Cover Story of March Edition
Three prominent personalities from Northeast region– Arupa Patangia Kalita, an eminent author of Assam, L Sarita Devi, the first Indian woman pro-boxer from Manipur and Agnes Kharshiing, a prominent social activist of Meghalaya, have penned down their thoughts for Northeast Today.
Sportswomen of Northeast: Opportunities and Challenges
Being a sportswoman from Northeast India, one has both opportunities and challenges. Having said that the opportunities and advantages that a sportswoman hailing from the Northeast region gets are plenty. The liberal mindset of the Northeast people is one of the main advantages that the sportspersons of this region, specially womenfolk enjoy. This helps us in taking up our area of interest as our profession and move forward in life.
Another added advantage for the people of this region is the unique physical features, which help them climbing ladders in different sports. It is also because of the strong physique that people of the Northeast are highly recommended and encouraged to join sports. The exclusive food habits of the people native to the region is a major factor in gaining this unique physical feature. The strong build actually helps the sportspersons of the region in scaling heights in different sports. Again, the people of this region have a cherished age old sporting tradition. I must admit that, for us, sports has been always a way of life. We can’t leave sports aside from our day to day lives and we inculcate this habit at a very tender age. This is something which is quintessential in this part region. We have been very fortunate to have this kind of sporting culture in our genes.
But there are challenges too for the sportsperson of the Northeast, especially for women. Sometimes they face low expectations from the people and sometimes parents, despite so many women achievers from the region. It is a sad reflection of our times that some people are yet not ready to fully support girls to go into sports. Sometimes there are societal discouragements as well, although this is sporadic. But having said all these, the sportswomen in Northeastern region of India, in general, enjoys support of the family as well as from the society.
(Laishram Sarita Devi is a boxer from Manipur who has recently become the first women pro boxer in the country. She is a national champion and a former world champion in the lightweight class. she won gold at the 2006 World Championships in New Delhi and a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. L Sarita Devi was presented with the Arjuna Award for her sporting achievements in 2009.)
Patriarchy in My Fiction
I am a creative writer. My ways of seeing into things are the ways of a creative writer. My perception of reality is a writers’ perception of reality. While trying to chronicle the complex reality around me I have created an array of woman characters who have to face and tackle daunting challenges in life. I write only what I see around me and imagination can take off only from this point. I have seen from close quarter how women are thrown away like garbage, oppressed maginalised, rejected and how they suffer immensely in a situation which is entirely not their making. Silently they have to bear the unbearable and to my awe they vibrantly asserting life inspite of all the brutal times. I have tried to be their story teller.
Positioning of patriarchy in my fiction is not limited only to the unequal power relation between women and men, but it extends to the power relation between women and strong socio-political and economic forces. These women characters are set against a beautiful landscape torn and shattered by conflict, terror and devastation created by a disturbing and searing history of aggression and hate that has plagued Assam decades.
My novel ‘Dawn’, set in the pre-independent Assamese society draws the characters of stubborn and head-strong Bina who confronted a host of questions as she attempted to come into time with the cruel feudal society around her. She could not understand why she was debarred from going to her school after attaining puberty. Why a nationalist hero has to be hidden away? Why Bogi, an illegitimate child was treated like an outcaste while her illegal father, a rich and powerful man gained respect and acceptability in the society? Why Ruma had to surrender to the wrong wishes of the family? Why was Ruma’s mother treated badly? Wasn’t it just because she did not bear her husband a son? Only daughters. In a moment of profound historical changes Bina’s eventful life raised questions and even challenged the society as she found it in her small but remarkable and significant ways.
‘The Story of Felanee’, my another novel covers the most turbulent period in Assam, that is the beginning of Assam movement to the rise of ULFA and the Bodo movement. Felanee had to witness the destruction of her home and the murder of her neighbours.
“Felanee heard footsteps and the sound of an approaching jeep. She peeped out from between the leaves and in the light of the flame she saw two people run into their house. She recognized Shibani’s brother and her father. The older man was limping. He opened the back door. A crowd of unknown people with strange faces and clothes followed then. They surrounded the home and shut the doors from outside. And then the stench of petrol and kerosene hit her. Her home was in flames. The screams of the two men being burnt alive inside rent the air and paralysed her.”
Pomila Bengi turned out to be a woman of the dimmed wit. She was not able to withstand the terror and cruelty that was inflicted upon her. She had to bear her son and husband’s death. The violent death of her husband shook her to the core.
“Mohan’s father had gone to the bazaar with a sack of cabbage grown in their kitchen garden, returned as a lump of flash bundled into a sack. Pomila did not understand why they burnt a bomb in the bazaar. Only she understood that her man was no more. He had left her forever.”
Pomila Bengi, somehow survived to live the pathetic life of a retarded woman, but Numali a simple and loving village girl had to embrace a horrible death in the crossfire between the terrorist and the army. Her death was surely uncalled for.
“A deafening sound behind the cowshed. And with that sound her small world of red dotted fish, singing cuckoos, blossoming mango flowers, her mother’s love, her brother’s affection and the red pattern on the gamosa that sparkled on her loom, all fell silent. Her head witted and dropped like the pluck blades of sorrel. On her white sador appeared the red color of blood, the stains tough and ugly as if some careless unskilled weaver tried to weave a confused border a sparkling white cotton.”
Pages of my book are replete with a host of negative words like rape, murder, massacre, loot, arson violence, etc. as a writer I want to eliminate these negative words from my works. I want to celebrate the women at the zenith of beauty and civilization. And that is precisely why I can’t help writing about the ugliness, filth, trauma and terror that women are submerged in. While recording the suffering I do not forget to focus on the protest and the rebellion though sporadic, building slowly and quietly, but surely.
Bani’s fight with the hungry herd of elephants stands out as a symbol “Bani went wild. Flaming torch in hand, she rushed the courtyard and thrust it into the middle of the haystacks. The stack of hay caught fire with a roar. Bani stood standing there, watching. The elephant herd was slowly turning and heading away.”
Like the reeds that grow in profusion along the banks of Assam’s rivers, the women in their unequal fights show how they take root again and again in hostile terrain and survive. The concluding chapter in the story of Felanee draws a parallel between the struggling group of women and the reeds. While gathering reeds to mend their houses, Felanee’s companions explain to her the characteristic tenacity and resilience of the reeds.
“The reeds came floating in the Water
They were carried by the wings, you know
The flowers turn into wings and they carry the seeds so far off places
They don’t stink in the water, they float
The moment they hit the soil, the plants germinate.
So do the women in my fiction.
(Arupa Patangia Kalita (1956),one of India’s best writers of fiction writing in Assamese, has four novels and more than ten short story collections, besides a children novel and works of translation to her credit. One of her more successful novels, Ayananta, has been translated into English and Hindi. Felanee, another important novel, has been published in English by Zubaan. Some of her stories have also been translated into other languages including English,Hindi and Bengali. A recipient of several literary awards including Assam Valley Literary Award, Sahitya Akademi award, Bharatiya Bhasa Parishad literary award and Katha Prize, she had declined an award from Asam Sahitya Sabha as the award in question was a woman only award)
Violence against women on the rise in a Matrilineal society
Meghalaya is the land where women are expected to be respected and protected, because in Meghalaya a woman is having the status corresponding to that of a man, since we have the matriarchal system, whereby that form of social organisation in which the descent and the relationship are considered through the mothers. Hence the title of the child is given of the mother and not of the father as is followed and practised all over the world.
In spite of being a matrilineal society, Meghalaya women face different forms of violence perpetrated against them which is a direct impact of violence on women, like murder, sexual abuse, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual harassment in work place, exploited labour, marital rape, etc and this breaks down the women who is the victim. Debarring a women from being able to take part in the election of a headman, is also an atrocity against women as she cannot raise her views and problems in the Dorbar.
Sadly though, as one can read and see from the everyday news that in spite of Meghalaya being a matrilineal society there is growing atrocities against women and children of our society, which is definitely a cause of concern when the whole country looks on to this rise of assault against women in a matrilineal society.
This New year’s 2017, the year opened with headlines of a 17 years old being gang raped in a village in East Khasi Hills District, which represent a destroyed matrilineal society wherein many women are least valued and even suppressed when taken by force and raped. In the gang rape that occurred on the January 1, 2017, the minor girl was dragged and then raped by six men and she managed to flee from the place where she was left with one of the rapist unconscious. When she woke up she found him still asleep and she walked home, which is nearby, in pain.
To add to the misery of the victim and family the village Dorbar convened a meeting and tried to force a compromise. So much for respect and protection of women, who are not even allowed inside the Dorbar to elect their Headmen in many villages in Meghalaya, but was called to the Dorbar to be sort of confronted with her assaulters. That the sexual assault was committed by known men from the same community is a normal trend in Meghalaya.
It is noted that in many rape cases in Meghalaya the perpetrators are not strangers but by someone close or known to the victim. At times, this also creates an opportunity for some corrupt police and defense counsel, who teach the alleged accused to blame the victim and call it consent. They try to put the blame on the woman and not the perpetrator. As in the gang rape mentioned, the village heads questioned the movement of the girl and not the abusive men.
She had just gone for dinner to her aunt’s place nearby when they waylaid her and dragged her, but to the village head it was her fault as she came out in the evening. Such is the mindset of some of these traditional leaders who want to contest elections and please their electorate, or at times to please the powerful and influential, in case they lose out on schemes through Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) schemes, Member of District Council (MDC) schemes.
Rise of crimes also gives an opportunity for some corrupt police to make money from the alleged accused to an extent of helping the alleged accused with a lawyer known to the police, and help him manage the anticipatory bail from the District Councils which is a court trying cases between tribal’s, where cases are not heard properly and linger on. It is of the opinion of some lawyers, that these District Council Courts should not try murder cases or rape cases.
It may be further mentioned that there are some police who do not register cases of heinous crimes like rape and instead deter the victims or their families and scare them off. Many women in the rural areas are scared to file any complaint or FIR as they think they would have to pay lawyer’s fees once they file an FIR. At times the Police call the alleged accused to the Police station and also call the victim to the Police station, trying to get them to come to a compromise.
In cases of domestic violence, even with protection officers, from the social welfare, women are still facing much violence which are not addressed and is on the rise. Child labour is also prevalent, wherein small girls are exploited and made to do excessive hard work in homes of the rich. The poor being driven into hardship sent their wards to rich families who promise them school and proper care. But they land up doing excessive hard work which scars the little fingers. These cases when filed are gathering cobweb as the perpetrators can pay for their freedom even in the realms of the court where files get stuck. In most occasions the rich influence the authorities of law, so there is no report of such cases as cases are not registered.
In 2016, in Meghalaya cases of POCSO were 112, while there were 91 cases of rape against women and to add to the pending cases and the ones piling up, justice is a far cry to a woman in Meghalaya. The way forward is to address the reasons leading to the rise in crimes seriously and there should be awareness given, to men too, on how to respect women.
(Agnes Kharshiing is a women’s rights activist from Meghalaya. She is the president of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation and has done pioneering work in the field of women and community rights)