Code of silence: Concealing gender justice in the present socio-political situation of Manipur

Huidrom Boicha *

This is my response to the recent slandering and moral gate keeping of women and the transgender community by the Civil Society Organizations, non-state actors and internet troll.

The Socio-political movements are able to bring about great impact and changes in society more than just policy and legislation. In Manipur, they have tried to incorporate the diversity of social groups, economic disparity and political rights. Women and members of the transgender community have also been active supporters and participants of these movements; nevertheless, they have been subjugated to worsening socio-economic status, violence and crimes. They are today forgotten in the discourse of these movements.

The recent incidents like banning of Nupi Maanbi (Transwomen) by the armed group and shaming women on social-media for what they wear at the event of Thabal-chongba in Delhi is not a new phenomenon, nobody need reminding that the problem has existed for a long time. The systematic practices, institutional ideas, norms of patriarchy, family and heteronormative society have oppressed them since time immemorial.

Transgender community members are excluded from society, economic activities and have been a victim of discriminations, atrocities, extreme harassment and ostracisation. They are denied access to physical spaces like toilets and public places. The community members are portrayed negatively in many visual and arts platforms as being ill mannered and are subject to mockery.

The contributions that the community members made in arts and cultural activities like Shumang Leela, Manipuri Films, Nupa Amaibi as in Lai Haraoba is not acknowledged by the society. The difficulties and barriers that the community members have to overcome and participate in these activities is an arduous one. The moment they get off from the stages, they become the subjects of mockery and are ridicule by society.

What is the problem in wearing "phanek" or women's clothes by a transwomen? It is a part of their identity. Gender identities can express through many mediums. Gender identity and human sexuality is the most important composition of a person's identity. As a heterosexual society, gender roles are assigned according to the biological sex.

Apart from the biological function (Procreation), gender role has nothing to do with the biological sex. Every individual perform different gender roles in the society. So, who has the moral authority over one's gender role in the society? Nobody! It is one's personal decision and nobody has the authority to interfere, not even the parent.

What is the rationale behind the ban of transwomen wearing women clothes in public places and relaxation of their participation in arts-and cultural activities? Gender Identity is not a commodity that you can keep at one place or detach from it according to somebody's will. Their importance is recognized only at the time Shumang Leela or cultural activities that showcase our proud culture and heritage.

As a result, we are evaluating others identity from our own position. Many women were of the opinion that the transgender community brought disgrace upon women for wearing women's clothes. If this is an issue, did they think that question wearing "trousers" brought disgrace upon men? Such narrow minded do not belong to this century. Another pertaining issue faced by the Transgender community is labeling them with derogatory terms like "Homo", "Thekoi Nakoi", and so on.

Here, I just want to ask one question. Why are you getting offended when somebody call you "Chinki", "Chinese" or "Momos"? Just think about the answer. You are evaluating only from your own position of vulnerability, and feel threatened by imposition of majoritarian cultures or identities – To protect what is important to you, should you turn the tables on minority within the community? This is the case with the tribal people of Manipur. Therefore, Socio-political movements need to be diverse and inclusive to carry people of all colors and shades along with them.

These Socio-political movements fuel the rise of religious fundamentalism, moral policing and xenophobic nationalism. The real victims in this process are women and sexual minorities. As a consequence, a perceived masculinity is imposed on the transgender community. Women's identity is also constructed in this process. The Civil society organizations, student's organizations and non-state actors are endorsing this structural hegemony. Women are only seen to be keepers of the community honour and culture. Their agency and behavior is controlled by society and institutional norms.

Why was there an outrage and protest against when the Indian Army raped Thangjam Manorama? But, there is no such outrage or protest in many rapes that have taken place. Is it because it is inflicted by the men from our own community? In the case of Thangjam Manorama, the perpetrator is the outsider and they are imposing a sense of moral victory, domination and subjugation to the community.

Every society, women are treated as property. So, the domination and violence of women is internalized in our society and it becomes our culture. The men will only react when their property is destroyed or their morality and self-esteemed is affected. Whenever there is a conflict of two entities in the society, the women become the victims.

Talking about the event of Thabal Chongba in Delhi, Why are we sexualizing women's clothes? Why are we ranting out on the social media? How is our culture threatened by somebody's clothes? Why are we imposing a certain dress code on somebody? When a woman has a man friends from the other states, why are you questioning and slut-shamming them? Nobody questions when a man has man/woman friend from the other states.

First of all, nobody knows whether it is an edited photo or not. Women's bodies and clothes are sexualized, objectified and viewed only for male pleasure. These kinds of issues become the part of our usual social behaviors, which is common and justified in countless ways. As a culture, we are silencing their voice, suppressing their right, autonomy and agency. What people think of women is they should be obedient, modest, loyal, submissive and they should be engaged in domesticity and none other else. They should accept that they are inferior to men: sexually, culturally and socially.

Here one may argue that if you bring fundamental rights for everyone in the family, the family will break down. Yes, because it is based on the unequal power relationship where men share most of the power and decision making in the family. The child has to carry father's name and married woman has to take the name of their husband in this institution.

The phrase "Yumnak Shagei Onkhrabi" needs to evaluate or destroys. It is again reinforced by the sexual division of labor. Women are primarily responsible for household activities, responsible for the care of children, husband's parents and other whole range of domestic works. The irony is that the women who conform this system are regarded as "Yumge Ashengba Mou" by the society. Why these things are work consider as women's work? The free labor that the women do is not counted.

In the name of protecting identity, culture and political right, we are suppressing the voice and agency of them. We are taking away their right and putting into a vulnerable position. I am not over thinking here. We only realize when it happens to your own mother and sister. It is already happening, we just don't realize it.

All of us are living in the oblivion and ignorance has overpowered us. Until and unless, somebody is pointing out what is happening in the institution of patriarchy, we are not conscious about it. One of my Professors told me, Indian men imagined consent. Before we share, edit the pictures; shamming women for their clothes on social media, assuming that there is consent because it is on the social media, stop imagining consent.

* Huidrom Boicha wrote this article for The Sangai Express
(Huidrom Boicha is a Graduate Student, School of Public Policy and Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
This article was posted on November 09, 2017.

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