In Manipur there is a saying that a woman should be beaten ten times a day, suggesting that this is the only way to set her under men’s dominance.
Another supposedly “respectful” saying, given as advice by parents to the in-laws and the husband of their daughters, is “discipline her [the daughter] to fit your hand”. This implies that the hand should be used to control the wife or daughter-in-law.
Therefore it is explicit that our society sanctions gender discrimination and wife-beating.
When a woman suffering from domestic violence comes to us for help the first thing that we do is sit down with her and hear her story. This enables us to collect the case history, which we later cross-check with people in her locality and among her circle of friends. We then ask her what she wants next and, depending on the case, we give her counselling on the spot. If she comes alone, then we ask her to come again with a family member because involvement of the family is very necessary. But Manipur being a traditional community, most of these women usually come with their parents or a family member.
Our initial attempt is to try and solve her problems at the family level between the husband, wife and their families. But this is not always possible.
Often the families of the husband and the wife take sides, triggering a feud. There have even been cases of the family of the wife and their neighbours coming in a mob and destroying the house of the husband’s family.
In other instances the woman may find she cannot leave the abusive marriage and return to her maternal house because her own fathers and brothers will not accept her return. This is an important factor as in a close-knit society like ours it is rare for a woman to live on her own if her family are living here.
In cases of hostility towards the victimised woman by her in-laws, family or the community, we arrange for members of our NGO to visit the people involved and discuss what is going on.
We call it a “gender sensitisation programme”. If possible we hold it in the very courtyard of the house where these chauvinistic people live.
In a gender sensitisation programme, the resource person from our organisation aims to teach the participants what gender is as a concept and discuss with them the different forms of gender inequality and gender discrimination being faced by women in the state, and how to overcome them. This is done through interactive discussion, role play and group work. The resource person will talk to them about how a legal case is filed and explain the different laws under which perpetrators of gender violence and gender discrimination can be arrested.
The point in arranging these programmes is that even if the people in question do not take part in the discussion, they will certainly listen from their own houses. The hope is that they will realise what they are doing wrong and the penalties – such as fines or imprisonment – that they can expect if they do not change their own ways. These programmes are a simple exercise involving no conflict.
The journey from victimised woman to the point where she is able to seek her own rights and defend them is not always possible, but neither is it an impossible task.
I know, because my husband regularly beat me and took away the money I earned so he could buy alcohol. His family inflicted extreme mental cruelty on me by rejecting all ties with me and refusing to even talk to me.
After I approached the NGO where I am working now, Madam, as we call the secretary of the NGO, arranged for such a gender sensitisation programme in my own courtyard. My in-laws had been refusing to give me the share of my husband’s property, which I was entitled to after his death.
Madam cleverly incorporated elements on inheritance rights of women in the gender programme, and talked about how denial of this right to daughters, wives and widows is punishable by law.
Afterwards, my father-in-law went and registered my husband’s share of land in my own name and gave me the patta [lease] of his own volition. The patta is a very necessary document to be produced when I am applying for any widow benefit aid from the government.
So, this gender programme is one of our weapons.
As told to Thingnam Anjulika Samom