The Manipuri Women Known More For Their Comradeship

S. Kunjabihari Singh *

The meira Paibis
The meira Paibis

The tiny state of Manipur on the easternmost corner of India is known for its freshening features of its mother nature and mesmerizing effects of its art and culture embedded in its rich traditional uniqueness. The late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his maiden visit to the state in early fifties was so awe-struck with its picturesque setting that he bestowed upon Manipur the prestigious title, 'A Jewel of India'. Today, the serene beauty of motherland is a thing of the past, only faint memory persists.

It has however, a name to reckon in the country, be it its unique dance format, one of the four in the country or its being the origin of 'Polo', or its women-power being the power-house of cultural, economic or social movement, the creator of the infamous, 'Nupi-Lal'. These days, however, the state is more known for its 'Bandh' culture and more recently as the 'power house of sports'.

These so-called fair-sexes in effect are a formidable component of the Manipuri society in that they over and above running the home, are a force to reckon. They have dominated the country in many sports events particularly football for several years in a stretch, beating football crazy states like West Bengal, Goa or Kerala. The national women football captain Bembem is a Manipuri. So also Mary Kom or Sarita don't need much of an introduction.

They too have a name more for capable of organizing kind of a social movement, 'Nisha Bandies' (Anti-drug, Anti-alcohol), or 'Meira Paibies', (holding of a bamboo- torch filled with kerosene), group exclusively of women to stop man-folk and the youngsters from taking to drug and drinks. They group themselves to save families from the torture by the husbands resulting to ultimate breakdown of the families.

The functioning itself is typical of the Manipuri ladies. After the day's chores, the dinner and completing other related household responsibilities, when they are in effect, are supposed to have respite for the day, take solace to rest, one more inescapable social responsibility normally lies in waiting.

One and all able- bodied women come out in groups on the roads, ring the electric posts around sounding a wakeup call to come out to be part of the Nisha (alcoholic) Bandh force. They in their fifties in each locality stayed awaked till around short of midnight, waiting for any men or boy returning intoxicated for confrontation and teach a lesson not to forget that easy. The effect to the society is definitely tremendous.

These so called weaker sections of the society are sole bread earner in many of the families. They run three market complexes, exclusively for women in the very heart of the city. Two are exclusively markets for clothing, the products of thousands of weavers in the valley and the hills, clothing for ceremonial purposes, religious functions like marriages, pujas, deity festival ( Lai Haraoba) and the like. Any item you mention you get in the two.

The other, third, again manned by women folk deals in vegetables, fish and sundry items roaring from the predawn hours to till late in the evening. Nowhere in the world, such women in their thousands, run markets except in Manipur. And these women are the sole economic hub of their families across the state.

The most memorable episode in the history of uprising of women as a force formidable enough to attract universal recognition can be traced in the 'Nupi-Lal', ('Lal' actually means War), a group of women volunteers organizing spontaneously a fighting force to confront the British soldiers, the Assam Rifles in 1939. For days and months Manipur's tasteful indigenous rice was exported outside the state by the mill owners all from outside the state under the patronage of the British Rulers.

The natives who were then self-sufficient in rice became apprehensive of shortage of the only staple food and heading towards a famine; organized smaller groups in localities finally to conglomerate as force formidable enough to come to the streets, block the transport of rice, engaged in hand to hand fight in a manner never seen before.

There were casualties for sure in their hundreds but this unique incident known the world over as 'Nupi Lal' succeeded in stopping further export of rice. A Memorial known as 'NupiLal Memorial Complex' to immortalize the memory, the valor and the cause of this uprising is erected at the site of the main confrontation adjacent to the Civil Secretariat, opposite the CM's Official Bungalow.

Deservingly, this day the complex has turned out to be not only a memorial of the women of Manipur's great uprising but also a great tourist attraction. What is remarkable is the spontaneity of the torch rallies or sit-in-protest by women to form a force not to be easily scraped. Recall, in the aftermath of the alleged rape and murder of Manorama a group of 10 or so women in their forties and fifties parading in front of the then Assam Rifles' main Gate, semi-naked and shouting at the sepoys to come and rape them.

This was one of the most vociferous protest in its obscenest format; the manner of demonstration conceptualized by themselves. The objective and effect was achieved spontaneously in that this episode could connect a chord with the authorities responsible for the killing of Manorama. The comradeship is uniquely phenomenal.

The women of Manipur are known for their deft fingers solely contributing to the weaving and embroidering of intrinsic designs in making clothing for all occasions. The loin loom and normal looms are the only facilities they adopt. Their products and designs are now clandestinely copied by the mill owners in other parts of India threatening the very existence of the products.

Yet they still occupy an important part in the traditional weaving and handicraft products. It remains unique, the weaving sector happens to be the exclusive preserve of the woman-folk unlike other states. Of course, they have not adopted semi-mechanized looms the 'Jalla' or 'Jacard' (sorry not sure about the spelling), which are strenuous and have necessarily to be handled by man-folk.

A full length 'sari' can be completed in a day with these machineries. According to state government estimates, around 2,00,000 weavers use over 1,80,000 looms all non-mechanized. The state occupies third position in the country in respect of production; women weavers contribute 65% to state's economy. This is indeed something great for the women of the state. The GOM is contemplating to encourage males to take to weaving sensing the productivity once men join the profession.

The 'Pashmina' of Kashmir has its own distinctive quality apart from the intricate designs and has its own name the world over. The women of Manipur are not far behind. The legendry princess of Moirang, a small town 40 km from Imphal, called 'Thoibi' had her own distinctive finery never equaled by any other product.

This day the name 'Moirang Fee' is a household name enviously copied by bigger industry houses. It's so fine that the saying goes, " Paira Khudap, Hulla Pheidom", meaning, you can hold the cloth under your palm and yet, if you throw- spread, well it would cover an entire plot of vegetable, depicting the finery of her product, the 'Chhadar'. It can well compete with the story of 'Pasmina' claimed to be possible to be pulled through a normal sized ring.

These days however, the women have under desperate circumstances have to come out in the area of construction by working as unskilled helpers, a tedious and utterly strenuous vocation formerly a domain of men only. This vocation is not exclusive of Manipur only. In other states too the practice is there. In Kerala, women mason groups function with the necessary training and expertise. The contribution of the construction sector to the state's GDP has increased largely from these workers.

So far so good, courageous and independent; a respectful salute to them.

* S. Kunjabihari Singh wrote this article for
The article was originally written on 01-03-16 and the writer can be reached at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on March 09, 2016.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Japan Lan- 2nd World War for Manipur #1
  • Manipuri in Kolkata Sports Meet: Gallery
  • Sangai Fest: Assam : Gallery
  • List of Public Holidays for 2019
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Preparing children for sample collection
  • Your beauty still doesn't fade :: Poem
  • Governor's void ordinance: A legal opinion
  • Tattooed With Taboos #2 : Review
  • List of General Holidays for 2019
  • Sangai Fest: Paragliding : Gallery
  • Basanta-Bobby's Raas Leela at Guwahati
  • Competitiveness of Manipur #2
  • Terrorism & Technology - III
  • Certificate distribution at West Sikkim
  • The challenges
  • From History to RBI Governor
  • Can achieve integration only if united
  • Apangba Manao :: Funga Wari
  • Sangai : Evening @BOAT #4 : Gallery
  • Nupi Lan : Women Agitation, 1939-40 #3
  • Aquatic edible insects of Loktak
  • Pet dogs on a killing spree
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Life is a beauty :: Poem
  • Certificate distribution at East Sikkim
  • Of good governance
  • Let's celebrate womanhood too
  • Mary Kom - Meethoileima : Gallery
  • Cultivation of low Chilling Apple Variety
  • Sangai Fest: Nagaland : Gallery
  • Human Rights Day & Draconian law
  • Oh! Joy of being veteran
  • War and Peace :: Poem
  • Bali Jatra- Odisha's maritime heritage
  • Understanding nature's gift
  • SC stand on victims of rape
  • Nupi Lal Ningsing Lamjel #1: Gallery
  • Chingningthou, Chaonu :: eMing
  • Chengni Khujai: Insurgency Chronicle #2
  • Taboo of Casteism in Manipur
  • Cry of a Dying River - 57 :: Poem
  • Understanding CMA as career
  • Smallest Child's Heart operated at SKY
  • Channeling the drive
  • Big anti-incumbency factor: Lok Sabha poll
  • Lamklai Kummoi Maring Fest #3: Gallery
  • Nupi Lan : Women Agitation, 1939-40 #2
  • Sangai Day 1: Inauguration #4 : Gallery
  • Tibetan Refugees in India :: Review
  • Nongpok Thong Hangba ...opportunities
  • Significance of Panti Neimei
  • Memoirs of love :: Poem
  • Developers required for Jobsenz @ NIELIT
  • On assembly election victory of Congress
  • The day after tomorrow
  • Kudos to rights defenders
  • Sangai Fest: Maibi Jagoi : Gallery
  • NEROCA FC Vs Indian Arrows : Gallery
  • Nupi Lan : Women Agitation, 1939-40 #1
  • Promoting Human Rights: A Perspective
  • Khongji :: Poem
  • Surveying tigers: A big challenge in Manipur
  • Terrorism & Technology - II
  • Silencing significance of Human Right Day
  • Trun up to Parliamentary polls: Issues
  • Deteriorating Tumukhong Village road
  • Sangai Fest: Chareng Len : Gallery
  • International Mountain Day, 2018
  • Loudness not ok please
  • A wounded Pine Tree :: Poem
  • Natural remedies for hair growth
  • BEHS office inaugurated at Motbung
  • Tattooed With Taboos :: Review
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Stone Forest @Yunnan, China : Gallery
  • Eerie, Eerier, Eeriest :: Review
  • Sangai Fest: Muay Thai : Gallery
  • ..that made me fall in love with Naga
  • Research Support Officer wanted
  • Condemns arrest of Journalist Wangkhem
  • Programs at Public Health Foundation
  • Fixing the broken window
  • Head count of dogs !!
  • Pari Imom (Film) #2 :: eRang
  • Matheous Thingbaijam Cycling NE: Gallery
  • Gwangju Prize for Human Rights 2019
  • Tests for allergies
  • Cycling across NE: Matheous Thingbaijam
  • Site Officer/ Manager @R-Square Design
  • Armed Forces Flag Day celebrated
  • A lasting legacy
  • 'Stray dogs' as predators
  • Sangai Day 3: Pung Chollom #2: Gallery
  • Thai Princess @Imphal Airport: Gallery
  • Fashion Show @Sangai Fest #1: Gallery
  • Mysterious Animal Attack of Manipur
  • Khelen Thokchom Media Fellowships
  • Career option in Purchase Management
  • Terrorism & Technology - I
  • Intimidation to media person
  • Ban on hunting migratory birds
  • Manipuri Diaspora in Myanmar #3
  • Sangai Day 3: Pena: Gallery
  • I am a beautiful HIV Virus :: Poem
  • Teacher & Student: Stop eroding education
  • Diaspora unites at Thadou Nampi, USA
  • Deciding Mary's title :: WJ
  • A good man perspective
  • Now people need to extend co-operation
  • Day 3: Kabi Burnan : Gallery
  • Art meets Fashion : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 5: @ BOAT #3: Gallery
  • NAF announces Annual Scholarship
  • Preventing methods to save livestock
  • How Do You Do ? :: Poem
  • Competitiveness of Manipur
  • Shattered dream - "The Smart city"
  • Arrest, release & re-arrest of young man
  • Ningol Chakouba @ MBC #3 : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 3: Thang Ta #3: Gallery
  • Stalls at Hapta Kangjeibung #1: Gallery
  • How do you see 'disability' today ?
  • I don't exist without polo: Rafael Secco
  • The Road :: Poem
  • Students needed for cultural revolution?
  • Hard stand, hard decision
  • Cong rolling up sleeves ahead of LS polls
  • Day 8 : Arambai Langba : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Evening Program #3: Gallery
  • The Midnight Hunter : Analysis
  • Art exhibition "Art meets Fashion"
  • The Haipi Lho-lhun Kut
  • Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Meitei Nation #3
  • Sangai Day 9: Thadou Dance: Gallery
  • Sangai Chef: Cooking Final : Gallery
  • Han Kang's The White Book
  • Sangai Day 4: Yubi Lakpi : Gallery
  • Sangai Chef: Season 1 Cooking Final
  • Disaster Management Course at NEHU
  • Training on Online Fact Checking
  • Clarify : Impact of Act East Policy
  • On the series of Killing of Livestock..
  • Today is World AIDS Day
  • From entrails to body now
  • NESO : abolish Citizenship Bill
  • NEC building cultural centre at Delhi
  • 12th Manipur Polo Intl #1 : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 9: Kabui Dance : Gallery
  • Day 5: Stalls @Keibul Lamjao: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Holi Pala #1: Gallery
  • Importance of TESOL in Government School
  • Farewell to Lt Gen LN Singh, VSM**
  • Waphong Inthan - A failed village
  • On the arrest of Kishorchand
  • Blank Editorial
  • Predator or predators on the prowl
  • Thai Princess visit Kangla #1: Gallery
  • December Calendar for Year 2018 :: Tools
  • Sangai Day 8: Mukna Kangjei #1: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Evening Program #2: Gallery
  • Polo grows on you: Col Tarsem
  • Rediscovery of Gangmumei Kamei: Review
  • For whom does she cry ? :: Poem
  • DG Assam Rifles visits Manipur
  • Detention of TV journalist not fair
  • Arrest of 8 mountaineers from Manipur
  • Sangai Day 4: Lai Haraoba #1: Gallery
  • Bangladesh Manipuri Students : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 3: Pung Chollom #1: Gallery
  • We have a balanced team: George Shelton
  • Cry of a Dying River - 56 :: Poem
  • Sangai with Sumo & Samba ?
  • Morphing : An innocent loses her life
  • Bangladesh Manipuri students at Sylhet
  • Thai princess visits Kangla Fort
  • Olympics gold my dream : Mary Kom
  • Exploring the beaten path
  • Opening up Manipur: Visa office assurance
  • Thai Princess Sirindhorn @Sangai : Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2018 #5: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 6: Pherzawl Dance : Gallery
  • Manipuri Maichou 7 :: Book Review
  • Chandon :: Poem
  • Conservation of biodiversity
  • Defers proposed indefinite highway bandh
  • 19th Hornbill Festival at Kisama
  • Sangai stops dancing
  • Mary Kom: Epitome of sporting excellence
  • Sangai Day 5: Evening Prog #1 : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 5: Thailand Dance : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Imphal Art Camp : Gallery
  • Edward Armstrong - USA Polo Team
  • An abrupt journey to an oasis of blue bull
  • Winter Blues :: Poem
  • Technical Internship Training for Japan
  • NPF on Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister
  • A ditch to Technology
  • Border row: India Myanmar, sacrificial lamb
  • Sangai Day 4: Pena Esei :Gallery
  • Day 5: Sangai Chef: Season 1 : Gallery
  • Sangai Day 2: Evening Program #1: Gallery
  • Sangai Festival 2018: Turning into a Mela?
  • Sumo Wrestling: popular event in Sangai
  • Sangai Chef: Season 1: Cooking : Day 5
  • Truths in rumours & humours
  • PANE Conference organized at AUDC
  • Sangai Day 2: Dance from Kamjong: Gallery
  • Sangai Day 3: Thang Ta #1: Gallery
  • Can we have the Sangai festival daily?
  • Sangai Day 2: Sumo Wrestling #1: Gallery
  • Mera Kongchat Mass Rally #4: Gallery
  • Sangai Chef: Season 1 : Day 1
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Mera Wayungba #2 : Gallery
  • Ningol Chakouba @Pune : Gallery
  • ChingTam Ningol Chakouba @Goa: Gallery
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Mysore #2 : Gallery
  • Laija (Film Scenes) #1 :: eRang
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Dubai #2 : Gallery
  • Rajkumar Jhaljit : Sahityaratna 2017
  • Ningol - mapam lamdam : Gallery
  • Mera Houchongba @Konung #3: Gallery
  • Fabrics of Bangladeshi Manipuri: Download
  • Eepan Thaba #1: Gallery
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2018 : Download
  • mtM :: Seireng
  • Front Page Photo 2018 #4: Gallery
  • Manglandasu Nang - OST :: e-pao Radio
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic