Mothers' market and the winds of change

ninglun hanghal

WITH the reconstruction of the old Khwairamband Bazaar in the heart of Imphal completed, the women vendors of the 150-year-old Ima Keithel (Mothers’ market) have been hard hit. In September this year, delegates of the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel Vendors’ Welfare Association addressed the media in Delhi and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister to intervene in the mismanagement at the new complex. A month later, the Kabui Mothers’ Association called the Ibobi Singh ministry’s attention to seat allocation for 200 Kabui women vendors in the new set-up and the Chiru Women’s Welfare Centre is the latest to demand 30 seats for its members. Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi recently inaugurated the new complex.

Since 2005, after the MoU between representatives of women vendors and the state government to reconstruct the Keithel, the Imas have continued their business in and around the Khwairamband Bazaar complex. While some 4,000 permanent licence holders shifted to a temporary market on the District Hospital campus, an estimated 10,000 “displaced” vendors conducted business along the pavements and roadsides of Imphal. There were several confrontations with the police and conflicts among vendors. “We were herded and chased like cattle,” one Ima vendor told a press conference in Delhi, adding that misunderstandings arose among themselves in their struggle for space in the temporary market and on the roadsides.

Though the new three-storey market was believed to create more space for some supposedly privileged 4,000 licence-holders, about 500 vendors’ registrations were reportedly either manipulated or cancelled. KNKVWA president Meme Devi’s licence, registered under the “Jewellery” trade, was changed to “Kon” (utensil) on renewal after her shifting to the temporary shed. The hundreds of displaced less-privileged roadside/ street vendors comprise seasonal and temporary retailers or suppliers from the vicinity of Imphal. The latest voices of discontent are from displaced vendors from the Kama and CWWC who belong to an ethnic tribal community, of whom a few have licensed seats.

For as long as one can remember, business in the market has been carried out by women. Even among permanent vendors, trade has been passed on to the women in a family. Today, both permanent licence-holders and temporary vendors pay tax to the state government. With the increase in business, the number of small-time traders and roadside vendors has multiplied. More so because of the rural urban migration and, of late, the sizeable number of widows. More than 1,000 tribals are vendors at the Ima Keithel.

Permanent vendors trade in items ranging from vegetables, utensils, traditional clothes to jewellery and the non-licenced section sticks mostly to vegetables, seasonal products and local delicacies like ngari, yongchak and thangjing. Permanent vendors carry on their trade for as long as 12 hours and earn between Rs 3,000-5,000 a day while the temporary and roadside ones make a maximum of Rs 100-200 daily.

The Keithel opens early in the morning and business continues till into the evening. Customers address vendors as Ima (mother), whether they are married or not. The collective identity at this market connects buyers and sellers, not only in terms of business but also creating a bonding. For Manipuri women, life revolves around the Keithel. Besides being the main commercial hub of the state, this unique market is run exclusively by womenfolk and was the epicentre of the 1904 and 1939 Nupilan (Women’s war) – a historic revolt against the British, the reason being forced labour, price rise and illegal export of rice from outside what was then the Manipur kingdom. Vendors at the market share their joys and sorrows and the daily gossip.

Wherever one cares to look in Manipur, women are key players and such local bazaars gradually evolve to become an extension of the producer-consumer chain. While their main role and contribution remain confined to the four walls of their homes, local business centres serve as a source of income and engagement outside the household, giving them a sense of independence and empowerment.

The new tribal market in a separate area in New Checkon, Imphal, could well be an attempt to accommodate several displaced tribal vendors and provide new space for them. Yet such segregation and categorisation of women and local markets could aggravate the already existing patriarchal and hierarchical society of the state.

After a five-year wait, the new look could disrupt the very essence of the vibrant and happening Keithel. With the current set-up comes suggestions of new names and the once-upon-a-time Ima Keithel will now probably be another chapter in history. Generation next will miss the “uniqueness” of the all-women market: the aesthetic beauty, traditional touch and the relationship between customers and vendors.

The writer is a freelance contributor
The statesman, November 21, 2010

Regional remorse in mainland metros

ATIN Hongray’s sister, Ramchanphy Hongray, was allegedly raped and murdered in her rented flat in October 2009 by an IIT student in Delhi, and every fortnight or so she attends the Patiala Court hearing. She works at the QBA restaurant/bar in Connaught Place and obviously wants to forget the terrible ordeal and leave the capital for good, but she is determined to battle for justice for her younger sister.

It was because of many cases of this nature on North-east women that the Delhi North East Support Centre and helpline was born in 2005 in the aftermath of the infamous Daula Kuan rape case, in which a 20-year-old Delhi University student was gangraped by four men in a moving car. In 2005 alone there were 10 sexual harassment cases reported to the support centre and between October 2007 and July 2009, it recorded 23 cases of which 80 per cent were sexual/physical attacks. Filing cases at police stations is altogether another story as the support centre functionaries themselves have had more than their fair share of humiliation.

In response to the problems faced by the North-east populace, the Delhi police in 2007 released a booklet, “Security Tips for North-east Students/Visitors in Delhi”, with dos and don’ts, such as food habits, behaviour, dress. As much as it drew much criticism and continues to do so, the problems have multiplied.

Abuse and attack of various forms meted out to North-east women do not end in Delhi. They are haunted in other parts of India as well. As recently as in October this year, 11 girls/ women between the ages of 18 and 30 years from various North-east states were reportedly rescued from beauty parlours in Goa. According to media reports, while the girls from Mizoram were repatriated, the parents of the Nagaland girls rescued and kept in “protective homes”, surprisingly, requested the Mapusa Deputy Collector to hand them the girls and not the Nagaland police. They alledged that the girls had been falsely implicated in a “trafficking case”.

According to the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Goa, the “rescue” raid was conducted upon intimation from the police of the girls’ home state, and that, in such cases of trafficking, the victims invariably manage to escape and inform their parents/relatives who, in turn, report the matter to their respective police stations.

In an attempt to tackle such issues, the Goa police instructed owners of “beauty parlours and other private enterprises employing North-eastern girls” to obtain verification endorsed by the authorities concerned. That was how the seven girls from Manipur, working at “Rich Beauty Parlour” and who went to fill “verification forms”, were detained at Panjim police station on 11 October 2010 until the process was completed and credentials produced. On conditions of anonymity, a relative of one of the detained girls told this correspondent that the girls were subjected to queer and weird questions, such as whether “you have come from Nagaland to do the same job?”

Down south, about 15 Manipuri boys and girls were working at “Mocha – coffee and conversation”, in Nungambakkam in central Chennai. According to Suanlian, their supervisor, many youths, including girls, live in the city with neither any directions nor clues and struggle with odd jobs. Many of them land in the city, either through or with “acquaintances” or “relatives” but are left to fend for themselves. Most of them are academically weak and from remote North-east areas.
Many women from the region perforce fall prey to the lure of jobs and employment. Conflicts induce displacement and economic reasons further add to their vulnerability.

Issues apart, cases such as that of the Goa beauty parlour involve deeper dimensions. Despite the “good intentions” of “good Samaritans”, girls are caught up in a complex web of human trafficking. Which, in restrospect, indicates that “human trafficking” is being categorically cited as a means to explain the abuse and harassment of women from the North-east. The so-called “protective homes” remain suspect, given that the girls are detained for weeks. The six rescued were not released even after their parents arrived from Nagaland and reportedly requested the deputy collector for their custody. A local daily said the Nagaland police was likely to take up the matter for further investigation.

Besides having to brave attacks by so-called mainland Indians, women from the region are subjected to reactions from their own community too, more so as they are reduced to being the “object under scrutiny”. It needs to be mentioned that the now infamous Daula Kuan rape victim was said to have been “packed off” from Delhi by her community leaders.

For the young and educated, India’s metros are seen as dream destinations for higher learning as well as for employment opportunities. Many North-east women venture out to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, Chennai, Hyderabad for employment and the hope of a better life. And despite these attacks by mainland Indians, specifically men, they continue to strive to make a living amidst hardship, harassment and discrimination. They work in various mega market complexes, hospitality sectors and business outsourcing centres. Living modestly in shared rented rooms, they continue to send home that “little extra” to keep fires burning back home.

The writer is a freelance contributor
The Statesman, November 8,2010

A tribute to chanu power

AS the competition in the Delhi Commonwealth Games in various sports kicked off on 4 October, all eyes turned to the medals tally. On Day 2, India’s first haul, a silver and a bronze, was won by two women weightlifters, Sonia Chanu and Sandhyarani Devi, in the 48-kg category. From Manipur, they lifted a total 165 kg each, a few kilograms separating them in the snatch and jerk.

Day 3 brought another windfall when Renu Bala Chanu, in the 58-kg category, lifted a whopping 197 kg and won the first gold medal for India – in the process breaking the record of a total 167 kg lifted by Kunjarani Devi at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

The excitement continued in Manipur and elsewhere in India at large, as more chanus (as Meitei daughters/women are referred to) kept adding to the kitty. On Day 5, the women’s archery team won gold and bronze, its members including Bombeyala and Bheigyabati. On Day 6, weightlifter Laishram Monika added a bronze medal to the tally in the 75-kg category.

The chanus of Manipur have come a long way from their less-advantaged background. Daughters of farmers and daily wage earners, they have braved hurdles and financial problems and drawn inspiration from the strong support of their mothers and sisters. Renu Bala, after her thumping victory, dedicated her success to elder sister Rashi. “Had she not been there behind me, I would not be where I am today.” So also for Bombeyala. Her mother, Yamini Laishram, a sportswoman, was her mentor and guide. Another common characteristic among the chanus is their determination and will power to fight the odds.

Sport isn’t all about games, competition and performance. Apart from dietary needs and apparel, there is also the pressure to contribute to the family income. Then there is the question of equipment cost, which for archery alone amounts to a minimum Rs 80,000-90,000. In their endeavour to pursue their zeal, the five chanus worked in various establishments. Renu Bala and Bombeyala are with the Indian Railways, Sonia with the Uttar Pradesh police and Sandhyarani and Monika are in the CRPF, Delhi. Bheigyabati is yet to find employment, which is at present a priority.

Indeed the chanu brigade at CWG 2010 was India’s newsmakers. Renu Bala, termed the “new star”, was a photographers’ delight when she was caught stranded in Delhi traffic while taking an “autorickshaw ride” with her elderly parents. She even had a “good time” at her reception by CNN-IBN, singing ghazals for her well-wishers. Sonia and Sandhya also caught attention when they gave interviews to various media houses in the capital.

The history of women’s power in Manipur, from the Nupi Lal of the 19th century to the “nude protest” of 2004 and the continuing hunger-strike (it’s been almost 10 years now) by Irom Sharmila makes for interesting reading. The grit and enduring perseverance is well handed down by the meira paibis (torchbearers) and other local women’s organisations who are infamously proactive in socio-political issues in Manipur.

Today’s women vendors of the unique Ima Keithel (Mothers’ Market) were daughters, granddaughters and daughters-in-law of the chanu brigade who fought the Nupi Lal (women’s war) against the British. They have always fought their own battles, the latest being for the reconstruction and beautification of the Ima Keithel, where hundreds of vendors were displaced and constant political pressure and confrontation with the police was a daily affair. This new generation of sportswomen could well be yet another brigade of “change-makers”. Dedicated, determined, they too bear in mind the need to give something to their home, their motherland, their country. That was Renu Bala’s message to aspiring sportswomen in Manipur. “Do not be disheartened, put in your best effort and energy to win for Manipur, for the country.” The other chanus responded.

Last Wednesday, Manipur’s Suranjoy Singh won a boxing gold and, before that, Tripura’s Somdev Devbarman won gold in tennis, doing the North-east proud. That a small state like Manipur can produce medal-winning chanus in one of the world’s biggest mega sporting events is definitely “food for thought”, especially at a time when India is preparing to make an impact among the world’s “superpowers”.

Mind you, there are many “golden chanus” hidden away in the nooks and crannies of India and the promotion of sport without thought of caste or creed will go a long way in bridging the yawning development gap between the North-east and “mainland” India.

The writer is a freelance contributor

The Statesman , October 18, 2010

A media booster for Manipuri sportswomen

When boxing champion Sarita protested against being dropped from the Indian team, the media was present in strength to take up her case. NINGLUN HANGHAL on the media’s support for sportspersons from the north-east

There were few takers when Sarita Devi, the current Asian Champion in Boxing and an Arjuna Awardee 2009 called a press conference in Delhi on September 24, 2010. The Delhi based North East media and NDTV turned up at the Manipur state emporium for the event.

Sarita said that in August she was selected in the 51 kg category to represent the Indian team at the Asian Games in November 2010 in China. Even though her selection was reported in a newspaper, trials were held a second time on September 22 and she was dropped from the team. Sarita, who is an Arjun award winner for 2009 has demanded the removal of corrupt officials and a retrial in the presence of the media. When she announced that she was going to protest before Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill and return her award, a dozen television cameras turned up at the minister’s residence. The minister was pressurised to come out and make a statement following his meeting with Sarita. It was quite evident that the minister would not have given her 40 minutes of his time had the media not accompanied her.

A week before the Sarita episode, the five time world boxing champion Mary Kom, also from Manipur, was given a red carpet welcome in Delhi on her return from the just concluded Women’s World Boxing Championship in Bridgetown on September 21. There were about a couple of dozen television cameras and an equal number of print media representatives. In her home state, she was accorded a ‘hero’s welcome’. The coverage continued for many days.

A day before receiving the Khel Ratna 2009, in August last year, Mary had said to this writer that the media coverage had pressurised the government to act. In 2001 after she had won successive gold medals the government gave her the job of a constable and now she has been promoted to the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Awards in cash and kind have been galore.

For these sportspersons from lesser known states the media has played a vital role in their promotion by highlighting the hardships they had to undergo to make it to the top. Some of them are not yet media savvy and it was not unusual for a new star like Renubala Chanu to be caught by the media as she was taking an auto-rickshaw during the recent CWG games and getting caught in a traffic jam. This became an item number for the media who went to town about a medal winner having to take an auto rickshaw. It was also an occasion for the media to go into Renubala’s background.

On the whole the media has played a vital role in these sportsperson gaining recognition and their due.

The Hoot

Off key song

A documentary on an intractable problem leaves the viewer with more question than insights Manipur Song was telecast by NDTV Profit, on Independence Day. NINGLUN HANGHAL takes a critical look at its components

Pankaj Butalia's Manipur Song begins with an introductory note on the political history of Manipur which states that the appropriation into the Indian Union after the British left in 1947 led to anti'Indian insurgency. It says that to counter this, the Indian state introduced the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the region. It notes that in today's Manipur there are over 20 insurgent groups fighting against the Indian army as well as among each other, that there is massive underdevelopment, drugs and HIV'AIDS are rampant along with many other problems.


AFSPA was introduced in the then “Naga hills” of Assam and Manipur (then a union territory) in 1957 as an ordinance, which became an act in 1958. This was later implemented in other states of the north east region of India.

Since the narrator talks about travelling from Delhi in 2004, as a Manipuri viewer, I assumed that the film was made during or after the heightened protest against AFSPA in the aftermath of the alleged rape and killing of Manorama and the infamous ‘nude protest'. The film maker says he was provoked to go to Manipur without stating why or when. While a Manipuri can figure some things out I wonder what ‘mainland' viewers would make of it. There is a background narration of `decades of problems', the mainland, disillusionment, etc but no description of the footage or pictures. In a documentary this simultaneous and effective use of pictures and footage is the key to conveying meaning. About the nude protest, the narration says it had caught the national media attention, but does not mention why the women protested.

Part 1 ' Violence ' the backyard of nationalism

The film shows that Nationalist Leader Sana Yaima, Chairman of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), legitimized the “aspiration” for separation from India. This is shown along with footage of violence, protests, police firings, angry youths and episodes from the daily lives of militants.


The narrator says that these militant groups were divided along community lines and mentions the Meiteis, Nagas , Kukis, Zomis and the Paites. Whereas the Paites are one among the “Zomi”, there is no “Paite insurgent group” in Manipur. The communal conflict does not necessarily flow in that order of heirarchy: state ( India) - Meitei ' Naga- Kuki- Zomi or Paites.

An interviewee, Ima Taruni a “meira paibi” activist (women torch bearers) spoke about some “incidents”. She said “At Thangmeiband, Thau ground we took out a protest rally...the police fired at us ... many were killed ...many injured ..we ran helter and skelter ... many people jump into the river and there was chaos and commotion ...chappals/ slippers and clothes were scattered everywhere...” This was translated as, “Women left their clothes. They lost control over what they were wearing...” There was no background description of this video footage.

Part III ' The diaspora as periphery


The Manipuri student studying outside the state, who spoke before the camera was watching “Manipur song”!

Part IV ' Living on the edge

A drug rehabilitation camp: An addict identified as ex-militant Kalachand says, “I was in jail for being suspected.” This was translated as, “I was in jail in a case related to militancy.” The addict further says that after being released he took to drugs as his family felt that the life of an addict was better than that of a militant. A conversation is shown between him and his mother. He says to her, ``you felt it was safer to be on drugs than join militancy. You gave me money without knowing the consequences.” The mother spoke of living in constant fear and tension. She said, “Yes i gave you money”. The son continued, “Why are you giving?” and before waiting for her response added, ``You gave me money so that I do not roam around.” Finally when the son strongly hinted at what she should say, she asked him to stop.


To the viewers the conversation appears to underline that the mother was to “blame” whereas that was not the case. It was like a memorized script. There was no interviewer.

Part V: on the notion of collateral

Women commercial sex workers in shabby shelters: one woman narrated the story of how she landed in the “profession” and addiction. At the end she said “when I look back I feel nostalgic or rather so to say let down.” This was translated as, “I now regret all I have done all my life.” Two other women identified as Lalli and Heting appear with another woman who did all the listening while they “confessed” before her and at times looked at the camera. At the outset the first woman asked for sun-glasses.

One of the women at times spoke in first person while at other times she said, ‘'they do not enjoy doing this. Sex workers don't do it because they like it.'' She also said, “We are regular drug users.” These women also “demonstrated” their skills in using drugs on camera.


Even when changed, the names made it clear that they came from a particular section of the Manipuri society. They did not hide their faces during the whole show. In a state like Manipur where population is divided between hill and valley people, between tribals and non-tribals such an exposure will increase their vulnerability. The report does not have any background narration and neither were the women asked any questions.

The documentary ended with the Iron Lady, Irom Sharmila, in tears.

Concluding remarks:

The film seems to be trying to sensitize ‘mainland India' on a whole range of issues that engulf Manipur. There are some doubts over whether some footage on the notion of collateral was censored.

For the distant spectator, and particularly for a Manipuri viewer, the 60 minute documentary appeared to be a mere collection of bad and ugly incidents. The parts have no interconnections and the narrative is rather poorly developed.

The film rightly observes at the beginning, “The conflict is so complex that it is difficult to separate cause from effect.” There is no message for the audience or analysis of problems.

As the narrator said in the beginning “the distance seems too much ...for those of us in Delhi the periphery seems so far away...” Perhaps Manipur is too distant and complex for the national media to encapsulate in 60 minutes.


Net news proliferates in Manipur

When Burning Voices could not find any takers for its documentary on harassment by security forces in the national or local media, it posted the same on the internet As the use of internet for free expression has grown, so have the attacks on the sites, says NINGLUN HANGHAL

THE HOOT, Thursday, Aug 05 12:27:46, 2010

With space in newspapers and magazines and time on TV channels at a premium due to the government news that is dumped on them and the advertisements that they require to sustain themselves, the internet is fast emerging as an alternative for those in far flung areas to voice their opinions. And with the growth of this medium attacks on freedom of expression have followed inevitably.

Burning Voices, A literary group of Manipuri youth in Delhi brought out a 12-minute documentary, The Face of Our Generation. This production tells the story of Naorem Prakash who was harassed by security forces in the aftermath of the Tehelka magazine's expose of the BT Road fake encounter on 23rd July 2009 in Imphal. At the screening of this documentary in Jawaharlal Nehru University on July 24, the youths said they could not get the national or local channels to broadcast it. As an alternative the documentary was uploaded on to, a Manipur news website and on Burning Voice's own site The two popular website of Manipur, and, not only update news but also provide easy access to news archives and background articles as well as important documents. Menu link “K special” of kanglaonline and “timeline” in provide useful links.

An additional advantage for Manipur's Zomi community is a bilingual website,, that provides space for users and content in the local language as well as in English. Readership of these sites is quite sizeable as was indicated from statistics pertaining to one article on Zomi women in Bangalore that was featured on and had over a 1000 hits and 44 responses. The recent article by Nandita Haksar, Constitutional Crisis in Manipur published by Mainstream Weekly, June 19, 2010 and reproduced in several north-east based websites, drew many responses on these sites.

While those using the internet have benefited from these sites, they have also drawn attacks from detractors. An offline announcement at said, “Important Note (Nov 12, 2007): Due to misuse of the photos in the KanglaOnline `Women of North East India' channel, KanglaOnline management has decided to shut down the website. While inconvenience caused to the users is regretted, KanglaOnline stands by its commitment to protect the photographer and the models against copyright violations and misuse of the photos.”

On July 9, 2010 the same website was offline with an announcement, “Dear User, KO is facing repeated online attacks and is under maintenance mode. Please visit again. Thanks, KO Team”. The comment spaces on these websites also contain several anonymous attacks while on rare occasions the persons who post the comments identify themselves.

Despite these infringements from detractors of free expression and misuse by few others, web based expression of opinions and dissemination of news has made a strong beginning in Manipur.

north east women - courage amidst conflict

The recent economic blockade in Manipur saw women play key role in keeping families afloat even as they attempt to forge peace. Individual activists along with a number of women organisations took active part in resolving the conflict and ensuring normalcy in the valley.

Imphal: The picturesque northeastern state of Manipur known for living with violence and unrest was once again in the news these last few months. The proposed visit of the Naga nationalist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to his home in Ukhrul district of Manipur after four decades in early May this year was strongly opposed by the state government.

It came in the wake of the Indo-Naga peace process between the Naga leaders of the NSCN (IM) and the government of India.

Life came to a standstill because of the economic blockade of the National Highways Nos 39 and 53 enforced by Naga student groups and Naga civil society in boycott of the Manipur government’s decision to hold district elections in the hill areas under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils (3rd Amendment) Act 2008.

But it was further magnified in protest against the government’s move to ban the Naga leader’s entry into the state and the state government’s retaliation with military force on the peaceful rally taken out to welcome Muivah at Mao Gate (bordering Manipur and Nagaland) in the Senapati district of Manipur.

While the economic blockade of the two lifelines of the state stretched on for 68 days, the police firing at Mao Gate took two young lives, leaving many injured. But in all these upheavals and recurring crisis, it's the women from both sides of the divide, who have been playing key roles in keeping families afloat even as they attempt to forge peace.

Right from the initial stages of the crisis, women have made their presence felt. When large crowds came to greet Muivah at Mao Gate - even as protests against the government's decision to prevent him from coming went on apace – ordinary women and Naga Women leaders were at the forefront. Subsequently as the police personnel reportedly fired tear gas shells and mock bombs, two students were killed and over 70 injured, a majority of whom were women.

Simultaneously, in the valley areas of the state, women – largely Meiteis - led marches in favour of the ban on the Naga leader visiting the state. They came out in large numbers, raising banners and slogans to register their opposition.

In the aftermath of the Mao Gate incident, once again the feisty hill women came together to help families in the hills displaced by the violence. And during the two-month-long economic blockade it was the valley women who scurried through the streets of Imphal for food supplies and raw materials to keep their homes running. This involvement of ordinary women from both the hills and the valley in ensuring a semblance of normalcy under extraordinary circumstance is nothing short of courageous.

Renu Takhellambam Hangzo, a woman activist associated with the valley-based Extrajudicial Execution Victims Association and Manipur Women Gun Survival Network says, "During the economic blockade, we cut down the menu and tried to make as much as possible within a short time period to save food and fire (gas cylinder). We stood in queues for two to three hours waiting for the supply of the essential items to come. There were families who only had one meal a day during those days."“During the economic blockade, we cut down the menu and tried to make as much as possible within a short time period to save food and fire (gas cylinder). There were families who only had one meal a day during those days.”

Speaking about the conflict and her views on the recent crisis that arose over Muivah’s visit, she shares, “There should be a dialogue with all the groups together on one table. It should not be like the Centre talking to various different groups at different places – Naga groups there, the state government here or the Meitei groups there.”

Activist Aram Pamei, who has a long association with the Naga women in Manipur and had been involved in many peace initiatives including the recent one where the delegates of the United Naga Council went to Senapati to speak with students groups who had called for the economic blockade, says, “There are differences, there is conflict and these differences should be sorted out by peaceful means. Conflicting parties should be brought together to negotiate and speak to each other, sharing desires, wants and feelings. Listen to each other and try to chart a way out together.” On the Mao gate incident, she says, “It is very unfortunate. Violence begets violence.

Incidentally, Pamei is also an active member of the ongoing peace initiative by the All Manipur Christian Organisation, as part of which various meetings and dialogue with different communities is in progress.

In Manipur, women have always been at the forefront of peace initiatives. Women from all strata of society have participated in mass action. Women’s groups have widespread support and are greatly respected. No one, for instance, can overlook the role played by the remarkable Meira Peibis, the torch bearers of women's activism. At a different level is the unique Eema Keithel, perhaps the only market in the world that is run and controlled by women. Here 3,000 women congregate to sell local produce, handicrafts and household utensils to support their families.

Similarly, the contribution of the Naga Mothers' Association, the Naga Women's Union Manipur and the Kuki Women's Association, has been well documented in gender studies. Admirably, during the Naga-Kuki conflict in the 1990s, women's groups on both sides - The Naga Mothers' Association and the Kuki Women's Association - were said to have been engaged with their respective "boys" to stop violence.

As Dr Vijayalakshmi Brara of the Centre for Manipur Studies, Manipur University, observes in her article, 'Women's Role In Human Rights And Peace In North East'(PUCL Bulletin, February 2002)): 'These women's groups (Naga Mothers and Kuki women’s groups) went long stretches, walking for three to four days in the hills, to meet their respective underground outfits to stop them...'.

Brara also notes that in the Manipur valley, the Meira Paibis have boldly faced both state and non-state actors. She writes that these powerful women were the only ones who dared to face the "underground" elements head on when "everyone is cautious of them". In fact, the nude protest staged by the Meira Paibis in 2004, against the alleged rape and killing of a woman by the Assam Rifles, shook the conscience of a passive civil society at the national level.

In his work, 'Naga Women On Peace Mission' (Manipur Online, 2004), journalist Oken Jeet Sandham documents the contributions of various Naga women's groups in peace building. They have participated in consultations and meetings with local and national leaders held within and outside India, and were pro-actively engaged in the Naga reconciliation movement since its inception in 2001. Sandham characterises this engagement of Naga women with their leaders as very "encouraging".

Another scholar and writer, (Late) U.A. Shimrey of the Institute For Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, has pointed out how women organisations have representation from the village-level to the apex Naga Mothers' Association. In other words, this is a participatory movement that has helped to strengthen local democracy.

Women in Manipur make up half its population and if peace is to become a reality, their involvement is crucial. Besides these groups, Manipur in any case has always been known for its strong, charismatic women leaders, whether it was Rani Gaidinliu of an earlier generation or Irom Sharmila today.

If the troubled Northeast is to have a future marked by justice and peace, clearly women in the region will have to continue playing a central role.

courtesy - women's feature service

Militantly minding the media

The HOOT June 30, 2010

Barring editors and office bearers of the journalists’ union, not a single reporter has been spared the threat calls by unidentified persons in Manipur.

NINGLUN HANGHAL wonders who will tell the story of the story teller

There was no news from Manipur as newspaper publications had shut down. Even web based communications were not updated. This happens in this troubled north eastern state of India every alternate week.

When student leaders from Nagaland announced at a press meet in Delhi on June 14 that they were suspending their 60-days-long economic blockade of National Highways 39 and 53 following their ‘positive' meeting with the Prime Minister, I eagerly gave this news to the Editor of The Sangai Express, an Imphal daily.

While listening to the news that would bring relief to the beleaguered people of Manipur with excitement that matched mine, the editor also spoke of the media's on-going ‘confrontation' with an insurgent outfit that had even forced him to remove the press tag from his car.

In this strife-torn state the woes of the media seem to see no end. After the blockade they were accused of bias in reporting the Naga leaders' home visit. Newspapers have been forced to cut down on pages due to shortage of newsprint and most publications in the capital city of Imphal are being targeted by militant outfits once again.

On June 26th and 27th newspapers did not hit the stands again as journalists from print and electronic media held a sit-in demonstration to protest against the death threats issued to the Manipur Working Journalists Union spokesperson by a proscribed outfit. This threat was issued despite the dialogue initiated by the media with members of the outfit. ANI, a news agency, quoted an Imphal-based journalist who said that the threat had been issued after an initial apology by the militant faction. He said the sit-in protest was against the severity of the threat. The militants had warned of fatal consequences.

Barring editors and office bearers of the journalists' union, not a single reporter has been spared the threat calls by unidentified persons in Manipur. In November 2008 all publications had shut down for 10 days after a reporter with the Imphal Free Press was killed under suspicious circumstances. In 2004, ISTV - a local channel - was not allowed to telecast its programmes by the state government during the height of the protests against AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in the aftermath of an alleged rape and murder of a woman by personnel of Assam Rifles.

As if the flack that the media was facing from militant threats was not enough, news came via the Hindu of June 27 that the Defence Ministry had taken a serious view of what it perceived as the partisan publicity being given to militant handouts by the press in Manipur. The report said that the complaint had been forwarded to the Home Ministry alleging that the media was being used as a mouth piece by banned organisations.

What is surprising in this situation is that the civilian population at large seems to be quite blasé about the whole issue. Yet the media in Manipur is relentless in its endeavour to provide information and it will always bounce back with new vigour after every " Litmus test " as the editorial in The Sangai Express of June 27 says.In an embattled state like Manipur the media, seen as a soft target, has always been and will continue to be pressurized by the state and the militant organisations. The editorial adds that this was bound to be part and parcel of the profession further stating, that for a media to be taken seriously it has to be treated as such by each and every single pressure group.

As news writers stop writing and publishers shut down their publications, the general public is deprived of information. The irony is that there is no one to tell the story of the story teller and the media don't tell their own story either.

Are NGOs from the North East suspect for the media?

THE HOOT , Tuesday, Jun 08 : 2010

>At the end of the press conference one wondered-- had the two women been from so-called ‘ mainland India’ NGOs would the media have asked the same questions?

NINGLUN HANGHAL tries to decode the behaviour North Easterners encounter from journalists.

Two women representative of Impulse NGO network, Shillong (Meghalaya) and Human Rights Now, a Tokyo (Japan) base human rights group addressed the media at Press Club in Delhi on June 5, 2010. They presented their recently conducted fact finding report of child labour employed in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya.
A good number of media personalities, both national and from the North East attended the press conference. Kazuko Ito the Secretary General of Human Rights Now briefed them on the 3 day investigation visit to Jaintia Hills' coal mine areas. She reported that children as young as 6 years of age were employed for mining. The team found that these children were working under extremely hazardous and dangerous conditions, while they were given half of what the adult labourers earn.

Sharing their experiences and work, the Impulse NGO network team leader Hasina Kharbhih said that since children were brought or trafficked from outside Meghalaya, most of them from neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh at a very young age, they do not know where and how to find their way back home. And even if rescued for rehabilitation or for repatriation, they do not have parents or a place to call home. These children work in the risky underground round rat holes. In case of accidents, their deaths were never reported.

She further informed that a survey conducted by the organization estimated that over 70, 000 children were employed in these coal mines. It may be noted that these coal mines were not Government registered and are on privately owned lands. Therefore information was collected through informal interactions with the children and the employers.

Related issues, cross border perspectives, international human rights laws etc were presented by the two addressees. Thereafter the floor was open for questions from the media.

Pat came the question from the middle row directed to the Shillong base NGO representative, “why are you working with a ‘foreign' NGO? Do you work with any of an ‘Indian' organization?” To which the lady replied that Impulse NGO network collaborates and network with various national level organizations working on issues of child labour, trafficking, women and children, human rights etc, adding that the organization is a member of Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

Another young, enthusiastic reporter, probably a new recruit, asked on what the NGO does about issue like child labour in industries, slum children etc. Smiling, the NGO lady replied that they do not have the capacity to look into all issues, and that there are no such big Industries in North East India.

The grilling continued. A middle--aged journalist in the front who had been questioning the two ladies on varied topics inquired where and how do they get ‘funds'. Most of his questions were in Hindi. When Hasina, the representative of Impulse NGO, pulled herself together to answer, the journalist's mobile phone rang. The call seems to be important as he moved to the back of the conference hall answering, audible to everyone in the hall. Finally after the telephone conversation, he left.

At the end of the press conference, one wondered had the two women been from the so called ‘ mainland India' NGOs would the media asked the same questions? Was it because they looked so different that the issue they address had gone in another direction? Was it because they were from the North East and that the media just did not know what to ask? Or was suspicious of them?

Later, talking exclusively to some of the North East media persons , Hasina Kharbhih noted that information about Impulse NGO network is available in the organization website which include accounts and finances. !

It has often been said that North East does not make ‘news' in the national media.
Definitely the June 5th press conference of the fact finding team on child labour in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya did not make it to the front pages of the Delhi newspapers. Indeed it took quite some time to browse though the major daily papers; the Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu, or Jansatta, Nai Duniya, Dainik Bhaskar in an attempt to find the report of the trafficked children enslaved in the far eastern state of Meghalaya. A write-up from its Shillong correspondent was published in the Hindustan Times, June 6th edition on the Variety page. The story carried pictures and a map too, probably to indicate where Meghalaya is!

Yet there has been quite a lot of media coverage in recent years. Some of the infamous stories from the national media are as follows. On March 2, 2008, the Times of India carried the headlines “Spa with a difference” with the lines ...“walk into a spa you will meet professional doctors rather than a Linda from North East”. The January 28, 2008 issue of Mail Today had a story “ drug lords prey north east girls” which said “.. the next time a cocaine addict in Delhi orders for a fix, standing at the door it'll probably be a North East girl...and for a few extra thousand she will put sex on offer ...”

As questions continue to linger in the minds of many a North Easterner, it may not be inaccurate to state that a certain amount of “otherness” remains as an important factor between the NE region and mainland India. Resulting in the national media's judgemental assumptions about the people of the North East, the women in particular.