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Manipuri women dominate all spheres of life

Whether it be protests or elections, Manipuri women have made a mark with their feisty spirit, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2007 16:41 IST

Be it Irom Sharmila, the woman fasting in Delhi for five years as a mark of protest against the Armed Forces Special Power's Act, or the iconic naked women protesting in front of Kandla Fort against army atrocities or the women in sports, Manipuri women have made a mark with their feisty spirit. 

Why spirit alone? In the current ninth state assembly election, the women voters have outnumbered men by a margin of 61,739, a situation unique to the state. Women in fact are more in each district. Ironically, however, the representation of women in Manipur politics remains low, with only 11 women fighting the election this time against a total number of 308 candidates.

The Congress and BJP have nominated three candidates each, the CPI has two and the Manipur People's Party, the NCP and the Naga National Party have nominated one each. 

The contrast becomes acute when one learns that government jobs are almost shared equally, the economy is women-based with most revenue being generated in handloom and handcraft sectors and in the 82 per cent turnout in the first phase, more than 50 per cent were women. They also actively campaign. 

So, what happens when it comes to standing in elections? "Manipuri women are powerful when they are together. Individually, their power depletes rapidly. Their identity lies in a group, not in the individual. And an election, at the end of the day, is the fight of an individual," MC Arun, social anthropology professor at Manipur University said.

The chairperson of the newly constituted Manipur Commission for Women, Dr Chongtham Jamini Devi, said that historically Manipur was always at war with neighbours like Myanmar. "So, the men were either at war or training for it. As a result, women were left to run the home and trade to feed children. At present, the tradition in the context of women in the forefront of trade or in terms of taking up cudgels against social evils continue," Jamini Devi said. 

She said that in spite of such a position, women are still not thought to be able decision makers, adding that lack of awareness and education are resulting in lack of political participation. Moreover, most educated women, like Jamini Devi, would join NGOs or take up social causes rather then join politics. 

As a result, the incumbent government has only one woman legislator, Congress MLA W Leima Devi, who is possibly on course to win her third election in a row.

Jamini Devi, however, is confident. "In 2002, only five fought. This time 11 are fighting. IT is a long way but the women are on the right course," she said. 

E-mail Sutirtho Patranobis: sutirthopatranobis @hindustantimes.com

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