Of Objectionable Subjections


    By Nandini Thockchom
    March 8 is celebrated as International women’s day (IWD) all over the globe and it has been celebrated by having a theme for each year dedicated to the cause and upliftment of women. Connecting Girls- Inspiring Futures is the theme for today’s observation. However this year due to rising crimes against the girl child, its dedication is pertinent to the protection of the girl child as a means to harness and secure their future. I mean if we subject our girl children to abuses, neglect, torture and even death, there shan’t be any more women in the future for this day to be observed. The importance of this day is relevant in today’s Manipur when education, health systems, community bonding has collapse due to the conflict and systemic failure of governance.

    Speaking about governance, the recent elections saw the indomitable rise of three women legislators. One hopes that this Yaoshang and IWD gift that women in Manipur has received would go a long way the trodden path of the Nupi lans, meira paibis, the keithel imas, Manorama, Rabina and Sharmila. The fact that the denizens of our land voted for the party who is the favourite punching bag in tea-stalls, artificial leipungs (as traditional ones have all been razed down in the name of development), meetings by state and non state parties alike, social networking sites etc is another matter. One shan’t even attempt to gravel at it even with a barge pole, as politics of the troubled mind spells trouble and sometimes reeks of it too.

    The past month has seen a flurry of weddings bells and trumpets blown out of proportion. Being a person who avoids attending such celebration with the paraphernalia, I had no way out last month due to a wedding each at my marital home and maternal home. My participation or rather responsibilities in each wedding was conditioned by my age, marital status and also fertility status and in sharp contrast between my two grounds of identity- ningol and mou. Definitely not a level playing field for women in an array of activities controlled, managed and implemented by women. Nonetheless, it was self explanatory for many of forms of violence against women which need to be contextualized within the Indian variant of the patriarchal ideology which has been considerably reinforced by being sanctified through the ancient Hindu religious texts (including socio-legal treatises) which still exercise a strong influence over the Hindu, and in general Indian, society and of course the Meitei society.

    A Hindu saying puts it, “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbours’ garden.” So even if the government puts in place the many acts, laws and schemes instituted, the patriarchial structure that we live in puts women in a very vulnerable position and so faces myriad forms of discrimination and abuses. The chief ingredients of this structure being the supremacy of the man, and the inferiority and passivity of the woman whose goal in life is the procreation of male descendants who would perpetuate the family line and fulfil religious duties (for which a woman is deemed to be unfit). Parents do not want to have baby daughters because of the many hurdles she has to face when she grows up. Nowadays daughters are the unwanted children of many parents within a marriage or out of marriage. If one cannot rid of them as a foetus, they leave them once they are born. If you go and look up into the shishu grihas in Manipur that are being set up for adoption, you will find that there are more girls than boys indicating that girls are being rid off away more. Then if one looks at the orphanages, then there are more boys that have been put for institutional care. Now if one starts to question as to where are the girl children whose parents do not want them, and also not in the orphanages, then a closer survey will indicate that they are working as helpers in the houses of many middle and upper class homes.       

    A mere glance in the declining low female-male ratios and high murder rates are simply two manifestations of a patriarchal environment wherein the patriarchal values and practices manifest themselves both in high levels of violence and in a strong preference for male children (leading, in turn, to low female-male ratios). In fact, one can argue that patriarchy, in the broad sense of the subjugation of women, is intrinsically based on violence or at least the threat of it. From this perspective, it is not surprising that areas of high violence are associated with sharp gender inequalities, of which low female-male ratios are one manifestation.

    In Manipur, one reads in the newspaper that girls including mentally challenged and physically challenged are being molested and raped in their own homes. Molested and raped in their own protective surroundings and sometimes murdered. What does this indicate? The uselessness and usefulness of being born as a girl needs to be questioned and looked into seriously. After all, the cycle of life will be incomplete without women who constitutes half the total population.

    State  Sex-ratio since (Number of females per 1000 males)
     1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 2011
    Manipur  1037 1029 1041 1065 1055 1036 1015 980 971 958 974 987

    Having said this, traditions that discriminate women in all aspects of life will definitely dampen the prospects of wanting a girl child. Technologies have also help perpetuate this discrimination. Doctors in India started advertising ultrasound scans with the slogan “Pay 5,000 rupees today and save 50,000 to 5 lakhs rupees tomorrow” (the saving being the cost of a daughter’s dowry). Parents who wanted a son, but felt guilty at killing baby daughters, chose abortion in their millions. In Manipur, there needs to be a research conducted to be followed by governmental actions against all the doctors, despite regulations, encouraged or gently persuade the expecting parents to avail of this wonderful technological advances. Mothers who reproduces a son first are allowed to carry the jatra in weddings. To keep up the tradition one may naturally opt to terminate all first to be born daughters, a heinous criminal offence accepted by tradition.

    Every child has a right to protection. The need to protect some children is certainly greater than others due to their specific socioeconomic and political circumstances and geographical location. These are the children who are more vulnerable in terms of the harm/danger/risk to their right to survival/development/participation. For building on a comprehensive understanding of girl child’s right to protection, it becomes important to adopt both a preventive and a protective approach to child protection.

    We have so many mechanisms in place for the protection of children and also some for the girl children specific. But unfortunately, Five decades of planned development has indeed failed to address the critical issue of ‘Child Protection’. The girl child stands un-protected from the traumatic potential of much that is considered customary. From the standpoint of human rights, this places her in need of both preventive and corrective protection.

    Interestingly, In January 2010 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) showed what can happen to a country when girl babies don’t count. Within ten years, the academy said, one in five young men would be unable to find a bride because of the dearth of young women—a figure unprecedented in a country at peace.

    In Manipur, we need specific regulations in the context of the conflict situation. A land which has a proud history of women leaders in the 2 nupi lans, the meira paibis and a market ‘controlled’ by women, women athletes who do the nation proud is also the land which now figures in the top 5 in domestic violence. The rising crime against women literally stems from the fact that women are 2nd class citizens and a victim of the power structure whether it is in the family, the society or the nation in the whole. A change in the mindset regarding the value of women as a human being will go in a long way in decreasing the rising crime against the girl child and women on the whole.

    A patriarchial structure which excludes women in many aspects needs to be examined. What was considered truth and safe in earlier times has to see the light of the day in modern times when one, young and old, has started using mobile phones, internet, satellite television and all the works.  One cannot claim to need the modern amenities and yet discriminate women in a cover up to protect tradition. It is this very discrimination that makes women in a very vulnerable position to many abuses and crimes.

    This Day is traditionally marked with a message from the UN Secretary-General. All over the world, women’s organizations and other organizations will be observing this day with serious debates, chalking out plans with a commitment to the empowerment of women. In Manipur this day heralds the beginning of Yaoshang festival where girls, women of all ages will participate in full fervour day in and night out. Many holy and unholy alliances shall see the light of the day. Temples, shumangs, the streets and many grounds will be filled with all kinds of competitive activities, be it be sports, paisa-munba, hali-esheis etc. by both the genders. I wonder how many girls will be allowed to go for Thabal beyond their leikais and not be reprimanded if they ventured.

    So, whether we buy new clothes for the girl for yaoshang, put institutional mechanisms into places, make budgetary allocations to help the girl child but until and unless we stop putting men on a pedestal, crimes against the girl child will only continue and rise and this future is certainly not inspiring.

    The author works with Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action and may be contacted at nthockchom@gmail.com


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here