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E-Pao! Essays - Economic Contribution of Men in Manipuri Society - a caesarean analysis

ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION OF MEN IN MANIPURI SOCIETY - A CAESAREAN ANALYSIS.

By: KSH. IMOKANTA SINGH.*



Status of women in traditional societies mainly in what anthropologists call tribal societies is considerably high though not above the status of men. The case of the societies in the North East is not different too. The roles played by women in social, ritual, economic and political spheres are highly commendable and also strange for some non-initiates. The outsiders who mainly have not seen the wider participation of the women in the above spheres and the space of freedom to choose granted to them are often intrigued by this special tradition. This becomes a serious topic of research and inquiry both for trained social scientists and curious observers. In this essay my focus will be Manipuri society and I suppose it is true for other societies of the North East too.

Now the condition and status of women in Manipur is fairly known to the outside world, thanks to the wide research done on them by the social scientists and the projection of the media and also through the increasing face to face interaction between Manipuris and people from the outside. But what teases the minds of the outsiders is what the Manipuri men do if most of the visible works are performed by the womenfolk. This is the spot where I am caught offguard and I fumble to find the answer from tit-bits from here and there. I never gave a serious thought to this very obvious and yet neglected, consciously, question. When I sit down and start applying my greymatter to this one question I hardly find any sphere, which the menfolk of Manipur can boast, that that is their exclusive space of work.

In this essay I will be concentrating myself mostly on the economic aspects. There are innumerable spheres to take cognizance of but I will focus on some prominent ones. It is true that men also have considerable share of contribution to the economic life of a Manipuri family. But it is rare to find one, which is exclusively for them alone, while there are many such instances for the Manipuri women. First let me see the marketplaces. Any outsider will praise the entrepreneurship of the women, their wise tactics to handle the trade and above all the pleasure of being in the work i.e. the space of enjoyment amongst themselves despite the competition and the burden to run the family.

One of my lady friends from Delhi, after visiting Manipur, was more stinging when she commented about Manipuri men, 'May be they were eating and drinking somewhere', as she was not able to find many men in the bazars wherever she went. Then I would say that the tradition has sanctioned the women to take the market as their exclusive platform and menfolk are relieved of the task. When I say that men are involved in trades which are comparatively covered up i.e. in enclosed shops, long distance trade etc though women are in the open market, I again do not find it to be exclusively for the men.

The share of the women in these enclosed and long distance trades is still as high as that of the men. It is not unusual for the womenfolk to travel to Guwahaty or Moreh or Tamu (in Mayanmar) to do heavy trading negotiating the dangers associated with this travel. Then again it is not an unusual thing that they are frowned upon by the wider society as highhanded women who act like a man and who are above their husbands. Despite this stigma the show goes on and must go on too. Here again I am failing to convince the new initiate and myself too. Yes, the Manipuri society has made the women more mobile and enterprising. But it is a farce in the name of tradition and it is doing only harm to the very energy of the menfolk making them lazy and complacent. Men, mostly younger ones, are too happy to take the rounds of the market places only to entertain themselves. The case that men are exclusively involved in such labour works as rickshaw pulling etc is not a face saver for the men community. If given a situation women can also start doing it. The crux of the problem here is that there is no taboo for the women to enter any form of work though there is a formidable wall between men and the open bazaar or Keithel.

Now let me examine the agricultural sphere. Here also I would claim, to save myself from embarrassment, that most of the heavy works such as ploughing using bullock driven ploughs, tractors, power-tillers etc. are exclusively done by men. Then let us see the amount of work put in by the womenfolk in agriculture. The transplanting (loulingba) is exclusively for them, weeding (loupenga) is done along with their male counterparts, paddy-cutting (loukhaoba) is also the shared work of both men and women, harvesting (louyeiba) is also done by both men and women with equal contributions. Then in this field also the share of men is not greater than that of the women, rather the latter take care of many minute intricacies of the whole process.

The fact that the ploughing is exclusive for men is not because women are weaker sex but because the Manipuri society or rather the Hinduism has stuck a stigma that ploughs cannot be handled by the women as they are impure. This incursion of the purity and pollution even in this field clearly shows how women are enjoying their supposedly high status. Men in the rural areas often feel that they have accomplished a great deal of work once the harvesting is over and live on this self-constructed laurel for the rest of the year keeping the wide stretches of field unattended. One excuse from their side might be that the fields need to take breath after bearing the crops. A very scientific excuse, it seems! Then it is time for them to engage in long evening gossiping, perching on the side pastures of the roads while leisurely looking at the women in work.

For womenfolk it is the whole year affair to be involved in productive works. Be it handloom works or pounding of rice in the rice mills both for family consumption or for trading, they are meant exclusively for women though these are also heavy and energy sapping works. All this is in addition to the women's unceasing household works. In a lighter vein, it is a boon in disguise that their bodies are well shaped undeterred by the worries of being obese. But men are only too happy to follow the centuries old tradition and leave these heavy works to their women counterparts though they consider themselves to be stronger sex. Still I am not able to convince my friend that Manipuri men also have a huge contribution to the economic life of the society in general. It is time for me to do some soul-searching works. The Manipuri men in general are not as enterprising as their women counterparts. Blaming somebody, be it government or parents, for the lack of employment opportunities is not the solution. First step is the willingness to experiment, which is seriously lacking in them. Heavy funding will be a waste if this basic instinct is not present. Again they are more of 'happy go lucky' fellows who spend more than they earn (even if they do not earn also). They have scores of time-passes which eat up all their creativity and productive works. Stylish clothes, good foods, the white local syrup (hidak) called 'Yu' and their self-styled higher status than the womenfolk are some of their possessions, which they guard so dearly. The high status of Manipuri women, which people quite oftenly talk about these days, is little hazy. Yes, they are visible in ritual ceremonies like Lai Haraoba, are very active in the market, are pioneers in social movements like Meira Paibi (torch bearers) etc. but they are facing a lone battle in the home turf even without knowing how to battle it out. Manipuri women are powerful when in collectivity but wingless individually. Men are men, working or not working, with their age-old habit of subjugating the womenfolk who are toiling day and night to maintain the heart and hearth of the family. Women are also the targets of family violence perpetrated by their husbands. But all is not lost still. The Manipuri men will have to learn the trends of economic prosperity from their womenfolk. It is high time they experimented with their skills in trading in the open market to save the womenfolk from their fabricated and imposed status in the name of tradition. It is also time they shed their inhibitions and work along with their women counterparts to usher in a new era of prosperity, both social and economic. Then I will be well equipped to convince my inquisitive friend in Delhi, 'see, we have done it'.




Ksh. Imokanta is a PhD student in JNU, New Delhi
He contributes regularly to e-pao.net.
He can be reached at [email protected]

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