Article details
The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

3. Gender Empowerment Already Accomplished

In ancient dramas of mainland India, the prestation of women would signify one step down that of their counterpart by even speaking in prakrit (the spoken or vulgar language) while men would speak in Sanskrit (the elevated language). But, in sharp contrast, ancient Manipuri women speak the same refined language as men do. The distinctly equilaterian nature is confirmed by wives referring to husbands as isa-bi (roughly my better half), while husbands reciprocate wives as isa-nou (roughly my better half). Besides, women throughout the pre-Hindu Manipur would play a predominantly leading role in various religious activities. Needless to add, unlike now, religion then used to play a much more predominant role in society. Religion would permeate every aspect of life. And in most of these religious rituals females used to play not only an active but a leading role. This role is evident from predominance of women in the goddess cult. And in Umang Lai Haraoba the role of the priestess is considered much more important than that of priest. (Saroj Nalini Parratt: Religion of Manipur: 1980; p. 96). Being procreation-associated, not only women were believed to have the power to communicate with spirits and supernatural beings, but women were so central that even if a male priest would perform the rituals of Lai Haraoba, he don himself as a priestess. These traditions transcend till today and a male-dominated society be juxtaposed by female superiority. (See Chpt 14B: Sec 6 below.)

Thus, amidst the encircling ancient polities of Manipur, the then Manipuri womanhood had a different mental horizon, such that in the recorded history there was not a single evidence of womanhood ever fettered by inhibiting social customs, or by the menfolk in whose association females used to live - be it father, husband or sons. So much so, an unlettered female would stand out of her counterparts even in Assam and Burma, for whose kings, Manipuri princesses used to be the preferred brides. And once so wedded these princesses, like Kuranganarayani who rose to the occasion and herself fought for the protection and .prestige of her adopted country, Ahom, in the process putting down the Moamarian rebellion. This was contrary to the Hindu ethos of subordinated and cowardly woman. Hence, this would bear an eloquent testimony of the valour and prowess of Manipuri women, laying down even their lives for the destiny of their husband.

This fact further stands affirmed in as much as no social movement or reform program ever became necessary to improve the lot of womanhood in Manipur. And herein one has to recall the womanhood in neighbouring Assam, where they are graded as the 'neglected class' vis-a-vis their counterpart. In fact throughout the Indian society, women traditionally remained an ignored class for centuries. In the male-dominated society they were deprived of their socioeconomic as well as political liberty. Even in the Bengali society womanhood used to remain underdeveloped vis-a-vis male because of the patriarchal prejudice. Just for the sake of emphasis let it be repeated that 'men represent the stronger, so they are the performer for which women remain dependent on the strength of men.' Worse consequences are in the offing: 'In so far as their self-contentment is concerned they might be careful about uplift of women, otherwise they are the least concerned. This is more applicable in our society than in any other society.' (Bangadarshan: article in Bengali era 1228 by Sambuddha Chakraborty: Andare Antare: Calcutta 1995: p. 32: As quoted by Sagar Boruah: Changing Attitude of Man Towards Women in the 19th Century Assam: Journal of Northeast India Council for Social Science Research: Vol 26 No. 2 Oct. 2002: Shillong).

One can not overlook the current lip-service from male Members of the presentday Indian Parliament regarding the two-decade long pending Women's Reservation Bill, which shows how reluctant the overall national menfolk have been in politically empowering women by reserving one-third seats in State Legislative Assemblies and Parliament, on par with similar reservation allowed in the village, subdivision and district level Panchayet fora. Putting it differently, Manipuri womanhood did not require a Raja Ram Mohan Ray, an Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, a Swami Vivekananda and another Keshab Chandra Sen making their continuous bid to transform the status of women in society in the nineteenth century (One has to ruefully admit that the most Manipuri womenfolk required in their second Nupi Lal was for a leadership in the person of Jana-Neta H. Irabot).

In a very significant moment, royalty then decided - while blending Hindu practice with local conditions to reverse the mainland Indian usage of married womenfolk to seek blessings of their brethrens on the 3rd day in Meitei month of Hiyangei [October/November] - by innovating Ningol-Chak-kouba or brethrens inviting Ningol or married sisters to feast soliciting longevity. Since then, it has been sanctimoniously observed to serve its intended purpose to sustain blood relations on a much higher pedestal of life-long love and amity. Far more importantly, it has contributed a yeoman's service to Manipuri society. For, gender primacy has been formalised through a lasting social custom. Interestingly enough, its currency is now gaining among non-Hindu ethnic groups. Worst still has been the tendency in rest of the country to keep females from exposure to the ever-widening world through education. To quote an Assamese stalwart of the century for women education, Anandram Dhekial Phukan:

"Females are not included within the pale of education, every ray of mental improvement is carefully kept from the sex. As they are always confined to domestic duties, and excluded from the society of the other sex, the people see no necessity for their education. A woman's duties are comprised in pleasing her husband and cherishing her children." (William Robinson: A descriptive Account of Assam: p. 277, 1975: as quoted in Ibid. p. 75)

That again has not been true of this part of the country. Because in Manipur western education came almost hand-in-hand with male education. And even otherwise no divorcee or widow would suffer the trodden lives of their counterpart in the rest of the country. Despite the inherent gender ignorance, the social system of Manipur did not allow the patriarchal elements to deprive the females of their survival (read thriving) instincts.

Such engendering of retail trade in the Manipur valley has been half-mythical as it has transcended from the pre-maritime (B.C. or early A.D. centuries) days. Exclusively meant for females since the days of yore, the marketplace still maintains its tradition. Otherwise because of its strategic location at the centre of the amphitheatre, the Kangla-based central Imphal marketplace has been regularly accessed even by all the tribal villagers (near-exclusively females) from the surrounding hills.


     Powered by: