Poetics Of Violence In The Poetry Of Manipuri Women Authors
Of Male Aggression And Suppressed Voices
- Part 1 -

Linthoingambi Thangjam *

The northeast region of India is now comprised of eight states namely Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Sikkim. All these states except Sikkim had hitherto been independent until their annexation into British India in the 19th Century. Sikkim became a part of the Indian Union in May, 1975. The total population of all the eight northeast states is 3.1 percent of the total population of India, as per the 2011 Census.

According to the 2011 Census, the population of Manipur is approximately 2.8 million. Three dominant tribes inhabit in the state of Manipur namely the Nagas, the Kukis, and the Meiteis. The Meiteis are the dominant community having their own language and script. However, the archaic script, 'Meitei Mayek' in local parlance, came to be replaced by the Bengali script, during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748AD).

The 'Puya Meithaba' or the burning of ancient Manipuri scriptures in 1729 during the time of King Pamheiba is of great significance in the history of Manipur and its literature because the reading and writing in the local script was obliterated.

Manipur was a princely state till its invasion by the British at the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891, and the kingdom got its independence in 1947. It had merged into India during the reign of King Bodhchandra Singh (1905-1955), after signing the Merger Agreement of 12th September 1949 in Shillong. In the later centuries, a unique syncretisation between Hindu culture and the traditional culture and customs ensued. Adoption of Hinduism (Vaishnavism to be precise) and Hindu ways separated the valley from the hills.

Lines drawn on religion, ethnicity, and culture put Manipur in a trajectory of dangerous competitive ethno-nationalisms. No wonder that the state still faces the challenges of insurgency, ethnic rivalries, political unrest, corruption, and human rights violations. Manipur which is a part of the northeast region is one of the most violence affected states due to multiple reasons.

Political unrest in the state includes frequent bandhs, general strikes,total shutdowns, boycotting general elections, national holidays and celebrations, economic blockades on the two national highways which are the only life-lines for the land locked state, etc. Such acts of disruption by various groups and organizations throw the state out of gear affecting peace and prosperity in the state.

Human rights violations in the state include extrajudicial killings, fake encounters, sexual harassment, etc. The unrest in Manipur is summed up by Bethany Lacina, in her article 'The Problem of Political Stability in Northeast India: Local Ethnic Autocracy and the Rule of Law', as, 'The rules of engagement for the security forces and their alleged assaults on the local population have become a major point of political contention in Manipur' [Bethany, November/December 2009: 998-1020].

The socio-political unrest in the state has created extraordinary circumstances for the women in Manipur. They constantly face suppression in many forms not only from the male members of their families, but also from the state machinery. This situation is reaffirmed by Salam Irene [2014: 4] in her book, Women of Manipur: An Alternative Perspective, as, 'While the subjugation is rooted in patriarchy it is sanctified by custom and reinforced by the state'.

In a patriarchal society of an insurgency afflicted state like Manipur, where the voices of the women are suppressed due to fear of male aggression, and threat from insurgent groups, it becomes important to be able to delve into the minds of the Manipuri women writers to uncover the suppressed voices. Salam Irene's observation that the many women victims of violence in Manipur 'prefer to remain silent for fear of repercussion in the form of social ostracism, or from shame, and a plethora of complex emotions and feelings' [Ibid., 3], holds true.

It is assumed that women in traditional societies in the northeast enjoy greater freedom compared to other societies in India. But, if we look into these societies as autoethnographers, this notion is a misconception not only from the politico-historical perspective, but also from anthropological and cultural viewpoints.

In the essay, 'The Manipuri Women and Changing World', in the book 'North East India: Selected Regional Issues' edited by Amar Yumnam, Vijaylakshmi Brara and Seromena Asem find that in most cultural and religious traditions, women play an indispensable role not only as transmitters but also 'as creators and custodians of culture', and 'this relationship between gender and culture is used as a basis for justifying violations of women's human rights' [Yumnam, ed., 2011: 127-128].

In a traditional Manipuri family, both men and women have equal responsibilities as they are required on the paddy fields in activities such as tilling, sowing, and harvesting. Both men and women have equal responsibilities in rites and rituals performed round the year. While the male shaman (high priest) called 'Maiba' functions as a healer or medicine-man, his female counterpart called 'Maibi' (high priestess) has very significant role to play right from childbirth to fortune telling.

However, women are cast aside in the matters of the state in the enterprise of reading and writing. Reading and writing, which was solely a royal court's affair, and handled by the 'Maiba Loishang' (The House of Scholars), was a forbidden place for women.

The status of women further took a back-seat after Hinduism was adopted as the state religion. Many freedoms enjoyed by women in pre-Hinduism period were soon to change after the advent of this religion. In the 18th Century, Vaishnavism got firmly rooted in a Manipuri's religious and cultural life. This meant that Manipuris were introduced to new cultural and societal norms which were alien to them.

New norms of cooking, feeding, visiting a temple, dress codes, etc. were introduced to Manipuri women. The segregation and widening disparity between the genders could be seen right from the 18th Century in which Indic value systems such as eating after the husband has eaten, or, equating a husband with a god or, the concept of a chaste wife and sati were popularised and promulgated.

Talking about gender disparity, Brara and Asem opine that, 'Violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women, which led to domination over and discrimination against women by men.' [Ibid.]

Girls' education in Manipur came to be accepted by society and encouraged only roughly around the first half of the 20th Century. Tamphasana School, established in 1935, is considered the first all girls high school which introduced Western education to girl students.

Amongst the first women to pass the Matriculation examination in 1939 were Sarojini, Satyabati, Radhe, Tamubi, M. K. Binodini, Thoibi Devi, etc. Feminine consciousness developed with growing awareness brought by Western education, and the educated women started writing about their plight in a patriarchal society. Despite the kinds of responsibilities placed on women in the Manipuri household, and the moral conventions which a woman is expected abide by, women have come out of that secluded corner and made commendable contributions to the world of Manipuri Literature.

Manipuri literary space before independence in 1947 had been largely male-dominated. The involvement and recognition of women writers in Manipuri Literature began mostly after the end of the Second World War (1939-45). The dearth in the number of women writers before the war, or even meagre percentage after is explained by the prevalent conventional rules and restrictions placed by Manipuri society on women, and Western education being strictly discouraged by 'amang-asheng'1 practices.

The works of the three most important women figures, considered to be the pioneers, in Manipuri Literature called the 'yotshabi makhong ahum' (the three legs of a tripod) namely Takhellambam Thoibi Devi, Khaidem Pramodini Devi and M.K. Binodini Devi, are all dated after the war. Dr. S. Shantibala Devi and Dr. W. Kumari Chanu [2015: 19] in their book, 'Woman Activism in Contemporary Manipuri Literature', observed that: Literature in Manipur during the 1960s tends to depict idealistic and romantic aspects of woman's lives which gradually evolved to express in the following decades tensions underlying societal norms in matrimonial alliances and individual choices.

Though there is a scanty literary product following the Great War, women authors quickly tried to contextualize their issues and problems. Shantibala and Kumari further add that the main themes of the new woman writers were, 'the fear and anxieties of the times, corruption in economic and political lives, the widening gap in relationships and the unrelenting dilemma of the poor' [Ibid.]. Most of the Manipuri women writers were influenced by their personal experiences, and from the witness of day to day happenings.

To be continued....

* Linthoingambi Thangjam wrote this paper which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on January 12, 2019.

* 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.

  • Purnima Ngangom (Printmaker) :: Profile
  • CAB Protest [11 Jan] #3 : Gallery
  • Poetry Of Manipuri Women Authors #2
  • CAB & scoring 21 out of 25 ?
  • Complications :: Poem
  • North East Business Summit at Delhi
  • Almond oil is the ultimate skin care
  • The Bill that haunt the government
  • Over 50 police personnel chargesheeted
  • Insurgency related incidents in NE states
  • Myanmar border fence going nowhere
  • Protest against CAB [Jan 15] #1: Gallery
  • CChongkhong, Apanthou :: eMing
  • Crop diseases & organic way of managing
  • War and Poetry :: Poem
  • Landeng-Pena yakaiduna Poster Campaign
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Condemns communal nature of CAB 2016
  • PCC, Arunachal Pradesh on CAB, 2016
  • CAB and other issues before LS polls
  • Sit-In against CAB [Jan 14] : Gallery
  • CAB : Our Identity & Culture is at stake
  • Re-Imagining the Naga Peace Process
  • Demand for ILP :: Articles/Photos...
  • Northeast Startup Summit 2019
  • Ponder them to live like human beings
  • No Shield for Manipur against CAB
  • Missing link: NE, CAB & obscure assurance
  • JCILPS Protest against CAB : Gallery
  • AMUCO Rally against CAB : Gallery
  • Poetic Justice - II :: Poem
  • Makar Sankranti Musing
  • Biren should release Kishorchandra
  • New archaeological site in Senapati
  • A Christian perspective on solidarity #1
  • New craft gallery to promote NE products
  • Rights body warns Nagas on Article 371 (A)
  • NE Black Day against CAB : Gallery
  • CAB Protest [11 Jan] #2 : Gallery
  • Narendra Modi @ Imphal #2: Gallery
  • Myanmar-India Business Summit, Sagaing
  • Cry of a Dying River - 61 :: Poem
  • Preventing the Dengue threat
  • NPF on Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016
  • Nagaland Chief Minister On CAB 2016
  • Hijacking by pseudoscience
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Mr. CM, you can't fool people on CAB
  • CAB 2016: Adoption of foreign citizens
  • CAB Protest [11 Jan] #1 : Gallery
  • CAB & question of India's North East
  • Poetry Of Manipuri Women Authors #1
  • Local actions for #GlobalGoals
  • Know your HIV status
  • Pope Francis - the last Pope!
  • CAB is unsecular discriminatory bill
  • When Govt. disregard Constitutions...
  • Citizenship Bill: An exceptional exception
  • The Walking Lady : A Short Story
  • 4th Convocation Ceremony of CAU
  • The Voice of Silence :: Poem
  • Against CAB 2016 : 6 Student Bodies
  • Need for a separate time zone
  • BOOM MMA : 'Manipur Top Team' members
  • Against Citizenship Bill Act 2016
  • Lt Gen Rajeev Sirohi at Spear Corps
  • Is the middle man responsible
  • Economically weak at Rs 8 lakh per annum ?
  • Umanglai Haraoba: Traditional Institution
  • Strike against CAB : Gallery
  • People - animal conflict
  • Fine on relieving in public
  • Flawed/divisive Citizenship Bill dangerous
  • Broken :: Poem
  • Meetei gi mayokta leiba Political party..
  • NE uniting under shutdown call : CAB
  • Trains in NE to get 'glass-top' coaches
  • Yubi Lakpi #2 : Gallery
  • Freedom's fault lines
  • Traditional Manipuri Curries
  • Governance in Multi-Ethnic States
  • Understanding animal welfare
  • Unite against corruption for development
  • Manipurgi Maraibk Kari Oihougani
  • On restoring of director of CBI
  • Citizenship Bill : scourge for NE
  • Feel good factor from UNC
  • New Year picnic at Sekmai #2: Gallery
  • A tale of two falcons
  • Artificial Insemination in livestock
  • The Naked Truth :: Poem
  • My itinerary visit to Veeranapalya
  • Test for Free Coaching for IIT/AIIMS
  • Critique of Transgender Persons Bill
  • Press Rejoinder from NPF [7 Jan]
  • Nagaland Cabinet on Citizenship Bill
  • Can we expect something from govt
  • Mova Cave, Ukhrul #2 :: Gallery
  • Sangai Fest: Sumo Wrestling #2 :: Gallery
  • Maipaksana RK: Entrepreneurship Award
  • Poetic Justice - I
  • IIT-G Technology Incubation Centre
  • Sana Chahi Ahum & 1857 revolt #2
  • Economics of climate change & growth
  • Singhat Students tour to Delhi & Agra
  • Congress against Modi on Rafale Deal
  • Press Club celebrates foundation day
  • NSF to impose 11-hr bandh on Jan 8
  • 518 drug traffickers arrested in 2018
  • Gangmumei Kamei Memorial lecture
  • Taking the Street Vendor seriously #1
  • WWII museums in Japan: Gallery
  • Schedule : HSLC Examination 2019
  • Schedule : Class XI Examination 2019
  • Schedule : HSE Examination 2019
  • Caste System in Contemporary India: Book
  • Save energy and save your skin
  • Benefits of henna for beauty
  • Coronary In-stent obstruction treated
  • A take on PM visit to Imphal
  • No over the top promises, assurances
  • Narendra Modi @ Imphal #1: Gallery
  • Management of commercial broiler farming
  • 61st CC Meet Football Tournament 2019
  • Noise Ruins & Blights Lives
  • Social media & freedom of speech
  • Cry of a Dying River - 60 :: Poem
  • Declare war against air pollution
  • Winter relief at Thanga
  • Of monologues and conveniences
  • Raising posers before PM's arrival: Cong
  • Irengbam Bedamani :: eRang Photos
  • Poireiton Chakhao at Loktak Lake
  • Hojang :: Poem
  • New Year: Challenges & opportunities
  • One Rank One Pension Paper (OROP)
  • Fasting before diagnostic tests
  • Open Mic. event at Agartala
  • Happy New Year '2019' :: NPF
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Respecting life & the trust deficit
  • Need to look beyond New Year-2019
  • New Year picnic at Sekmai #1: Gallery
  • May the Year 2019 bring integrity of Manipur
  • Sangai Fest: Evening Prog #2: Gallery
  • What I learned from Kishorchandra detention
  • Charlie, the angel :: Story
  • Against NSA to Kishorchandra Wangkhem
  • Quality New Year
  • Reminder to PM on Pravish Chanam death
  • What is there to be happy on New Year
  • Nupi Lal Ningsing Lamjel #4: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Village Authority in Hill Areas of Manipur #2
  • Sana Chahi Ahum & 1857 revolt #1
  • Local leaders commit to #endTobacco
  • Transformation of China in last 40 years
  • Boys Hostel for Pangal Students
  • From the diary of an insomniac - II
  • From nomenclature conflict of oral tradition
  • Gearing up for Parliamentary polls
  • Dimapur Meetei Council donates
  • Bye Bye 2018 !!! : Gallery
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2019 : Download
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2018 #6: Gallery
  • Unforgettable Revolutionary NK Sanajaoba
  • Life's pain :: Poem
  • New Year resolution of our honorables
  • Certificate distribution at Namsai, ArP
  • Indo-Myanmar Relations : Talk @ MU
  • Butchering a Pony for meat! Shameful
  • Top 5 Indie/Alternative Picks of 2018
  • Sangaithel Park @Sangai: Gallery
  • Things that change educational settings
  • Good Times around the Corner :: Poem
  • Mann Ki Baat - A Chicken Hide
  • Indira Gandhi - An ephemeral encounter
  • A view of Ukhrul Town #1: Gallery
  • January Calendar for Year 2019 :: Tools
  • National Mathematics Day & Ramanujan
  • Thougal Jagoi @Sangai: Gallery
  • Training Program at DM Community College
  • Ode to Radio Telegraphy
  • To the Muse :: Poem
  • Respecting the Freedom of Speech
  • Attending to homeless lady : Humane
  • Wildlife return after 50 years
  • Snowfall @Tamei, Tamenglong : Gallery
  • China spreads across Indochina Peninsula
  • Ningol Chakkouba Shopping a#2: Gallery
  • Cry of a Dying River - 59 :: Poem
  • Match words with actions to #endTB
  • Hacking : Base of all cyber crimes
  • Illegal adoptions in hospitals
  • Controlling the school transporters
  • Detention under NSA : Stand of MUSU
  • Xmas: Churches @Lamphel : Gallery
  • 27th Imphal Book Fair #2 : Gallery
  • The Crying Call of Motherland :: Poem
  • Jobs at C-DAC: International centre posting
  • Bye-Bye Congress Grass: Biological Mgmt
  • How to prevent your kajal / eye make up
  • Jobs at Manitech Consultancy, Imphal
  • Of politicians & their electoral politics
  • AFSPA: Politico-legal sanction for impunity?
  • Kwatha Festival #3 : Gallery
  • 12th Manipur Polo Intl #2 : Gallery
  • Oinam Dilip : Rising Star Award 2018, Delhi
  • Harvard Leadership Program at Don Bosco
  • Manipur Fest 2019 in Bengaluru
  • Christmas @Churachandpur : Gallery
  • UN Rapporteur briefed on Kishorechand
  • Nupi Lal Ningsing Lamjel #3: Gallery
  • Irengbam Bedamani - Actress :: eRang
  • Communities @ Barak Festival #1 : Gallery
  • Khumanthem Prakash : Akademi Award
  • List of Restricted Holidays for 2019
  • List of Public Holidays for 2019
  • List of General Holidays for 2019
  • Ningol - mapam lamdam : Gallery
  • Fabrics of Bangladeshi Manipuri: Download
  • Manglandasu Nang - OST :: e-pao Radio
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic