It is difficult not to relapse into clichés when talking of what has now become a much hyped and thereby worn out issue of gender rights and gender violence. Regardless, the matter remains relevant, for the social scourges of gender inequality are still very much a reality. However, much as we are concerned with issues of gender parity, we are tempted to begin this discussion with what may appear as a rather unkind caveat. Often, self proclaimed feminists and champions of gender equality, in sheer and shameful opportunism, reverse role to pretend to be the weaker sex in order to take advantage of the stupid chivalry men are supposed to show to the supposedly “weaker sex”. Hence, at the long queues at ATMs in Imphal, women visitors would insist on their right to jump the queue. But once this has been allowed, male visitors would bring along women relatives to have them jump these queues and thereby cheat everybody else in the line. The ATMs are just the most visible example where many would have felt disgusted by such obvious and deceitful role reversals, but it happens everywhere. Gender rights must not speak in two different languages, if the campaign for gender equality must remain respectable beyond questions.
Having said this, we extend full support to the campaign for women’s rights and gender equality. The 33 percent reservation envisaged for women in the various legislative bodies of the Indian democracy, in this sense is welcome. But the usual caution must remain. Reservation should not be for all time, but must be treated as a means to ultimately ensure a level playing field. Once this level playing field has been achieved, it must be back to normal, open competition. Otherwise, there can be no dispute women have been discriminated and subdued for aeons and this has caused deep scars in their self confidence and esteem, therefore almost irredeemably depleting their ability to stand up against men in all competitive fields. In this way it is not merely biology which today determines nearly all handles of state power remains in the hands of men, but prolonged and extreme subjugation. In Manipur for instance, if not for one seat won in a bye election by the chief minister’s wife O Randhoni Devi, the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly would have been totally stag. But even the lone seat won by a woman may not have been won by the personality and charisma of the woman herself, but by that of her husband, therefore this cannot be with justice cited as an example of women in the state coming of age. She was in short, most likely shining from the reflected glory of her husband the chief minister. On her own, in Manipur’s conservative the patriarchal world, she too probably would not have won at all.
This strong male bias is very much Manipur’s reality today. In a marriage that has failed, the woman walking out is frowned upon, but the man walking out is common and seen as natural. While men are allowed to wear anything they please, women are still bound to tradition by standards set by the worse of males. Eves teasing is still an accepted practice regardless of the insult this means to the self dignity of the victims. To top it all, these eves teasers would also likely explain, in what is a show of unparalleled arrogance, that the victims also relish their daylight verbal assaults. This is only an indicator of how deeply embedded this violence is in the very social fabric. In other words, the eves’ teasers were not the only perpetrators. It is also the skewed standards of social norms that inform them that eves teasing is perfectly normal and a practised thing. It is also very much the society which is the violator. The reformation recommended hence cannot just be for the eves teasers alone, but for the society and its accepted practices. Again it is not only in the issue of eves teasing, but practically every other issue of gender equality that similar embedded conditions for structural violence exists. On March 8, the day reserved as the “Woman’s Day” throughout the world, let the resolve be renewed that all structural inhibitory elements that work against the female gender and perpetrate their subjugation, be rooted out totally from our society. Let this resolve be made in partnership between the genders and not, as probably would be subverted sooner than later, in the patronising, feudal protectiveness of the male chauvinists of which specimen Manipur has never been short of.