Poetics Of Violence In The Poetry Of Manipuri Women Authors
Of Male Aggression And Suppressed Voices
- Part 2 -

Linthoingambi Thangjam *

While there have been countless critical works done on Manipuri male poets like Anganghal, Chaoba and Kamal, critical work done on Manipuri women poets and authors is very limited. One obvious reason could be the late entry of women writers into the Manipuri literary sphere. This paper will focus on selected poems of the Manipuri women authors.

Poetry was the first literary genre that Manipuri women writers experimented with. The first Manipuri women poets to address the issue of women were Khwairakpam Anandini, Laishram Ongbi Ibempishak, Sanjenbam Bhanumati, etc.

The year 1967 saw the first published poetry collection by a woman poet in Manipuri Literature, Khwairakpam Anandini, called 'Sajibugi Leirang' (Flowers of April). This period was soon to be followed by a generation of writers such as Kshetrimayum Subadani, Moirangthem Borkanya, Lairenlakpam Ibemhal, Arambam Ongbi Memchoubi, etc.

Before we get further into the focus of this paper, we need to understand what violence is, and the different forms of violence that the women in Manipur particularly face in the state. World Health Organisation (WHO) defines violence as 'the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal development, or deprivation.'2

The same voice is echoed by many critics. Out of the many, Joseph S. Roucek's observation in the article, 'Sociological Elements of a Theory of Terror and Violence', is interesting. He observed, 'On the domestic front, the psychological-terror methods, coupled with intimidation, aim to force the terror object to behave in a manner most favourable for the subject [Roucek, Apr., 1962: 165-172]. Some of the common types of violence faced by Manipuri women include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, cultural, etc.

Khwairakpam Anandini, in her poem 'Lei Pareng'/ 'Garland' from her collection 'Sajibugi Leirang', seeks blessings offering the simple garland that she had woven herself [Memchoubi and Chanu, eds., 2003: 112]. The addressee is silent in the poem, but it is clear that it is one who is above her. The speaker humbles herself as she conveys how she could only get the flowers that had fallen at the legs of the plants after having ended their blooming journey.

The humbled speaker, throughout the poem, repeatedly presents herself as a weak, innocent and submissive woman. Had it been a male poet/speaker, would he have spoken from that humbled position? Or is it only because the idea that a woman has to stay subservient having internalized in the woman poet/speaker portrays herself as such?
Even if my garland lacks perfection of beauty
Considering me unskilled
Happily, and heartily
Please accept this garland of mine, without any hesitance.

Longjam Ongbi Ibempishak in her poem 'Kadaidano Achumba: Mami Shamlaba Khonjel)'/ 'Where Lies the Truth: A Faint Voice', expresses a feeling of being deceived and lost hope in mankind [Memchoubi, and Ibemhal, Thounaojam Chanu, 2003: 120]. The speaker in the poem is 'a faint voice', and speaks for everyone who feels defeated by the reality of circumstances around her.

She is referring to the situation that is the state today: corruption, disputes, political unrest and so on. It is a world where human greed has taken over, and the question arises as who is to judge right from wrong.

Whom to ask
Where to seek,
In the battle for survival
Who is truthful?
Who is wrong?

Moirangthem Borkanya, in 'Fragments of Earthen Pots'/ 'Chaphu Machet' [ Ibid.,] describes the woeful tale of earthen pots that lie scattered on a graveyard, expressing the frequency of deaths taking place every day and what has become a normalcy in the state of Manipur. With acts like AFSPA that has been in force in the state for so many years, human life is unpredictable, affecting the lives of the common people. The value of human life has become worthless as death can take one at any time of the day. Incidences of fake encounters are a daily highlight in the newspapers.

Borkanya, in her poem, expresses her sad disappointment at the situation in the state. She personifies the fragments of earthern pots who converse with one another, lamenting how they had only wished to serve as 'Ishaifu'(earthen pot for storing and cooling water), 'To quench, /The thirsty and the parched'. But instead they ended being used at funerals, with no one to understand their laments except the graveyard itself.

Fragments of earthen pots lie scattered on a graveyard
Littered is so the graveyard.
After the passing of a few days
Another pot comes to mingle at the same graveyard.

Angom Sarita [2010: 3] in her poem, 'Keinya'/ 'Bride', from her collection 'Mee Amasung Shaa', wrote how the woman is adorned like a goddess on her wedding day, but ironically 'remain as a wretched mute', and she can only silently accept her role as a wife and a mother all her life. Despite the perception that women in Manipur enjoy greater freedom compared to women in other states of India, they still face subjugation enforced by a certain set of conventions ordained by the Manipuri society.

The Manipuri woman do not have any say in their wants household and dislikes, from any decision making of the, right up to choosing the man that she marries. When she is married, she goes from being a possession of the male members of her maternal home, to the husband's. And to the married Manipuri woman, her husband and her children becomes her everything.

Tying .
The scent at the edges of your cloth
Of children and husband
Carrying them to every destination of life.

Y. Indira, in her poem 'Ei Khutlai Pairage', 'I Take Up Arms' (translated by A. Birendra), speaks as a mother who had lost her son to the grips of violence in the state, the hands of 'those harbingers of Death' [Indira, Y., ed., 2007: 22]. The personified Death represents the army forces, which according to draconian act of AFSPA, have every right to arrest and kill anybody even on grounds of slight suspect of involvement with insurgency. There is a tone of anger as the speaker sarcastically criticizes the 'law' and 'governance' over how petty human life is to them.

The helpless mother could not do anything while her son was dragged away by the army. She laments her pain and anguish, never again going to hear the word 'Imma' from her son. Many years have passed since his death, and the pain and anguish of her loss has now turned into rage as her questions are unanswered as the government authorities maintain a deaf ear and a blind eye to the situation.

The mother decides to 'take up arms', because she sees no other way to win justice for her son. This shows the courage of a mother, the courage of a Manipuri woman, who will not cower down and give in, but come out and fight for their own rights, the rights of their husbands, their daughters, and their sons.

Bereft of all joys, and desperate with sorrow
As I am, I too am a daughter of the soil.
My weary limbs now feel the rush of valour:
I take up arms. (sic)

After having been pushed to limits and one can no longer tolerate this treatment, the desire to revenge is a voice that echoes in many poems written by the Manipuri women authors.

To be continued....

* Linthoingambi Thangjam wrote this paper which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on January 17, 2019.

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