TODAY -

Meitei Women in Collectives: Gender, Roles and Potentials
- Part 3 -

Ningthoujam Irina Devi *

A Meira Paibi rally :: Meira Paibi : Torch bearers, literally and figuratively speaking :: A November Night 2013
A Meira Paibi rally :: Meira Paibi : Torch bearers, literally and figuratively speaking :: A November Night 2013



An estimated amount of Rs 20 to 25 crores are lost every day in the state due to strikes, blockades and shutdowns called by different groups across the state. The basic requirements of human security in local environment and strategic consideration for further development of human growth have been sidelined due to the nature of conflict in Manipur.

Besides these, the flooding of cheap consumer goods from bigger national economies and international borders with its unequal market competition has degraded the local economy of handicraft and handloom based industries. No public undertaking industries or any big scale private industry and factory exists in Manipur with the only existence of small-scale handloom based industries. There are 5,48,704 (as on 31st March 2006) unemployed youths in the state. The economic survey report 2007-2008 says that the problem of unemployment continues to be a matter of serious concern to the state economy.

Amidst violent socio-political atmosphere, Meitei women have taken refuge in formal or informal organisations based on existent solidarity network. To ease economic hardships, most of the marups mentioned above in their current avatar maintain social and economic security - includes reciprocal gift giving, exchange labour patterns, monetary help, neighbouring assistance in birth, marriage, illness, death, and other personal crisis.

The marup is based on already existing primary relationships like kinship based on neighbourhood residency pattern. Marup organised for larger monetary benefits may cover a period of three to four years and the sustainability of this period are all based on the norms of trust and quantum of membership. Marup helps to form a strong self-help group among the individuals.

When the institution is based on financial aspect, it is similar to the rotating credit association as explained by Putnam in Making Democracy Work to lay the basis for very strong norms of reciprocity and trust and to forge an especially sturdy template for future cooperation. This solidarity behaviour is dictated by the culture, and that means by "inherited ethic habits and reciprocal moral obligations". For this reason, behaviour and choices are not rational because they are a consequence of norms that they have not freely chosen. In fact, community members passively internalise these "cultural capital".

Towards Empowerment and Decision Making

With the rise in female literacy rate from a mere 0.04 in 1901 to 47.60 in 1991, there are many new women's groups who have taken multiplicity of roles in Meitei society. Many of these groups have modern organizational structure and work beyond the confines of leikai or kinship. They are not governed by traditional norms of collectivity but are bounded by the rules of the organization.

However, their cultural values for solidarity and commitments are at the same level with that of the other traditional and informal groups. There are various formal self-help groups across the state. The most noteworthy of all these organizations is the Macha leima founded in 1969. Macha Leima, roughly translated as "precious daughters" have taken many roles in highlighting not only women's issues but also the overall socio-political context under which issues they function.

The organisation has successfully run schools and had also launched micro-credit finance system in the state. In recent times, Macha Leima has taken up the initiative to spread awareness of the benefits of the "Right to information Act, 2005" among the women of Manipur. The law was enacted by the Parliament of India to give the people access to records of Central and State governments in India.

Activities of such groups like the Macha Leima, while banking on the values of solidarity, have infused the rigour of formal structures in order to incorporate modern education and governance concepts. This has helped the organisation grow effectively and also walk the easy rope between tradition and modernity. Here, it is pertinent to note that the concepts and principles behind Macha Leima precede the new global NGOization process.

The effective growth of organisations like the Macha Leima is possible because of its core foundation the community. The significance of community driven development is that it allows the active participation of defined communities in at least some aspect of the project design and implementation. While participation occurs at any level, the importance is the incorporation of local knowledge into the project decision-making process. This gives 'voice', 'control' and 'choice' under certain conditions to the people.

In Manipur too, the existence of community based organisations with a stock of social capital, have gained their 'voice' and are making their choice. Despite a highly politically charged and volatile environment, Manipur still has many community-based women's organizations. The tremendous potentials of the Meitei women have been demonstrated in the ways how they have reacted to given situations arising out of socio-political issues.

Because of their peculiar positions, these potentials have been distinctively displayed at the public realm confining themselves just to the "power to resist" and also to some extent control. The tremendous empowering potentials exist within the bigger unquestioned peritrichal structure. When it comes to political decision making, the women rarely figure in the picture. Having taken cognizance of the existence and the vast potentials that the Meitei women have, there are some issues that needs to be highlighted.

Does the acquisition of a vast social capital by Meitei women necessarily translate into at the least the idea of empowerment? By empowerment here, I am referring to multi-pronged social processes by the women themselves that helps them gain control over their own lives. This process entails not only the acquisition of social capital but also the power for its effective use in a democratic order that balances gender inequality.

The process of acquiring immense capital implies the power or the capacity to decide and implement for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society. For this, the women should have the power to decide and define what is important to them within or beyond the patriarchal social set up they belong to.

The power to preserve solidarity and the power to resist as shown by the women in the history of Manipur have not translated into the power to decide in the body-politics of the Meitei society beginning from the domestic to the public realm. The durability of the informal solidarity based networks may experience ruptures and disjuncture due to the impact of the new global order.

It is here that there is a need to rethink on how do the Meitei women sustain the collective solidarity that binds them without the traditional forms of "socializing" the girl child. Modern education system as a tool for empowerment does not follow the traditional pattern of socialization and therefore has a definitive impact on how young girls grow up into women.

There is a need for a creative fusion between tradition and modernity to make not only the social capital of Meitei women circulate but also have some purchasing power to decide. This fusion can be further enhanced by capturing the potentials of being able to stand collectively on ethical or moral grounds. It may be recalled that within the patriarchal Meitei society, women's collective voice always had a social sanction despite rigid social mores.

And the auto-mechanism that has existed so far has not brought any damage or hindrance to the forms of solidarity as social capital. The solidarity based on informal relationship supported by traditional institutions has always backed the Meitei women. It is time they also take part in formal decision-making process and governance through both a declarative and deliberative policy by the government and the society at large.

Concluded.....


* Ningthoujam Irina Devi wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on October 18, 2016.



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