Excluding minors up to six years of age, Manipur has more females than males – 1,194 according to Census 2011.
The numerical edge perhaps translates into more suffering for women in a militancy-mauled state. For some, it means out of the frying pan of conflict and into the fire of social stigma.
Take the case of Nitan Elangbam whose husband Hijam Sanjoy, 26, was killed by Manipur Police commandos in an alleged fake encounter on 28 June 2008.
Widowhood virtually claimed the space Nitan, 29, had at her in-laws’. She returned to her maternal home to live in the past until she met Inaobi, 34-year-old
widower, at a workshop for conflict victims last year.
The two decided to marry, but it was easier said than done. Many members of both families objected to their marriage, the older women being most vociferous.
It was ironical for a society where Meira Paibi (Torchbearers) is a grassroots organization of adult women that acts as a watchdog of civil rights violations at the community level.
Nitan overcame opposition to marry Inaobi. Others haven’t quite been able to live life their way. They include Renu Takhellambam, president of Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families’ Association Manipur (EEFVAM).
Renu, 31, became a widow after Manipur Police commandos shot her husband Monghangjo and two others in an ‘encounter’ on 6 April 2007. EEFVAM was formed three months later to reach out to conflict widows.
“We aren’t just fighting the system for justice; we are fighting social battles too,” Edina Yaikhom, general secretary of EEFVAM and a petty trader, says.
The association has 40 members with an average age of 30 years and two-five children. The membership is increasing, and this is something EEFVAM doesn’t want.
“Whenever someone joins us, we realise how relevant Irom Sharmila’s struggle is. Had there been no AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), there would have been no fake encounters, no conflict widows and no misery,” Edina, 31, says. A combined team of police commandos and Assam Rifles had take her auto driver husband Anand Ningthoujam from a college campus in Imphal and shot him in a village 40 km away.
“There is a pattern to how most encounter victims are caught in khudai (Manipuri lungi) and found dead in battle fatigues. Their widows in turn are victims of the system and the society. Many struggle to eke out a living and are vulnerable to domestic and workplace abuse,” women rights activist Sobita Mangshatabam says.
The cases pertaining to the conflict widows are in a list of 1,828 extrajudicial killings a coalition of rights groups submitted to a UN mission in March 2012.
These cases, ironically, serve as a reference for the armed forces to argue in favour of AFSPA.
“The local police and its commandos are named as perpetrators in a majority of these cases. So AFSPA, not applicable to them, is basically a non-issue,” an Assam Rifles officer said.
He pointed out how in July this year, people in the state’s Ukhrul district reposed more faith in the armed forces after Manipur police personnel gunned down two Naga youth during a demonstration.
Manipur police chief S Ahmed and other senior officials were incommunicado. “Maybe we have come into the picture more since 2004 (after the Assam Rifles allegedly raped and killed Thangjam Manorama in custody) when counter-insurgency operations began to be conducted jointly among the security forces,” a mid-rank police officer said.