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The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

12. The Naked Truth: Meira Paibi Movement

The last two decades of Meira Paibi movement did see the honing-up of all its effort for an all-out serialized cry for natural justice denied by the special laws operative in the state since the wake of insurgency (1970s). This conundrum would, as it were, compound the disturbances in the collective womanhood mind belonging to the 'Disturbed Area'. Crying for justice would however seem a misnomer as the special laws did allow its denial in view of those 'special' situations in the society, and yet other abnormal law and order situations.The Manipuri women were not, however, tired of fighting the inhuman treatment orchestrated by the State to the entire innocent public.

Besides torture, involuntary disappearances, custodial deaths etc, the society also faced political rape of women by police, military or paramilitary personnel occasionally. The rape of Miss Rose in 1974 and her subsequent suicide rocked the state. She was a Tangkhul girl allegedly raped by an Indian paramilitary officer. But the case was lost in the myriad jungle of special laws. Till today, the shockwaves of the Rose rape incident would linger in the minds of the Manipuri women. As per social norms and values, a woman would guard her chastity most zealously and she would consider modesty as the next most important thing to life. However in some odd times as then prevailing in Manipur both chastity and modesty would prove more precious than life itself.

This was the specific Imoinu-paradigm creating a livid impression in the mind of these woman. Initial fear of rape transforms them into irate and furious womanhood, out to destroy everything on their path (Panthoibi-paradigm). Rape is a deep scar, not a mere bodily assault, caused by a criminal, which cannot be washed away even after the criminal is punished. No amount of legal antidote and redressal would repair the lost chastity and the impaired psychosis of the victim. This fear has not only been since projected in its true perspective but its horrendous effect vividly magnified in the collective mind after the Rose-incident.20 "Retaliatory actions after events of insurgent attacks on security forces give opportunity to the power-wielders to take advantage of combing operations."

"Allegations of rape and molestation on the local girls and women by security personnel during the course of counter-insurgency operations, mainly in the hill districts, were brought up. Most of the cases did not reach its logical end... The fear of social stigma attached to the rape is further aggravated by the general fear of security forces, with the stories of rape and molestation in the hills doing the rounds." 21

One such rape case, which is unique in itself, is that of Mrs. Ahanjaobi of Takyel Khongban, Imphal. In 1996, she was raped by two Indian army personnel in front of her disabled 12 year old son. Overcome by a sense of humiliation, grief and desperation, she came out in public. There is no knowing as to how many such horrors Manipuri women had already withstood silently. But one such Ahanjaobi fighting shy of the grievous injury was not a stray incident but the tip of an iceberg. Convincingly impressed, the general public took up the issue. The public outcry and the intensity of agitation eventually forced the authorities and the Indian army to initiate Court Martial proceedings against the two personnel. They were found guilty and punished for the crime in 1997.

Twelve years thereafter only in 2008, a compensation of Rs 2 lakh was awarded to Elangbam-ongbi Ahanjaobi:

" [A]fter completion of the procedures of army court martial conducted at the Kangla against the two havildars of the 2nd Mahar Regiment identified as Apparao Mariba Waghmare and Vithal Domaji Kalane during June 2005, both are already serving 10 year prison terms for the rape of Ahanjaobi in front of her physically handicapped son at her home during an army combing operation in the Takyel area. Subsequently, following the failure of the concerned army authorities and the Central government to deliver justice in terms of compensation, the victim herself filed a case in the Gauhati High Court. The counsel for the petitioner had submitted that though the culprits were in judicial custody, the victim had been left with the trauma of being a rape victim, and all normal life and dignity of being a woman and mother had been destroyed by the incident. As a result she had been living an awful life in the society, the counsel said before the court demanding that the victim be compensated for deprivation of her bodily integrity and invasion of sexual freedom, mental anguish suffered and the expenditure incurred or likely to be incurred on rehabilitation including expenses incurred or likely to be incurred in medical treatment. The Gauhati High Court today observed that defiling the chastity of a woman by personnel of the Indian army amounts to violation of the basic fundamental rights and as such the Union of India is liable to pay compensation to the victim. Accordingly, the court directed the Union of India represented by the defence secretary to the government of India, the GOC 57 Mt. Div., the brigade commander, HQ 44 Mt. Brigade and commanding officer, 2nd Mahar Regiment to pay a sum of Rs lakh to victim as compensation within four months from today. It may be recalled that the state remained in turmoil on the issue of Ahanjaobi rape during 1996 and middle part of 1997 as many civil bodies in the state agitated jointly. Normalcy, however, returned in the state after the sincere conduct of army court martial in connection with the rape case during June, 1997. " 22

So much the luckier that due justice could be reined in any conflict situation where truth, gender freedom, human rights etc have been casualties: whether East or West. At the first sign of conflict (loss of intense self-scrutiny, and of adamantine moral and physical courage, bordering on unsettling disregard for smaller and softer things in life), woman falls the easiest prey. Only a fluke, on hindsight, saved Ahanjaobi from the worst-case possible scenario. For, even in the height of the Stalin era, the lot of women was "no better", as famously rattled on his typewriter by rebel author, and. at that, a visionary, Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

"The little daughter's on the mattress,
Dead. How many have been on it?
A platoon, a company perhaps?
A girl's been turned into a woman,
A woman turned into a corpse."
[Prussian Nights]

Cases of rape and molestation were reported even after the Ahanjaobi case. But all the latter cases were not given special treatment a la Ahanjaobi. So the general fear of 'political rape' would still linger in the collective mind of Manipuri womanhood. The only conclusion delineated by the then distraught society specially by the Meira Paibi was that the society could not touch the so-called 'culprit', the Security Forces, because they were protected by the State under the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958. Public frustration became mounted on 'fake encounters' and massacres: e.g. incidents of Heirangoi-thong on 14 March 1984, in which several persons were killed in indiscriminate firing by paramilitary personnel. This was followed by Operation Bluebird at Oinam, Senapati District on 10th July, 1987; Tera Bazar Massacre on 25th March, 1993; the Regional Medical College Massacre on 7 January 1995; the Tonsem Lamkhai Killing on 4 October 1998; the Malom Massacre on 2 November 2000; not to count yet other involuntary disappearances and more inhuman treatment. Such serialized excesses were compounded with the 'political rape' and murder of Miss Thangjam Manorama.

In this case, (a) some personnel of the 17th Assam Rifles arrested her on 10 July 2004 from her home and issued quite fortuitously an arrest memo; the memo was given to the family of the accused (in many earlier cases, they did not issue such memo); (b) she was found dead the next day near Yaipharok Maring Village; (c) she had bullet-marks and knife-marks at her abdomen and upper thigh; and (d) she was the first girl who died (killed) in custody. There were reports of semen-stained petticoat of her also found. Though the law courts could not reach any conclusion so far, the society was already quite certain that she was raped and murdered by the personnel.

This time the people's response to the military atrocities took a dramatic turn. Twelve Meitei women bared their bodies and stood boldly stark naked in front of the western gate of Kangla (ancient seat of power) which was then occupied by the 17th Assam Rifles. Their naked flesh and defiance were in full glare of the military personnel occupying the historic fort. The banners they carried very elegantly read: "Indian Army! Rape us,", "Indian Army! Take our flesh." That was on 15 July 2004 in broad daylight with all the audiovisual media glare in attendance and some protective Police cordon in place with many on-lookers. It shook the very foundations of the undeclared 'military rule' of Indian democracy. Since then the agitation became directed not only to the Manorama case but more importantly towards repeal of the 'most unpopular' Act of 1958. The cultural shock and its message became a source of new political motivation to the upcoming youth. The entire state was spontaneously burning for more than six months.

The twelve Manipuri women virtually disrobed the national justice system which had so long denied justice to the people of the state. Injustice was done all through the last half-a-century to all the ethnic groups, genders, classes and regions of the State. Human beings were treated just like chattels by the State Forces. Yet the nation would protect them under the said Act of 1958. Those naked women, with whatever courage at their command, evidently challenged not the real Security Forces of the nation then stationed in the Kangla but the entire nationhood, perceivedly, overlooking the on-going rape of the Manipuri womanhood. Those twelve women stood erect and advanced not asking for mercy or forcing any 'rogue' demand on the 'rogue' Security Forces, but challenging the entire nation, for adopting discriminatory treatment among some citizens and for not taking such positive actions as would render 'affirmative' justice to this neglected and the remotest corner of the nationhood. Their voice was heard, loud and clear. For, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself came along soon thereafter i.e. on 20 November to oversee the 'handing over' of Kangla itself to the State by the Director-General, Assam Rifles in front of a record Manipuri womenfolk turnout.


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