Women outnumber male voters in Manipur, but hard to find them among candidates in the fray

Women are nearly 52 per cent of the total of 20,48,169 electorates eligible to cast their votes in the two phases Manipur assembly elections, but only 6.42 per cent women candidates of the total of 265 contenders got scope to try their electoral fate.

Like all previous elections, 10,57,336 women voters outnumbered the male electorate of 9,90,627 in the current 12th Manipur assembly elections to be held in two phases on February 28 and March 5. There are 206 third gender voters.

In sharp contrast to the voters’ lists, only 17 women (6.42 per cent) out of the total of 265 candidates were nominated this time by various political parties though in their election manifesto and campaign highlighting the empowerment of the women and their key role in the Manipuri society.

The 17 women candidates include four from the Congress, three each from the ruling BJP and National People’s Party (NPP), two belonging to Nationalist Congress Party, one each from the Communist Party of India, Janata Dal-United and a local party and two are independent aspirants.

Among the 17 female candidates, Nemcha Kipgen of the BJP and Akoijam Mirabai Devi of Congress are the two sitting MLA.

In the 2017 assembly polls, 11 women candidates had contested the elections and only two (3.4 per cent) women were elected to the 60-member assembly.

In the electoral history of Manipur, so far, only one woman Lok Sabha member Kim Gangte, from a tribal reserved seat — Outer Manipur, got elected to the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998.

Eighteen years after Manipur became a full-fledged state in 1972, the state saw its first woman legislator, the late Hangmila Shaiza (wife of late Yangmasho Shaiza, the fourth Chief Minister of Manipur) in 1990 from Ukhrul Assembly constituency.

Then, K. Apabi Devi and W. Leima Devi (who subsequently became a minister of state) got elected to the Assembly.

Only three (five per cent) women were elected in the 2012 assembly elections.

Manipur has had less than 10 legislators and an MP from women in over five decades of electoral politics since 1972.

Various organisations, recherchérs, political commentators and analysts said that the political parties and leaders are always talking about the significant role of women in the Manipuri societies but they nominated very negligible numbers of women in the elections specially in the parliamentary and assembly polls.

Imphal-based writer and political commentator Iboyaima Laithangbam said: “Unless the women become a part of the policy making bodies, their actual empowerment is not possible. By allowing fewer numbers of women to contest the elections, the political parties are depriving the women from the equal rights’ terms.”

“In the Manipur economy, women are playing a very crucial role. Since the British period, the unique ‘Ima Keithel’ has become a symbol of women’s empowerment and independence. ‘Ima Keithel’ is not only a simple marketplace or trading centre, but these are apex hubs for campaigns on various societal issues and institutions against anti-social activities,” he said.

The century old and world’s largest all-women run market ‘Ima Keithal’ or the ‘Mother’s Market’, located in Manipur capital Imphal and other smaller all-women markets functioning in different parts of the northeastern state boost the Manipur economy to a large extent and a great source of livelihood of thousands of women.

The all women market, which has a history of over 500 years, has around 3,615 licensed female vendors registered with the Imphal Municipal Corporation.

In the last Manipur assembly elections in 2017, firebrand rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu drew the attention of every one when she contested the polls on behalf of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance party breaking her 16 year-long fast against the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958.

Sharmila, however, lost the elections.

But this time, another firebrand woman and a former Manipur police officer Thounaojam Brinda became a star candidate and the spotlight this time focused on her.

Former Additional Superintendent of Police (Headquarters) is contesting polls in the Yaiskul constituency in Imphal East district as a nominee of the Janata Dal (United) against BJP’s sitting MLA Thokchom Satyabrata Singh.

She is locked in a five-corner contest in the seat as Congress, NPP and Shiv Sena also put up their candidates.

The 42-year-old police officer turned politician said that she has closely watched the administration and society and found that so many imperfect policies of the government, a defective system and a wrong and immoral mindset were causing many problems including militancy in Manipuri society.

“There is huge political meddling from influential quarters…. dedicated, honest and sincere officials cannot work lawfully and as per the prevailing administrative norms.

“That is why I have decided to fight the elections and become a lawmaker to make an endeavour to enact realistic and perfect laws in the assembly for the betterment of Manipur and its deprived people specially the women,” Brinda told IANS.

A mother of four children, the young politician said that bad governance destroys society in numerous ways and that is why appropriate laws are required to reform society and for the betterment of the people, specially the proper empowerment of women..

Political analyst and retired Associate Professor Manipur University (central varsity) Dr Chinglen Maisnam, said that women are always being treated as non-entity in the Manipuri society and the men being leaders dominating all aspects including the governance.

He said: “Muscle power and money power dominated Manipur politics leading to the insignificant women’s participation in the state politics and electoral fray. Gender bias is very strong in the mindset of most leaders of the political parties.”

Dr Maisnam highlighting many noteworthy roles of women and their success in various sectors said that the Women’s Work Participation Rates (WPR) is much higher for Manipur compared to that of India as a whole.

Female WPR for rural areas according to the 2011 census is 41.2 per cent in Manipur against 30 per cent for all India.

In urban areas, this percentage is 33.2 per cent for females in Manipur, 15.4 per cent for all India.

Since the ancient period, Manipur enjoys a distinct place in the handloom sector in India and abroad with lakhs of looms across the state. One of the unique features of the domestic industry is that women are the only weavers.

In Manipur, the unique and esteemed “Ima Keithel” or “Ima Market” in Imphal that was the launching pad of the epoch making two ‘Nupi Lan’ against the British’s autocratic rule and mis-governance.

Writer Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh said that the “Ima Market” is not only an economic base of the Imas (mothers), but also their enlightening place.

This ‘Nupi Lan’ (an exclusive women’s movement) also marked the first people’s organised protest against the British, Singh, Editor of Manipuri newspaper “Marup”, pointed out

“Notwithstanding the outstanding role of women in Manipur and in spite of the higher percentage of women electorate, women are still not able to contribute significantly in the decision making process through electoral politics,” he told IANS.

Manipuri women though deprived on many counts and victims of domestic violence, fought against many injustices since British rule.

The first ‘Nupi Lan’ (women’s war) was in 1904 when women organised a collective protest against the imposition of an order by the British requiring male members to rebuild the bungalows of British officials, forcing the government to withdraw its order due to the massive protests by women.

The second ‘Nupi Lan’ in 1939 was against the artificial scarcity of rice created by colonial policies and outside traders, and the government ultimately had to ban the export of rice from the state.

To this day, December 12 every year is celebrated as ‘Nupi Lan’ day to mark women’s uprising against the oppression of the British.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)


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