Meira Paibis of Manipur

Colonel Haorungbam Sarat Singh (Retired) *

 Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal :: February 28 2024
Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal in February 2024 :: Pix - Khaba Kh

Manipur is a small State located in the North East of India. The State covers an area of 22,327 square kms with 2,751,556 inhabitants. It is bordered by Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south and Assam to the west with an international boundary of 358 km with Myanmar. The capital of Manipur is Imphal. The official language of Manipur is Meteilon. English and Hindi are also spoken by the people.

Manipur got its Independence from the British rule in 1947. A responsible form of Government was established in 1947 under the Manipur State Constitution Act in 1947. The Constitution was enacted by the seven members nominated by the Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhachandra Singh from the 14th of August 1947 to the 7th of August 1948.

The elections were held for the first time on the 11th of June 1948, which was known as the Manipur State Assembly elections under the Manipur Constitution Act. It was the first democratic elections held in Manipur.

Manipur was merged into India on the 15th October 1949, as a part C State and administrated by the President of India through a Chief Commissioner. It ceased to be a part C State on the 1st of November 1956, and became a Union Territory. After lots of demonstrations, strikes and persuasion by the people Manipur was granted Statehood in 1971.

Since, the very early period of the king's dictatorship, the people of the State have undergone numerous agonies in their lives. Manipur was a princely State under the British empire from 1891 to 1947.

The Japanese described Manipur as "Paradise of the East". India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said "Switzerland of the East". Manipur is the birthplace of Polo and Sangai (brow antlered deer). Sangai and Shirui Lily are indigenous and found only in Manipur.

Shirui Lily, a flower growing on the hill of Manipur has been awarded in the World Flower show. EMA market (mother's market) is also seen in Manipur which is wholly managed by the women folk. Another tourist attraction is the Loktak Lake, a fresh water body covering an area of 287 sq kms.

The women's social movement in Manipur dates back since the British rule. Two such prominent movements, collectively known as Nupi Lan (women's war) were organized by the Meira Paibis and their struggle for social justice still goes on till date.

The first Nupi Lan (Women's War) started in 1904 against the British colonial authorities. Meitei (Manipur-native persons of this State) were required to go to Kabow Valley (about 130 kms away from Imphal, capital of Manipur) and fetch timber for rebuilding of then political agents 'bunglow' (house), as it was ravaged by fire.

It was stirred up by the heirs apparent of the erstwhile ruling family, who did not like the selection of Churachand Singh as the king of Manipur. They persuaded the women of Manipur to resist the British Colonial Government's order to resist the Lalup (a sort of forced labor where the male member society between the ages of 17 to 60 years should work freely for 10 days in every forty days of work).

The struggle in which more than 5000 women took part in the social movement, which lasted for a week. The British managed to control the women's uprising, but were compelled to withdraw the order.

This laid the foundation stone of the Meira Paibi.

The second women's war broke out due to the indiscriminate export of Manipuri rice by non-Manipuri businessmen with the support of the British Government. This export of rice by the business class, created a famine-like situation in Manipur, inspite of a good and productive harvest.

The women's social-change movement started against the economic and administrative policies of the Manipur King and the Political Agent, Mr Grimson of the British Empire (1933-45) in Manipur and evolved into a social movement for the Constitutional and administrative reform in the State.

When the Manipuri women, who had been displaying a decisive role in the agrarian economy of the region, came out in legion on the streets against the British policy of massive export of rice, the authorities responded by deploying military and police forces against the unarmed women protestors. The women fought bravely against the British policies and a few of them lost their lives. They held the British political agent confused for several hours, in spite of a bayonet charge by the mounted armed police.

The British could not control and conquer them.

The struggle lasted for several months but subsided as a result of the outbreak of Second World War. This movement forced the closure of rice mills and eventually halting the rice export. At that time (1939) the Government (The British) failed to realize the people's plight, the people were living from hand to mouth and there was starvation amongst the people.

The women's movement was necessary to save the people's lives. Thus the women from each and every house came out voluntarily and started the movement. It is the forerunner in introducing social women's reformation movement in Manipur during the British colonial rule.

During 1970s, the women of Manipur rose again, to combat collectively against the sale and consumption of liquor amongst the men. The women in group patrolled the lanes and streets after dark to confront the drunken misbehaving men. The women either fined or beat them up. They raided the liquor shops and demanded closure.

 Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal :: February 28 2024
Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal in February 2024 :: Pix - Khaba Kh

During the earlier period of British rule, the women of Manipur had resorted to collective actions against forced labour and against arbitrary tax imposed on the people.

Women's social movement in Manipur is norm oriented type and concerned with social reforms.

The term Meira Paibi (in literal meaning women torch bearer), originated from the localities of greater Imphal areas in 1974. Meira Paibis are a local group of like-minded women, philanthropic in nature and voluntary social workers, with no source of funding, from any organization or Government agencies.

The sole aim of Meira Paibis is to maintain a peaceful society and to discipline and control any untoward incident in Manipur State. Their activities reflect that they are instrumental in shaping social changes, through social actions and social advocacy. Within a very short span of time, the Meira Paibis stood together to challenge alcoholism, drug abuse, any action that could harm the society.

Now, they are the protector of the society against any evil-doer. The dedicated and selfless service of the Meira Paibis have spread all over the State and they have a deep rooted cooperation with the people of Manipur.

For the maintenance of Meira Paibis, they go from door to door and request people's donation. Due to their social and philantrophic nature, the rate of pety crimes and domestic violence has come to a very low level. Partnering, encouraging and promoting them yield the desired results of prevention of alcoholism, drug abuse and promotion of peace in the society.

The imposition of Armed forces Special Powers Act 1958, an Act which gives powers and rights to Army personnel, Para-military forces to shoot and search any individual on mere suspicion was a great setback to the society.

In fact, it is truly a draconian Act. The popularity of Meira Paibis had instant impact after this Act had been imposed as the uniformed personnel have been constantly raiding one's house and arresting any suspected or innocent person. During these course of actions, the Meira Paibis would stand together very firmly to protect those members, who are innocent.

So many innocent persons have lost lives and cases have been pending in the Courts of the State and of the country (India).

Since 1980, cases of arrest & oppression, sexual harassment, rape, unilateral murder continue to pressure the civil society in Manipur. To achieve peace, especially in form of positive peace in Manipur, the Meira Paibi movement came to provide resistance. This movement significantly applies the non-violent approach to carrying out its guidance.

The reciprocal expression of the public, after any unfortunate incident, is displayed by the Meira Paibis in a very symbolic manner through parades carrying torches, hunger strike, shouting slogans, showing placards of PEACE, extreme actions like naked protest in public platform. Meira Paibis' struggles continue as torch parades as a sacred symbol of the peace movement are still carried out to achieve positive peace in Manipur.

One land-mark achievement of the Meira Paibis followed the arrest, torture, rape and murder of Miss Th Manorama Devi on 15th July 2004. In an unprecedented move, 12 women stripped naked and staged an angry demonstration, holding a banner "Indian Army Rape Us" outside the gate of Headquarters of the Assam Rifles. The custodial death of Miss Th Manorama Devi (32 years of age) was unbearable to the whole society. The State was in total chaos for more than a month.

On 2 November 2000, ten innocent civilians were allegedly shot and killed by the Assam Rifles ( Para-military forces of India ) at Malom, a small town in Imphal valley. Miss Irom Sharmila Chanu, a social activist started her hunger strike from that day for the removal of Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958 from Manipur. Meira Paibis fought vigorously against human rights violation. The uniformed personnel tortured innocent persons inhumanly. There were countless incidents for their ill treatments of the people of Manipur. Few shocking incidents are narrated here.

In 1997, during a routine cordon and search operation, Indian security forces raped a woman , holding her husband at knifepoint outside the room, while her seven year old son, bedridden with polio, witnessed the crime. Hundreds of Meira Paibis protested on the streets of Imphal for months together against the crime.

There were reports of acts of sexual violence, forced killings and other human rights violations committed by the Armed Forces personnel. It is suspected that more than 1528 people were eliminated in extrajudicials killings by the Indian Army in Manipur.

 Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal :: February 28 2024
Protest for scrapping of Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement at Imphal in February 2024 :: Pix - Khaba Kh

Meira Paibi is a women's association and one of the largest grassroots human rights movement in Manipur. It is the watchdog of civil rights violation at the community level, initiating and engaging in campaigns against human rights violations such as arbitrary detention, cordon, and search operations, tortures committed by the Indian security personnel of the Central Government of India.

Meira Paibi suffered a lot for their gender, and they are not accorded adequate protection. They fought the battle in their own style, that is, non-violent movement.

Activities of Meira Paibis are multifold and numerous in nature. They have been performing unparalleled selfless service for helping the innocent people and for upliftment of the society since 1904, till date which is 120 years of yeomen service for mankind. During such a long period of time, Meira Paibis have suffered countless problems and solved issues at various levels.

Their ability, bravery, determination to face any unprecedented problem is well known to all of us. The activities carried out by them at any given situation and their judgement is unparalleled. Meira Paibis are still performing tremendous tasks in the present conflict situation in Manipur. They are guarding and checking the movements of unwanted list of equipments.

They are working round the clock by rotation. If they were not actively involved , the situation would have exploded and been beyond control. They are trying at the best level to end the burning issue. At present Manipur is in turmoil.

Since 03 May 2023, the whole State, Manipur, is in total chaos and just like a lawless place. Curfews were imposed indefinitely. Internet services were shut down for months and cut-off from the rest of the world. People's lives are unsafe.

More than 200 youths have been killed. Many persons are still missing. And 50,000 to 60,000 people are living at shelter homes. People are living day to day life. The armed conflict between the two communities is still going on. Nobody knows when the conflict will end.

They are unknown, unsung, unseen women's social reformation movement of the society. They are preserving the customs, traditions and identity of our Meitei society. They are the "Guardians" and "Mothers" of our society. It is not possible to write 120 years of social selfless women social movement activities in a few pages.

For this self sacrificing social service of Meira Paibis, who have been battling for human being's safety and security for 120 years, a recognition may be acknowledged by all of us. As such this citation is forwarded for considering the Noble Peace Prize 2024 Award.

I have requested the qualified nominators as per your nomination criteria.

There is NONE in Manipur to forward this citation to your office.

Thus, I, Colonel HAORUNGBAM SARAT SINGH (Retired) Army officer is forwarding this citation. I am a Human Rights Activist & Communist for more than 30 years or so. Guiding and shaping the discipline of the youths of Manipur.

* Colonel Haorungbam Sarat Singh (Retired) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on March 22 2024.

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