By Dr. Benjamin Gangmei
Of all empowerments with their importance, political empowerment may be considered more important one. The empowerment is meant for participating in political decision-making process. And the process normally affects society. The reason is that the process has to do with power or influence which can make others behave in line with other’s wishes. And women political empowerment has to do with political influence of women and the institutionalization of their participation in political decision-making process. Political empowerment of tribal women is importantly viewed on two counts: It will be a direct challenge to all traditional institutions where female representation is denied or absent.And the tribal society shall certainly experience new taste of women political leadership. The society has been under male political leadership for centuries.
The fundamental problems confronting the political empowerment initiative are characterized by lack of awareness, influence of women and the attitude of men folk. What has largely inhibited tribal women in their empowerment efforts is that majority of women is not aware of the “opportunity of equal access to political structures” provided in the Indian Constitution. Lack of awareness is owing to exclusive traditional practice and dependency. In tribal political institutions man exclusively occupied all offices. True there is negligible exception to this system. This culture normally in modern society has created a natural inhibition on women for participating in political process. And lack of awareness is also owing to women’s tendency of dependency on men folk for political activities. Most often women failed to venture on the participation in political process.
Then another fundamental problem to women empowerment initiative in the society is the influence of women is marginal. That is, the political right women exercised is not perfectly in their own right but most often they do it under the pressure of others. The tribal women, as stated above, have the tendency of depending on men, and the women political activists are comparatively less in the society. So, their marginal influence coupled with dependency tendency and numerical minority of women, make the empowerment initiative difficult to push forward.
Then comes the attitude of men folk to women political empowerment. This attitude is characterized by neglect and discouragement. The neglect is both tacit and express held in the situation where men political activists out-number women activists. Moreover, the former are more politically active and assertive. And the discouragement is both traditional and long popularity of male political role. The former is that women had no place in political institutions in the past. While this culture has declined in modern society its vestige present to some extent is discernable in the assertion of male members for political right. And the male political role is, as of now, more readily accepted in tribal Christian society.
The fundamental problems described above have created no conducive atmosphere for empowerment initiative in the society. In fact, tribal empowerment activists have not been as vocal as their counterparts do elsewhere in other states. This shows that majority of tribal women still fails to assert their political empowerment. And the attitude of men to women political empowerment is still expressive in the society. Both the sexes should be of necessity change their attitude to women empowerment issue. On the part of men folk the empowerment should be viewed as necessary change in power structure. And women should also take it as one of the main parts of their quest for gender equity and equality.
In the study of women political empowerment brief discussion on women political life of major tribes like the Mizos, the Thadous, the Paites, the Hmars, the Marings, the Tangkhuls, the Maos, the Zeliangrongs, the Anals etc. is made here. And equal attention to their traditional and modern political life of the women shall be paid so that the changes ever came may be highlighted and the level of empowerment be assessed as well.
Mizo women political life
A sizable population of the Mizos live in Manipur. They concentrate in Churachandpur district. Like women of other tribes Mizo women had undergone life without due political rights and opportunities before the coming of Christianity to their society. Their traditional political organization shows that village political institutions like Village Council and its different political offices were exclusively occupied by male members. So, from the office “Tlangao” (Village messenger) to the office of village Chief were manned by men folk in the Mizo society. Practically there was no “scope for a Mizo woman to participate in village administration”. They, therefore, did not have political status and their role was confined to domestic activities. In other words, Mizo women were not politically empowered in their male-dominated political life.
While there were contributive factors for change in man-woman relationship, the “most revolutionary thing which the Mizos learnt from Christianity was the equality of man before God. This equality led to the abolition of the traditional chieftainship”. Moreover, Christianity was also productive of political consciousness among them and the consciousness was culminated into the demand for separate administrative unit. It was headed by Mizo Union which was formed in 1947 in Mizoram.
Similar Union was also came up in Manipur following suit. The Union paved the way for Mizo women’s participation in political activities by forming a women’s wing. The wing worked hand and hand with men’s wing. The ultimate object of the wings or the Mizo Union (Manipur) was to lend themselves to the struggle for the integration of all Mizos-inhabited areas to Lushai hills or Mizoram. With this ever first political exposure in Mizo society women also worked for the better lot in other aspects. Towards this end and for effective assertion of their rights and privileges, Mizo women formed Mizo Women Association. And what is interesting to note is that the founding leaders of the Association were “the advocates of Women Liberation”. In fact, the liberation objectives envisaged by the Association testified their women liberation ideology. The Association vows to work for gender equality by eradicating gender-based harmful practices such as “commercialization of bride-price”, “dowry system”, “sexual exploitation of any kind” or form, fight against “inequality between men and women”, etc.
In spite of changes the Mizo women experienced and the level of consciousness they gained, they are yet to be politically empowered either in traditional or modern democratic political institutions. They are also yet to launch with necessary efforts for the implementation of women reservation in their society. In short, the Mizo women are not politically ahead of the women of other tribes of Manipur in the enjoyment of their political rights and opportunities.
The Role of Political Position of Tangkhul and Anal women
The role of women in Tangkhul and Anal traditional political life was also practically nil. As for the former the “Hangva” (village council) was exclusively a male-dominated political institution. Even if there was democratic element as far as the mode of recruitment of different members is concerned, there was no women representation to it. A member including “Awunga” village chief, was either elected or selected by the majority of clan heads living in the village. While gone is gone now representation of women to political process can no longer be neglected in their present society. But it is said that women without political role is not amounted to their inferiority. For her part played in domestic plane was immensely praiseworthy. That is, women were enduringly busier than the men folk and spent more time having almost no time to rest. It does not mean Tangkhul women did not enjoy freedom. They did enjoy freedom. In fact, it was freedom that allowed her to be an effective player after her womanhood. It is said that her husband consulted her in “all domestic and family affairs. She helps him make decisions, performs domestic duties and shares household responsibilities with him.”
Like the Tangkhul women Anal women also did have no political status in their traditional society. They also bore the brunt of patriachal system. It is said that all known sources of information did not find the mention of “any woman becoming village top official even though she possessed the required qualifications”. So, the village council which was consisted of four functionaries was exclusively manned by male members. The Kholpu was chief of the village and of the council. And Petha was security head, Athim (village physician) and Thorsu was the maker of implements.
It is interesting to note that the traditional village council was replaced after 1956 and its structure was also transformed. In present day Anal society there are seven (7) members of Village Authority which replaced the traditional council but the traditional structure is retained by including those four functionaries. Even such change in the administrative structure no women are said to have represented to it. Yet no all - out efforts on the part of women and men for women empowerment are observed heretofore in Anal society. Attitude of women to their political rights is required to change henceforward for politically pushing themselves forward in male-dominated Anal society. In other words, change must be made in man-woman political relationship to enable Anal women to emulate themselves.
Political Empowerment & Zeliangrong Women
Zeliangrong is a common nomenclature of four cognate groups (Zeme, Liangmai, Ruangmei, Inpui). They are structured together on linguistic, cultural and ethnical identity. If taken them together they constitute the largest tribal group in Manipur having largest tract of their compact inhabited areas in three states (Manipur, Assam and Nagaland).
Like in other tribal groups of Manipur, each cognate group of Zeliangrong has traditional village council which is differently called Pei or Samkakibe. It is a collective and absolute apex body of each village to which all the heads or representatives of clans, lineages or sub-lineages were represented. The council consisted of at least two or three main functionaries among the Liangmais and Zemes. They are Hangkia or Kadepeo (Chief) Tingkupeo, (Priest) and Hegwang (Deputy Chief). And there are atleast five functionaries among the Ruangmeis which are Nampou (Chief), Maisinpou, Raengdingpou, Maanh (blacksmith), Muh, etc. Besides them there are Changluai, Taku (Priest), Napmupou (food in-charge), etc.
Then there was a drastic change in the structure of village council after 1735. It was effected by a “royal edict” issued by Maharaja Garibniwaz of Manipur. There were now seven members of the council. It is true that some of the offices were structured with indigeneous and Meiteinised elements. The seven members are Khunbu (Village head), Khullakpa (Administrator), Looplakpa (In-charge of the fudal services), Meitei Lambu (Representative for royal affairs), Pakhanglak (Youth in-charge), Napmupou, Changluai, etc.
And the democratization of Village Council was effected in 1947 and further transformation in 1956. While the titles like Khunbu/Nampou, Khullakpa, etc. are retained for the office of village chief, there are elective element involved in the election of chairman of Village Authority and its members. The strength of members depends upon the size of each village. So, there are at least five members in every Village Authority. Yet the democratization of the institution was not accompanied with empowerment provision for women through reservation. And the men folk dominated the village body either in traditional days or modern times.
Exclusion of Zeliangrong women in political process is affirmatively taken as sexual discrimination. While women’s attitude should also be taken into account for this gender issue, men’s attitude to women is mostly questioned in this regard. It is argued that women are competent enough to take part in decision-making process. For they are fit and men folk or husbands seek their opinion on important issues such as finance, marriage, earnings, etc. And they are allowed to make decision in family. But men folk does not allow “women to be involved in decision-making” processes of the community. So, Zeliangrong women are not “even included so far in village council or village authority as members”.
The sexual discrimination of women in Zeliangrong political life is singly attributed to patriarchal system. In such form of social system or organization men folk give “respect and favor” to men and women are considered “weak” by Ruangmei men folk. Convinced herself, G. Kamei thinks that Ruangmei society still believes in patriarchal spirit expressed in Manu’s Code which injuncts in this way : A woman should never be independent. Her father has authority over her in childhood, her husband in youth and her son in old age”. As a result, “the administration is in the hand of the father and a woman has to obey her husband’s voice whether it is good or bad”. In other words, “women’s word is not counted as word”. Further she lamentingly reminds the gender-biased idea that “a man should control his wife strictly otherwise his wife will take advantage of him and rule over him”. So, she be of necessity harassed so that “she may be submissive to her husband” and bearable to her husband. While such nature is not being meted out equally to all women everywhere in Ruangmei society today, it is not untrue at all. The reason is that Ruangmei society still follows patriarchal culture and similar incidents of treatment is often bound to commit on women.
While the position of Zeliangrong women is lower than that of men and excluded them from the participation in Village Council or Authority, they have laudable place in the society. According to Gangmumei Kamei, “Despite the patrilineal base of the society woman as daughter, wife or mother, she exerted influence in the household, lineage and lineage affairs. Though not represented in the Village Council, Zeliangrong women are quite powerful and influential in getting their wished fulfilled through their husband.”
And it is true that empowerment issue is yet to be materialised in their society Zeliangrong women “enjoy more power and privileges than the women in other community. She plays important roles in the family. They can, to some extent, involve in conflict resolution process by way of passing insight through dream or symbolic act of deterring men from causing bloodshed. A woman can stop men fighting by shaking her wearing longi before the contending party(s). In that sense the women are powerful with considerable amount of freedom in the society. This nature of life Zeliangrong women enjoyed is testified by Ms. N.N. Haralu and Rani Gaidinliu who could propel themselves to Indian ambassadorship and freedom fighter respectively in early part of 20th century. In other words, no cultural barriers existed to deter women from rising above others in male-dominated if she possessed promotive courage and intellect.
Political Life of Paite Women
The Paite is one of the major non-Naga tribes of Manipur. Their population, according to 1981 census is 30,959. They are mainly concentrated in Churachandpur district of Manipur distributing themselves over 125 villages and 5,078 household in the state of Manipur. The Paite political organisation has two layers in their traditional society. The first or lowest one is organised at household level. This is household council known as Inndongta in Paite.The council is composed of household male members. Each of the households’ siblings hold separate household councils and its members are determined through kinship positions and recruited from among the siblings, father’s sisters, mother’s brothers, etc.
Then, there is traditional apex political institution of Paite which is similar to Naga system. That is, there is village council. The council is headed by the chief who is assisted by male elders of the village. Each chief is derived from either Sukte or Guite which are ruling clan or behs. The chief appoints different members of the council which are village messenger or “crier”, physician, priest to look after their respective aspects. The Paite village council was also, like in other hill tribes of the State, partly transformed after 1956, through the introduction of Village Authority Act. The village chief continues to chairman of Village Authority and the new body also “functions more or less in its traditional way.”
Lower political status is no exception to Paite women. In spite of their important roles in other aspects of the Paite socio-economic life, they do not have “a say in the transactions of the Inndongta... The meeting of the Inndongta is attended by male members only. She has no voice into village administration.” So, both in the past and modern political process the Paite women have no role in political activities of the villages. They are confined to domestic affairs without being the partners of men in Paite political life.
Maring Women & Maring Polity
The Maring tribe which is concentrated in south-eastern part of Manipur is a Naga tribe. Their population is about 11,910 in 1981. With regard to their political organization prior to 1735 (the time hill areas administration became revolutionized) seems to have had no well-knit system as were found among other tribes of Manipur.
In other words, it is not clear whether they did have household council like Paite Inndongta or village council system before the time of Manipuri King Garibniwaz who introduced hill administrative system for the first time. No doubt Maring village was administered by a legitimate authority. After the introduction of the administrative system, a Maring village was headed by a headman or Khullakpa.
But it is said Khunbu was the real head. The charisma is said to have considered for the headship of the village. So, Khunbu who had “superior ritual power was the leader of the village.” But it seems that in case of non-possession of that qualifications, no Khunbu could not propel himself to the position of headship.
The village body or council was composed of a head or Khunbu, a “Sakoullu” head of village protection and we have little knowledge about other offices of the Body. So, it appear that “a full-fledged council headed by the Khullakpa was a later development” among Maring tribe. What can be said about their polity is it was “based on the principle of seniority, a social structural principle which determines obligations, rights and status of individuals.” And it seems that each clan living at the village necessarily has political role or functions.
Like other tribes of Manipur, Maring society is also patriachal in structure and functioning. Man-woman relationship is determined by the structure in which the position of women in the society is obvious. And since Maring “family is patrilineal and patrilocal” Maring women are accorded a lower role in socio-economic activities but also their participation in political process. To be precise, they do not have role in Maring political activities. It is said while Maring women can “assert themselves in family affairs” they are not entitled to participate in village administration and their political
de-empowerment was there in past traditional society and similar treatment is followed in modern society as well. So, the women are compelled to confine to domestic affairs of the family with limited scope of religious participation in Maring society.
On the other hand, Maring traditional institutions and leadership are said to have started declining and new forms of social organizations emerging. The latter are agencies of change in the society. Of them the most important ones are the Maring Naga Racial Association (an Association of older persons formed to promote Maring ethnic life), Maring Naga Baptist Association (a protestant organization), Maring Naga Students’ Union, etc. These agencies are instrumental to create socio-religious and political awareness among the Marings. If the functionaries are responsive enough to the call of the days particularly for gender justice on both secular and religious plane, women empowerment matter may find no much irritants in empowerment initiative or process in Maring society in near future.
For the mode of organization and process of functioning of those agencies are opposed to the mode of functioning of Maring traditional institutions.
The “specialty of the Maring society” is “oligarchic control”. Rejecting this form of functioning how the younger people are “indulging in is less conventional while functioning within strictly defined limits.” Moreover, it is said that the “traditional village council has almost been reduced to the status of a virtual non-entity” and politically “relevant rules among the Maring cut across the limits of the tribe.” Such changes that came to stay in their society are obvious for capable of bringing about change to man-woman relationship. For the present Maring society does not accept oligarchic way for social relationship and that is a direct challenge to Maring patriachal society.
Here the attitude to women political empowerment is responsible for effective empowerment process. The logic is that if both men and women are not in favor of oligarchic nature of functioning, men-folk is also bound to change their attitude to the initiative of women political empowerment in Maring society. And the Maring women are also equally responsible for initiating and furthering their empowerment. In this regard the women are not actively on the move towards empowerment activity for certain reasons or factors. Illiteracy, lack of awareness, self-effacing attitude of women, etc. remain as main obstacles to the empowerment initiative. In other words, Maring society is no exception to typical problems found in other tribal contexts.
Political life of Mao women
Mao women occupy “prominent position within family”. They are duly honored with kind. For examples, best gifts in the form of best wine, portion of choice meats, etc., are allotted to women. Even during the observance of gennas and other ceremonies, wife is honored by priest by cladding the couple with precious clothes before the members of Village Council. Mao women are also effective partners of men in economic pursuits. Mao women have liberty to go back to their parents’ home and re-marry with the men whom they chose after one’s husband is dead. So widow re-marriage is permitted in Mao society. They do cultivation, manage family affairs with their husband. They are entitled to the ownership of properties which she acquired with her husband. They are responsible for the performance of “Koyu” - “departing ceremony” by staying at her husband’s home a year after his death.
Yet Mao women are “looked down as untouchable in certain cases”. For examples, they should not “cross or jump over man” nor are allowed to touch weapons meant for fighting; they are considered “spy of the enemy” and so no secrets are leaked to them, etc. Moreover, they do not have part in clan and village councils.
Mao form of political organization is somewhat akin to that of Paite as far as their system and administration are concerned. Village council is at the top followed by Khel and Khii administrative bodies or councils. The village headed by Maveo is consisted of twenty councilors. It is also known as Council of Twenty. The councilors are the representatives of different clans living at the village. Maveo is a hereditary head. He is also religious head and presides over all important religious gatherings. The Council is the highest decision-making body and its decision is final. The chief refers all hard issues to the Council of Twenty.
In village administration the Council is assisted by subordinate bodies by not directly referring any dispute or case to the chief. It will be first dealt with by Khii and their Khel. If the Khel “could not settle the case, naturally the matter goest to the Chief” who in turn summons his council. In this way village administration is organised and functioned in Mao society. Here Mao society is no exception to the culture of exclusion of women from participating in political process. We have seen that Mao women’s role in some areas of socio-economic affairs is notable and they are excluded for certain cases. Beginning with that exclusion Mao women have no part in political institutions either in the Council of Twenty or in both Khii and Khel bodies. So, the women political empowerment process has not yet taken a practical shape in present Mao society.
Hmar polity and women
Hmar tribe is another important tribal group of Manipur. Their population is 29,216 in 1981. The 35 villages are concentrated in the south of Manipur. The tribe consists 21 clans which are divided into 210 lineages. The Hmar tribal community has three classes warrior, farmer and hunter. Hmar women do not belong to the first and third class but to second one. Hmar women’s political status is obvious at this stage.
Hmar administrative organization is comparatively elaborate, and it is also organized without subordinate administrative bodies. There is no lineage or clan administrative body or council. Village Council is the only political institution in Hmar society. Mode of organization of the Council is not democratic in the sense that the councilors are selected by the Chief based on their social position and capability. It is said that the councilors are not headed by the Lal (chief) himself but by a Chief Councilor who is the Deputy Chief. Besides these Councilors, there are other important officials who are part and parcel of the village council. The officials are such as Thiempu (Priest), Valupa (Youth Commander), Thirsut (Blacksmith) and Tlangsam (Village messenger). Of them Thiempu and Valupa seem to have more bearing on village administration. The case which the Council cannot decide is referred to them and they deal it through the means of ordeal and oath taking and thereby settle it.
And the Hmar male youths under the leadership of Valupa is “so great that even the Chief and his councillor could at times be subject to the will of the youths.” The reason is that they are the main fighting force in defending the village and they give “free and compulsory service to the society. So, Hmar youths or bachelor’s dormitory called Zawlbuk are part and parcel of village administration in both peace and conflict days.
As hinted by the organization of three Hmar social classes, that women are not come under warrior and hunter classes and thereby imply the exclusion of women in decision-making process. It is said that even in family the “husband exerts more influence in the decision-making process.” He “represents the family in all public meetings, directs the family affairs”. Hmar women are not entitled to right of inheritance which is exclusively entitled to the youngest son of the family. This state of affairs remains unchanged even after the reorganization of village administration under Manipur Hill Village Authority Act, 1956. That is, to say women political empowerment is yet to be initiated in Hmar society also. The change that one can observe is like the decline of the role of the Lal (chief) and his council. His rights and privileges he indisputably enjoyed before the introduction of Act have not been fully put into practice today.
Perhaps this sexually discriminative state of affairs may have prompted Hmar women, at the fag end of 20th century, to institute a women forum called Hmar Women’s Association in 1986. It may also be mentioned that Hmar Society is far more literate one among the tribes of Manipur. Hmar women literacy rate is 75.2% which is ranked highest of all women literacy rates of major tribal groups of Manipur.
The most important and relevant objects interalia of the Hmar Women’s Association are reproduced here. The Association aims at upholding “women’s value and rights”. Under this object sex-biased culture of Hmar which determines the value of women is targeted for change. Determination of women’s value by culture is resulted into low status of women low status is further resulted into low or limited role of women. In this way women’s rights are undermined in society forcing them to play limited role.
The Association also aims at promoting “active participation in the total socio-political life of the Hmar... and work for modernization of life”. The object speaks of the state of affairs in their political life. That is, Hmar women, for one reason or other, do not exercise their right of political participation. The reason is of two-fold-self and other. The former is about self-effacing attitude of women to political equality which should be changed. In other words, dependency on menfolk in political matter should be forgone. And the latter is about the patriarchal value which gives menfolk the tradition of sex inequality. And the inequality which is expressive in political life should be checked or rectified. And, the object stands for change of traditional political value which is not considered all relevant to present day political life. It is thus a call for receptivity to emerging changes through timely socio-political awareness among Hmar women. As far as women empowerment is concerned such objects formulated or concieved to be pursued is encouraging and farsighted. Yet our main concern is whether the Association has vigorously pursued those noble objects or not. In political empowerment concern Hmar women, for one reason or other, are yet to push themselves forward.They are primarily responsible for working out their political salvation for which, while each one of them has part, women empowerment activists should necessarily take the lead fighting against both horizontal and vertical odds. That is, informed activists should not fail to duly motivate their own fellow beings (women) and anti-empowerment elements in their own society.
Vaiphei women and Vaiphei polity
“The Vaipheis”, according to S.D. Capvung “are patriarchal in lineage and inheritance.” He means to say that man is in first place in every aspect of Vaiphei socio-political life. If so Vaiphei women’s political status is obvious. Below the village council there are several clan heads of the clans. They are also paid similar honor by the clansmen who live at different villages. Thus, the heads of the clans are also responsible for all their men and women. In other words, they are the responsible heads at individual clan levels. And in their turn they are representing their clans to higher village council.
Prior to Gausapu/Innpipu-Chief, the chief was known as Khawpa. The latter was appointed the head of the village by the villagers. He should be a prominent fellow. Again, Gausapu was changed to Hausapu for the same title, chief. He is the head of several Siamaang Pachawng or Councilors or “nobles”. The chief was a hereditary head.
The Vaiphei village council is similar to that of Anal in terms of composition and typical functionaries. The Councilors were appointed by the chief and they were responsible to the former. Then another functionary is Tangsampu or village messenger or “crier”. Another official of the council is Thiik-seekpu or blacksmith.
These offices of the functionaries of the council were exclusively manned by male members. But it seems that except those councilors, the other officials may not have been ones chosen from different clans living at the village. They may have been appointed or selected on the basis of their capacity in terms of skill, talent, other qualities, etc. which were considered suitable for the offices. Even the village male youths who had part in village administration had no privilege for direct participation in the assembly of the council. They formed simply the defence segment of the village and were empowered to carry out orders or directives of the council. In other words, Sawm (a kind of dormitory) was security unit meant for the maintenance of law and order, providing security cover for councilors, defence of the village, etc.
In such administrative structure, it seems that no suitable offices for Vaiphei women were allotted or needed in those days. What can be said is that women could be included among the councilors who were part and parcel of decision - making officials of the village. While it was the affairs of the gone days, it seems that the Vaiphei society also has not yet rightly thought for a change in man-woman relationship in the matter of sharing political rights and opportunities by making provision for women’s necessary participation in political decision-making process even today. In other words, patriarchal vestige is still expressive in socio-political life of Vaiphei society even in the 21st century.
A brief discussion on man-woman relationship in political matter among some of the major tribes of Manipur shows that the patriarchal values were prominently expressive in many aspects of socio-political life of the tribes. Then how has been the relationship after the democratization of hill areas administration? Reorganization of Hill Areas Administration in modern times began after the Indian independence. “The Maharaja of Manipur through the Manipur State Council promulgated the Manipur Hill Peoples Regulation, 1947.” For the administration of hill areas of the state under the overall in-charge of the Minister of Hill Affairs. Judicial administration of the villages is to be formed through “Village Authorities, Circle Courts, Sub-divisional Courts, the Hill Bench and Chief Court of Manipur.” Village Authority is established at every village of 20 households and above. The Authority is “empowered with judicial administration, maintenance of law and order without police power, collection of hill house tax and adjudication and criminal cases by applying the State Criminal Laws and Tribal Customary Laws.” While it is change in village or hill administration, the nature of administrative reorganization is more of security and less of general administration. And the “Regulation of 1947 was partly withdrawn/repealed by the Village Authorities Act, 1956.” The Regulation Act has for the first time introduced an overarching system of hill administration. In other words, the supremacy of traditional village council has been reduced and thereby first democratized administrative structure with inter-tribal basis.
The Hill Peoples Regulation Act, 1947 which envisaged higher authority just above the Village Authorities was first an overarching administrative body introduced in tribal areas of Manipur. The entire tribal area was grouped into nine circles and each of them was placed under Circle Authority. There were six members including Circle Officer in each Circle Authority. They were elected by the Village Authorities of the Circle and thereby first introduced elective element or democratic administration in tribal areas of the State. The Circle Authority was combined with both Circle and criminal administration. It is also “responsible for the administration of lower and upper primary education, the construction of bridle paths and bridges, the supply of drinking water, the improvement of terrace cultivation, to reduce or eliminate jhum cultivation, the maintenance of land records, collection of taxes, preservation of forests both ordinary and reserve, etc.” Of all the administrative bodies introduced by the Act, Village Authorities and Circle Authority seem to be relevantly important. For they were in direct contact with the concerned people and dealt with their socio-political issue of the society.
Then the Parliament passed the Manipur Hill Areas Village Authorities Act, 1956 and it came into force in 1957. For every village has from 20 to 60 tax-paying houses is entitled to have five members and for villages which have 61-100 and 101-150 tax-paying houses are entitled to 7 and 10 members of Village Authority. As such there are 725 Village Authorities in seven areas of the hills.
The changes the Act introduced are : i) the members are elected on the basis of Adult Franchise. Prior to this Act, the village chief chose his councilors. Then the Village Authority is an elected body; ii) the Chief’s power over village court was not valid as the Act “authorized the head of the State to appoint two or more members of the Village Authority to act as Village Court”; iii) the Act “legitimized the feudalistic chieftainship and Khullakpaship by making” either chief or khullakpa” as/ex-officio Chairman of the Village Authorities”. And the Act “provided the constitution of a Village Court with proper power, jurisdiction and authority.
Finally, the administrative reorganization of Manipur hill areas is made by passing the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. It was passed by Union Parliament. The Act has organized hill areas into six District Councils, i.e. Churachandpur (South), Senapati (North), Ukhrul (East), Tamenglong (West), Chandel (Manipur South-East), Kangpokpi (Senapati South). The Act was came into force in 1973. And each District Council originally consisted of 18 members and two moninees. The Act provides the District Councils executive, legislative financial and judicial power for effectively functioning of the Councils.
A glance over the administrative changes introduced by the three Acts between 1947 and 1971 has enabled us to understand that some necessary amount of administrative reorganization has been made during the period considering the reorganization from participation point of view, it has up-dated both traditional and democrative administrative system to facilitate the administrative processes to bring about overall socio-economic development and greater political participation in democratic-political process particularly in tribal areas. In this regard for our concern is the extent of women’s representation to political decision-making bodies like Village Authority, District Council, State Legislative Assembly, etc. The responses provided by different respondents revealed that no political participation progress has been made so far in this regard for various reasons. That is, no different tribal groups have not yet brought change in patriarchal value-bound traditional institutions for the participation of women. So, except few tribal women who contested elections to constitutional and statutory bodies and appointed political workers, no actual empowerment of tribal women has been ever made among the tribes of Manipur. Sexual discrimination of women in political matter comparatively remains unchanged giving them no necessary political rights and opportunities for participation in political processes at any levels. In other words except their constitutional rights and priviledges, no tribal community has ever made them new traditional political rights and opportunities and enabling them to enjoy the same. So, tribal women without new traditional political status have no say in traditional political decision-making process even today.
This was testified by tribal leaders during the observance of 100th International Women’s Day in Imphal. According to K. Shimray, tribal women of Manipur, not talk of women reservation, are yet to enjoy their voting rights particularly in remote areas. He also pointed out that “equal rights and equal opportunity between man and woman is still a distant dream more specially for womenfolk in the hill districts of Manipur.” With regard to women reservation matter he lamentingly said that while valley women do enjoy reservation opportunity in Panchayati and Municipality, “womenfolk in hills districts have not been able to take part in the decision-making process even at the village level.” One reason is that “there is no provision of keeping reserved seats for the women in the election to the Autonomous District Council for the hill districts.” So, he called for a “concerted effort of women” for women empowerment.
Women reservation issue seems to have gained momentum with the wave of Women Reservation Bill. The NGO called Tribal Rights Protection Movement (TRPM), Manipur urged on State Governor to amend Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 so that it may incorporate provision of women two seats in the council. Two women may represent the “unrepresented tribes in each district.” Following suit Valley Rose Hungyo and R. Daniel lodged a complaint at Gauhati High Court against non-reservation of seats for women in the Council. Such initiatives may be termed as a good start and in right earnest. In this regard the State Government shall be responsible taker of the move.
While statutory women political empowerment is yet to come, women without necessary non-statutory political empowerment have gone through six decades after Indian independence. This political life of tribal women particularly that of Naga women continued as late as in 1994. Remember tribal Naga groups are far greater in population among the tribals of Manipur. The Naga women, for protection and promotion of their various rights and privileges and playing their role in the society in concerted manner, established their own forum called The Nagas Women’s Union, Manipur. In one of its resolution adopted under No. 4, October 1994 states that women should be given right for participation in Village administration which is considered “right direction” of women empowerment at village level. This is one of the important collective assertions of women for their political empowerment among the Naga tribes of Manipur. The decision for claiming their right for participating in village decision process testifies to the state of affairs in political matter. But how far has the empowerment initiative progressed within two decades after 1994? Perhaps the initiative finds few takers in male-dominated Naga tribal society. This has been revealed by the responses provided in the Questionnaire circulated in 2009. Past conservative outlook of menfolk is still found tralaticious in present Naga Society. In the past Naga society “women were debarred from political activities” and “not allowed to enter councils where men gathered to discuss political and inter-village issue.”
While the context is in Nagaland this old Naga menfolk’s attitude is still expressive in the matter of sharing political rights and opportunities. The Nagaland State Government’s proposal for the reservation of 33% for women was shot down by the Naga Students Federation stating that women’s role for distinct Naga race has nothing in common with that of men. And old Naga customary or traditional practices are retained for some time. And the paradoxical attitude of some women Associations to such stand was supportive. The support of women to NSF’s stand is not in the interest of women empowerment. Such neutrality on the part of some women to empowerment initiative is not absent in Manipur context as well. For respondents expressed it so. Besides neutrality of women there is lack of awareness among tribal women. So, the dilatory process of women political empowerment in tribal society of Manipur is attributed to, while menfolk is equally responsible, women’s neutrality to empowerment initiative and lack of awareness among majority of tribal women.
Majority of tribal women is suffered from lack of awareness about the importance of participation in decision making process by exercising their full political rights and opportunities. That is the reason why they fail to rightly initiate themselves for change in decision-making bodies like Village Authority, other traditional institutions, etc. in present-day society. Only a few women raise their voice against the discrimination and their efforts are often found to be in discrete manner. As to neutrality, except a few women activists, majority of tribal women, either in secular or religious context is gender-neutral. The reason is that they are apprehensive of men’s reaction or they are “divided themselves” over gender issue. The hold of patriarchal value in the society is behind this attitude of women. The ultimate outcome of these factors – neutrality and lack of awareness, is moderate or less influence of women and continued tendency of dependency of women on menfolk for political expression in tribal society. Therefore, what is required for political empowerment of tribal women is to educate them on necessary awareness and their tendency of dependency. In short, they should be enabled to neutralize the sway of patriarchal ideology or outlook in tribal society.
Taking cues from their hurdles which are endemic in tribal society, the problems may be classed as lack of socio-political consciousness and self-effacing tendency. Under the former there are illiteracy or lack of knowledge, lack of information etc. which led to their socio-political unawareness; and the latter is caused by domestic pressure on women which is naturally resulted into their dependency on men and lack of women leadership. Illiteracy is rated as the most harming factor for empowerment initiative among the tribal women of Manipur. While statistically it is not fully justified, level of knowledgeable literacy rate is not so high. It is also true that those knowledgeable women literates are not necessarily far more informed or aware in political matter as they are about economic rights and opportunities.
This state of affairs and tendency coupled with lack of information among the majority of women have resulted into low level of socio-political awareness in patriachal value-bound tribal society of Manipur. And then what does this society do to women is that it gives heavy domestic obligation to women. While many of the present day tribal women are not subject to domestic pressures or obligations, they are not fully free from their tendency of dependency on men for the exercise of their political rights. This is one of the important factors which is responsible for lack of women leadership in active politics and in pursuit of women political rights in tribal society.
It can, therefore, be stated that Manipur tribal women have not been clamoring for their political rights and opportunities as to the extent they have been for socio-economic rights like rights of inheritance, claim for women priesthood, etc. In other words, there has been no spate in their struggle for women political empowerment. So, it is yet to take a proper shape of initiative for the purpose particularly at the grass-root level institutions of both statutory and other traditional institutions such as Village Authorities, traditional intermediary or clan councils, etc. These institutions are appropriate for initial women’s participation in political decision-making process. Change in these traditional political institutions is important towards political empowerment. For process of change in statutory bodies may not automatically affect them and thereby empowerment process may remain incomplete in tribal society.
The Upper House of Indian Parliament has passed Women’s reservation Bill on the 9th March 2010. It is a turning point in the quest for gender equality. If the Lower House passes Bill, women are entitled to 33% reservation in the Lower House of Indian Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. The reservation will politically benefit even matrilineal tribal societies like the Garos, the Khasis, etc., in North-East India. There is mainlining but no matriarchy in their societies. So, women enjoy no “unfettered” decision-making power within the family, much less in society and politics.” In these matrilineal societies like the Khasis women are “doubly discriminated : she has to fend herself and also bring up her children.” And being no matriarchal societies women, are excluded from the participation in traditional political institutions and thereby discriminated them in political matter. Menfolk considers the traditional institutions the “last male bastions.” But certainly the women’s reservation policy will affect discriminative societies.
According to Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, “achieving equality for women is not only a laudable goal and a human right. It is also good economics, helps deeper democracy and enables genuine long-term stability.”
This comment is significant in view of women political empowerment progressing in India and findings of research conducted on women political engagement. While the comment seems to hold good for economic and human right considerations, politically, it is not in line with the findings of the research. Even though the socio-economic backgrounds are not same, the findings gained from the research conducted on 10,000 women of 10 Latin American countries which women quota system and non-quota-based 7 countries, are significant in the study of prospects of women’s reservation system in India and elswhere. From Uppsala University, Par Zetterberg conducted research on the impact of quota system found that there was no positive impact on women’s political engagement, knowledge, activities or on their political contacts and activities. This is the different picture from the findings of social science researchers who conducted study on the implementation of quotas in Panchayats across India. For the researchers contended that “quotas increase self-esteem, confidence and motivation of women and strengthen women’s contacts with their political representatives, increasing their political empowerment.” But Zetterberg’s findings contradict theirs and he opined that perhaps some scholars are “too quick in drawing conclusions about attitudinal and behavioral effects of gender quotas.”
The probable reasons, to cite some of them, may be that like in India quota movement was engineered by elite women from different political parties in countries like Argentina in 1991. In the process, according to Zetterberg, sections of women may have questioned Government’s “commitment to gender equality” but not perceived quotas “as genuinely empowering.” And “gender quotas have not interfered with the centralized and informal nomination procedures in Latin America in which party leaders often handpick candidate” and the likeliness is that women who are close to party leader are selected rather than “women with strong popular support.” As a result, little change occurred “in an unfair system.” Similar impact of quotas may fall on some weaker section of women particularly OBC, Muslim, Dalit, Adivasi women etc. There is likeliness that these sections of women may not put up their candidates.
The “positive” of gender quotas are then effective responses to socio-economics problems. Such prospects of quotas are included in the findings of US research conducted on women political representatives. So, in the United States of America quotas made “big impact on the extent to which women’s interests are represented in legislature” and legislatures “are sympathetic to concerns of disadvantaged groups.” Female legislator are “more likely than legislators to heed concerns of constituents.” They also plan more for their successors than male representatives. So the findings of the two researches gave different pictures as the impacts of women’s reservation system in different societies.