tall claims but this is the worrying matter of the present political and economic scenario.
RKLK: Does the system of patriarchy leave any scope for personality development of the girl students?
Dr. Arambam Noni: Both male and female students have a deficit there. It’s a textual education system without any field work. Personality can develop only with interaction at the ground. Particularly in school and even in undergraduate level there is no such thing as field work or internship which is essentially for personality development. In this our students are deprived.
Then there’s the question personality development for what? – is it for the market or job? It should be more than with a market perspective. The focus should be social orientation which talks of an egalitarian society where there is no such thing as gender based discrimination.
RKLK: What about tradition? How does tradition figure in such a social orientation?
Dr. Arambam Noni: Tradition of course is important; but tradition of what kind. Traditions which are not egalitarian have to be rejected. Those traditional aspects of Manipur’s social values are to be encouraged which talk about equality and egalitarian society. This is a big challenge before the teachers and curriculum setters, and also for the students who are more or less deeply ingrained in their own social and cultural baggage.
The private and public domain need to be linked for revolutionising society. Not copying the west; but by looking at tradition from a scientific perspective. Scientific and moral perspective – maybe that’s a better word. Ultimately feminism is a moral project. Also, feminism is a scientific project for an egalitarian society.
Nonibala Narengbam, Convenor of Women in Governance – (WinG) Manipur which works towards enabling women in leadership at all levels. Working with IRDSO, Wangjing, Thoubal district, Manipur.
RKLK: Does the patriarchal system play a role in causing marital discords? How prevalent is the problem?
Nonibala Narengbam: The patriarchal system in Manipur is deeply embedded. In fact this structure causes lots of problems in the institution of marriage, although it may have been compatible in the traditional family. Working women have time-bound duties and likelihood of discord is more now. They have to leave home for long hours as they have new responsibilities in office. At the same time a woman is a wife, mother and daughter-in-law after returning from office and there are certain demands on her due to the patriarchal order which become a reason for conflict. However skilful a woman may be she doesn’t have more than 24 hours and management is difficult and tiring.
Then a woman who gets tired by the time she returns from office is unable to fulfil the husband-wife relation and many times the husband strays off to extra-marital relations. This is a big reason for discord in our professional experience. The accusation is that her domestic duties are natural to her and she is neglecting them. A spat may also always occur over whose to make the tea. In the unorganised sector also the man and woman may share work in the fields and the man after returning relaxes, while the woman fails to claim any leisure. Added to this is the fact that the woman has no financial autonomy and does not know how to bargain for it. The husbands in our experience have control over ATMs of even white collared women workers. Chauvinistic men without any earnings are as if given a blank cheque by the patriarchal system.
There is a question of security too. A woman instead of feeling secure in her home is feeling increasingly threatened. She is subject to psychological threat, violence and emotional abuse. Even murders occur sometimes, where the victim is said to have committed suicide as a cover up. The main problem is where a woman will go when confronted by such issues. If she returns to her parents, even if she is accepted, there will be no quietude for her. Unless she is reassured by her brothers, the final place for her is the shelter homes for women. Last time I was aware of it there were around 20 shelter homes all over the districts with a varying number of 50-100 women accommodated in each.
In my experience urban and middle class women are more traumatised and they are more conscious of their status and position that stops them from fighting back and saying whatever they feel like to their husbands, which the unorganised sector women do without holding back. There’s insecurity in matters of property also if they do not give birth to a male child, in which case they are ostracised also.
Since the girl child is unwanted abortion is an issue also. The government should monitor if it’s by virtue male child ratio is higher or there’s a missing link in why female births are lesser. Hospitals and clinics may display signs against sex determination but abortion is still prevalent, we can assume, because of the differing sex ratio.
RKLK: How do the children react when caught in the middle of gender bias in the household?
Nonibala Narengbam: In the case of boys we deprive them of their emotions from the micro level and by the time they reach the macro level they are already heartless and involve in different forms of violence; even criminal acts. From our professional experience we see it’s not that men don’t have emotions at all. But society kills all the emotion in them as they grow up. They are robbed of all compassion. Just a few days back a three-year-old girl was raped. Sadly men can’t cry.
Boys are taught to be emotionless and by the time they reach adulthood they think they can do anything they feel like. If treated equally children could be better human beings and responsible citizens when they grow up. For girls there are dos and don’ts from early childhood and their education too is sacrificed many times. But boys are told ‘nupadi taragi mapuni’ (you are worth ten people) and ‘nupasidi esing gumbani, thangna yanbada mami leite’ (boys don’t have to face any consequences for their actions).
RKLK: By the time girls are grown up what is their perception of life? Do they tend to give in to social cross-currents? Or do they want to protect their individuality?
Nonibala Narengbam: In this generation some boys think they won’t marry as they don’t want to cause problems for the girl after marriage. There are girls too who wouldn’t compromise on their jobs and may like to stay single. In traditional families too, the girls after getting education and new awareness, try to apply themselves but conflict does arise.
So in any broad-based debate on patriarchy we see unless women are liberated society cannot attain height. One instance is that women’s domestic work is not given recognition. All her work at home is not assessed as labour produced by her. That would be a welcome acknowledgment if it is done. Even a helper is given Rs. 6-7000 salary but the same work done by the housewife is seen as no work.
Women don’t get enough relaxation for health, reproduction care or during childbirth. Menstruation is also a time when she doesn’t like to work, feels lethargic or depressive; but these things are not known by men because it’s taboo and not discussed with men. I think it’s an essential fact of life that these things are to be known together with men. These things are like strings attached to the patriarchal system and as we are able to untie the knots we will be, I am sure, able to address the drawbacks of patriarchy in our system of living.