In a hyperbolic way, there is so much similarity between insurgency and the feminist movement and for that matter other related notions such as patriarchy. They are all, in a profound sense, “a state of mind” first and then only a physical phenomenon. That is to say, the substances of these notions are more important than their forms. Sadly, the tendency has always been to identify them with their forms mostly, and little or nothing with their substances. The result is flawed strategies in tackling these problems thus ensuring their perpetuation. On the question of insurgency, this needs little elaboration as so many have said this in as many words. This acknowledgement of the non-physical aspect of insurgency is inherent in statements after statements by political leaders, academics and even a former chief of the army staff, that the final solution to this festering issue has to be political rather than military. The military component of the solution effort is just to keep the pitch of the insurrection within control so that the civil administration is able to continue discharging its vital duties of governance. At this moment, such a final solution seems far away and the problem as well as its solution is overwhelmingly taking on a military visage. Still, although a military engagement has become inevitable, it would be a fallacy to come to the conclusion that there is a final military solution to insurgency.
It is however on the question of the feminist movement as it is understood and interpreted in Manipur, and the patriarchal order that it challenges, which deserve more discussions. Because these are “states of mind”, they can easily cross physical boundaries within which they are traditionally confined. Hence, a man can be a feminist at heart, believing truly in female emancipation, as much as a woman can be a defender of the oppressive patriarchal values. Little documentation has been done yet, but it is a knowledge ingrained into our society’s archetypal memory that in the nearly universal tension between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law, the former always represents the gatekeeper of the patriarchal order. Only if the daughter-in-law conforms volitionally to the patriarchal order – which often is the case as she too would see the patriarchal order as “common sense”, having probably been raised by parents who too have internalised the patriarchal order to ultimately believe its values are indeed “common sense” in the sense of an insidious hegemony that Gramsci meant the term – or by force if the conformity does not come by volition, would the tension between the two be eased. A good daughter-in-law in our context hence is somebody who adores her husband to the extent of subservience, reveres her in-laws, apart from being a biological washing machine, dish washer, rice cooker, microwave oven, children tutor etc. In many families, she is also somebody who is expected to be contented and happy within the confines of the four walls of her husband’s house. No indeed, the “Sati” is not about feminism at all, but about the hegemony of the patriarchal order.
The oppressed man is much more oppressive on his kind. In his preface to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”, Jean Paul Satre calls this a self-hate syndrome. In reference to the colonised mind, he explains that the oppressed detests his self-image so much that he would inflict cruelty on anybody else who shares this self-image, much more than their common oppressor master himself would. The patriarchal order has also been a coloniser of the mind. It has successfully dehumanised the woman so much so that instead of understanding and sympathising, the mother-in-law has often been the one cruellest to the daughter-in-law, more so if the latter is non-conforming to their common oppressor, the patriarchal order. This same visage is often what the Meira Paibis put on too. Our so called emancipated arts and academics too are not free from the hangovers of this patriarchal syndrome. The provision in the traditional feudal Meitei society where the willingness of a convict to be “humiliated” by covering himself with a phanek to win a pardon, is often portrayed as a respect and empowerment of the feminine gender by the social order then. This same colonisation of the mind is again evident in practice of women agitators stringing up phaneks on the roads during bandhs unknowingly causing self-inflicted injuries to themselves by agreeing that this feminine apparel is impure and no men would bend to pass under them. On International Women’s Day then, let women answer this call for gender emancipation by no longer seeing the feminine gender as subhuman and that there is nothing polluting about their bodies or their dresses.