Monday morning this week started on a good note with two important events held in honor of women on the occasion of the International Women’s Day in Imphal. The Eta Northeast Women’s Network organised the day at the Ima Market at Khwairamband, and there was a film show named ‘Bloody Phanek’ in the afternoon at the MSFDS Palace Compound as part of a women’s film festival to mark the day. Both the programmes were nicely organised and were a great occasion to felicitate the women achievers of the year. I am not going to talk about the felicitations itself, however, but something related to the day which can be redeeming for both women and men here in Manipur. The tone of speeches at these functions on such days doesn’t have to be guessed and we find that gender issues are starkly divided into two separate compartments, and while women’s issues find space and attention in the media or other mediums, the issues facing men are hardly ever discussed or highlighted for whatever reasons. I came up with a few breakaway points which personally I think are accommodative of either sex.
Das Avatar rendition in celebration of International Women’s Day in Manipur
The first point I want to bring up concerns failed relationships and why the law is not equal to both women and men in differing situations; one in which the woman is at advantage in the eyes of the law and society, and the other when the man is arrogant considering himself a natural beneficiary to the many advantages he gets under the patriarchal system. We see that the main bone of contention in any failed relationship is who inherits how much of the property, and how much maintenance is payable, and for that end result which one of the opposite sexes is able to lobby support for among house elders, relatives, friends and the law giving agency. And then in the case of the law the need to arbitrate arises only because the inheritance laws are skewed in favour of the men, especially in view of the changing times and in conditions where both sexes need to exude confidence and stature in the public spaces.
Inheritance laws in fact should be equal for both the male and the female child so that this question of maintenance does not arise at all. The question of a woman needing to fight over alimony wouldn’t arise in this case. Like the speakers at the functions stated there is a need for the women to step out of familial and social conventions and be independent self-supporting women. This can be possible only when women have a source of wealth or income which they can feel safe with during the time they experiment with various ways to provide for themselves. And then many women are also tied down with men they cannot tolerate just because they depend financially on their tormentors. So in a real world women as well as men have to be taught from the very beginning that they have an equal status or importance within the family, by the parents making their children aware of the sense of equal ownership of family property. If a woman has equal rights over her parents’ property, as much as the boy child, then the necessity to depend on any other person later on in life, for instance husband etc., would not arise. The law already provides right to property in the case of unmarried girls and this could be changed a little more to include all girls, married or unmarried. But this would need essential social reformation, and of course it is possible, if maybe a married woman is willing to forego her claims over the husband’s property or maintenance.
The need for alimony wouldn’t arise if women’s lib is understood in that sense where the woman is more conscious of her own career and responds more to life as a thoughtful person than just getting into the details of alimony, and as a result of that maybe ill will. We can’t begin to talk of women’s lib without addressing the question of birth rights, instead of those provided by marriage. The Constitution provides us equal rights, all of us, men or women, and instead of becoming a headache for each of the partners in a failed marriage or relationship these issues could be decided right from early on in education, upbringing etc. Why put the onus on men. Both the sexes should take what belongs to them instead of making each other suffer. Here it is also mentionable that men too feel shamed or sexually violated when they are robbed of their sexuality when they encounter demanding women as a partner in life. In fact it’s only very few cases when the chemistry really works between loving husbands and wives. And there’s also no education that teaches us this; at least not by the government nor the legal system.
The law has the father deciding in the matter of division of property, and also, we cannot always take it for granted that the father in a family is a kind hearted, or loving and judicious father. Under the system of lawful division of property by the father called ‘daya-bhak’, the law takes for granted that the father will be a kind (‘daya’ means kind and ‘bhak’ means portion) person and divide the property equally among his children. But the fact is that the father may withhold any of his property from all of his sons and daughters, or as usually happens he may only transfer it to the eldest son. Nowadays at least some realisation of the circumstances of times is there and the father usually gives his property to all the sons equally. If this same is applied a little more aptly to how life governs all individuals these days, the father could include the women in the family also in this show of his kindness. And to go little further still, in exceptional cases encountered by many families, the transgender individuals could also find favour with the father if the law approves of a new system of easy transferability of property rights, although a 2019 Act for transgenders does allow them property rights. Access is also denied many times to drugs and alcohol using persons by declaring them imbecile or mad, when they are not, unless the doctors or family are too eager to prove that they are mentally retarded for whatever reasons. We have to be aware of the age we live in where the joint family system is not so popular, and while anybody might not have anything against it, the fact remains that it is more of individuality in focus these days, and as individuals we all have our own choices to make and ambitions to fulfil away from the family interests since the scope of living has so much more broadened even in the most commonest of living.
On a day like International Women’s Day it would be also good to know that it’s not a moment to take a day’s off and enjoy the celebrations only. A lot of deliberations need to be done and one of the foremost would be that to find a more equal society we have to think from the viewpoint of both sexes. Neither sex should suffer harassment at the hands of the other, nor should one get familial, social or the law agencies’ leverage at the cost of the other. We cannot focus overly on men, as much as we can’t on women because a completely matriarchal system is as dangerous as a patriarchal one. Also, we cannot take the law of the land lightly and one shouldn’t try to go one up on it through any agencies like social, civil or vigilante. This because decency should be the end gain available to all in society. However, it is also another matter that the law urgently needs some reforms in the matter of man-woman contests as well as grievances of the gender fluid.