Representation of Women:
A Study of Five North-East Indian Writers of Fiction in English
Chapter -1: Introduction
Representation of women in literature has multiple dimensions to investigate yet it remained a mere reflection of reality for a considerable period of time due to prolonged existence within patriarchal premises. For an extended period, bulk of written works published were those written by men and were believed to have consequently affected the portrayal of women, particularly in literature, which was understood to be undeniably biased. Though the contribution of women towards literature is immense, for a long time it was overlooked as they had no access to writing for education was denied them and because many women
it wasn’t so long ago that women found it difficult to be published. Certainly this was the case a little over a quarter of a century ago… Many saw their own writing as somehow inferior, and preferred to keep it in the background in deference to the work of their writer husbands, or other writers. (Butalia, Katha 09)
A notion has been instilled in us that, “fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction – so we are told” (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own 17), and because the representation of women in literature was felt to be one of the most important form of ‘socialization’ since it provided the role models which indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable versions of the ‘feminine’. Early history recognized reality of women as
… to give birth and to breast-feed are not activities, but natural functions; .. which is why the woman finds no motive there to claim a higher meaning for her existence; she passively submits to her biological destiny.. Man’s case is radically different…he first has to conquer the seas by constructing dugout canoes; to appropriate the world’s treasures… To maintain himself, he creates; he spills over the present and opens up the future… Their success is greeted by celebration and triumph, man recognizes their humanity in them. This pride is still apparent today when he builds a dam, skyscraper, or an atomic reactor…it is not in giving life but in risking his life that man raises himself above the animal; this is why throughout humanity, superiority has been granted not to the sex that gives birth, but to the one that kills. (Beauvoir, The Second Sex 75-76)
Majority of the written works were those of male, hence, the depiction of women in literature was the one designed and accepted by them. Therefore, the representation of women in literature needs to be explored. The study of this present research traces the image of women represented in the selected fiction under study viz. A Terrible Matriarchy, Mari and Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire Iralu, The Legends of Pensam and Stupid Cupid by Mamang Dai, Lunatic in My Head by Anjum Hasan, The Collector’s Wife by Mitra Phukan and Felanee by Arupa Patangia Kalita.
The study has been framed with three objectives such as:
To study the image of women reflected in contemporary North-East English fiction.
To study the man-woman encounter presented in the selected fiction.
To study the double and triple marginalization faced by women of North-East India.
To study the violence and trauma faced by women and children of North-East India.
The word representation communicates a variety of meanings and interpretations associating it with complex connotation to the word itself as the concept implies an absence. An assessment of the word shows an irreducible gap between intention and realization. Hanna F. Pitkin in her seminal work, The Concept of Representation, says that representation is a single, but highly complex concept and structure covering a wide range of applications in varied context with its indefinable meaning. The etymology of the word indicates that representation is re-present or making a present, in some sense, of something, which is nevertheless not present literally. However, the word plays an important part in the production and dissemination of meaning. It is a process through which meaning, associations and values are socially constructed by people. As the concept is problematic it is not free from political implications. The politics of representation revolves around issues of power and control, and is also infected by the culture and society that produces it. It appears to be influenced by the interest of a dominant group of society, which implicitly manipulate the power structures that seem to control the process of representation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argues that the concept of representation must be reassessed in connection with representation in politics where marginalized groups of people are positioned and categorized into gender, culture, geographical region, etc. Who is representing who in literature becomes an important factor which needs to be taken into account otherwise there is a danger of misrepresentation taking place, as emphasized by Edward Said in his argument that the powerfulness of misinterpretations and misconceptions may produce stereotypes which in actuality does not exist at all. This reiterates the point that as published texts for prolonged period were those of male writers, there is every chance that the representation of women in text may be that of the image designed, accepted, appreciated and appropriated by patriarchy.
Patriarchy stands for power and authority which symbolize “possession, control and belonging” (Jain, Women in Patriarchy 13). In patriarchy women are the immediate oppressed class. However all marginalized class become inclusive within this oppression as the term has connotation of control which thrives on suppression of the powerless.
Patriarchy has had the capacity to represent the oppressive and exploitative system of men’s dominance in totalist terms. It has been seen as an ideology, a socio-cultural and material structure and the cause as well as the effect of women’s oppression. Some of the key causal conceptualizations of patriarchy have been in relation with family (Millet 1971), reproduction (Firestone 1979), male violence (Rich 1980), class and economic relations (Barret 1988), and social structures (Walby 1990). ( Wickramasinghe, Feminist Research Methodology 71)
Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) presents the historical derivation of the system from Greek and Roman law in which the male head of the household had absolute legal and economic power over his dependent female and male family members that create patriarchal dominance of male family heads over their kith and kin. The word indicates the representation and institutionalization of male supremacy over women and children in family in particular and the male dominance over women in society in general. This necessitates men to hold power in all the important institutions of society resulting in women being deprived of such access to control. Kumkum Sangari in Politics of Diversity: Religious Communities and Multiple Patriarchies examines multiple patriarchies which are part and parcel of wider social formations that are related to, rooted in, and enabled by them. In Sexual Politics (1969), Kate Millett describes the relation between the sexes as basically political with an arrangement where one group of person is controlled by another. She argues that for the establishment of patriarchal society, the status accorded to women has been a demeaning one, that of the homemaker and chattel, and feels that all but rudimentary sexual difference is cultural in origin. Millett opines that patriarchy imposed strict faithfulness and obedience on women observes that the aim to free women is to free them from, “immemorial sub-ordination which in the process can bring us a great deal closer to humanity” (Millett, Sexual Politics 363). The roots of patriarchy lie in the myths of creation which locates itself in the power of man and subordination of woman. It perpetuates its aim by advocating myths that tell of protection of woman by man, reprimand of woman for wrongdoing, and their signification in the glorification of motherhood. To understand the situation it becomes a necessity to study the experience of women, their strength and abilities, and their capacity to endure. The image of a patriarch is that of a wise men who conserve his energy and wealth, with an aura of stern and unforgiving nature that stands for the Father who is an institution here with a hegemonic mindset to practice oppression. The journey from protector to oppressor did not occur all of a sudden. The history of human progress and development has hastened this shift from guardian to tormenter. There is a distinct irony noticed through this long passage between the growth of human intelligence and liberty on one hand, and rise of constriction in women space on the other hand. Jasbir Jain, in Women in Patriarchy critically questions development with its variable functions; recognized notion of equality rooted in male species, and the need of patriarchal power for the other who is powerless and inferior to define itself.
As men and women have moved from one stage to another, from the nomadic to the agrarian, to industrialism and capitalism, and as means of sustenance and methods of governance have changed, the concepts of purity of lineage and property have also emerged tightening the hold of the patriarch… Why is it that development functions like a see-saw? Why is it that the notion of equality has perceived itself as rooted in the male of the species and power has always needed the ‘other’, the ‘powerless’ to define itself? Is the category of gender any different from class, caste or colour? (Jain, Women in Patriarchy 14)
The way women are subjected to the position of the other was never brought to light as it was all buried under the debris of the so-called deeds of male protagonists. The cultural conditioning of women and the socio-politico-economic discrimination and deprivation were lost in the way men were glorified in the literary works.
Other, a term advocated and popularized by Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1979) refers to the act of emphasizing the alleged weaknesses of marginalized groups as a way of stressing the assumed power of those in positions of authority. Since time immemorial, women were accorded status of the inferior other whose position is similar to the subjected underclass deprived of social, political, economic, etc. equality with that of their counterpart, the man. Beauvoir in The Second Sex argued that men are able to mystify women. This mystification and stereotyping made women accept and endorse the role ascribed to them by patriarchy, which turn them into instruments of oppression. Besides, Chandra Talpade Mohanty in Feminism Without Borders (2003) observes that categorization of women into First /Third World woman by western feminists perpetuate and uphold the idea of superiority of the West which consequently produce universal images of the Third World woman, such as the veiled woman, virtuous virgin, authoritative mother, the submissive wife, brought in more differences by grouping them through a design to the effect of being religious in the sense of not progressive, domestic in the sense of backward, family oriented interpreted as traditional, legally unsophisticated translated as being not conscious of their rights, illiterate as to be understood as ignorant, and revolutionary to be read as inhabitant of conflict zone. This is how Mohanty observed the difference is produced. To believe the myth of the woman as inferior other, has given impetus for patriarchy to thrive perpetuating gender disparity in the society. This has reduced women to the position of the ‘inessential’ who is expected to conform, as she is dependent on the man for her identity. Eons have passed since women have conformed without a protest, and in the process, abandoned the need to alter things to transform her position. She herself fails to bring about the necessary change, cocooned in the impression that she is secure under patriarchic protection, taking the second place in the society without much ado, thus allowing herself to be imprisoned in the patriarchal image of the woman. Attributing them, qualities like ‘frivolity, irresponsibility, and infantile’ – women became submissive to the dominant male class. As such, opportunities and prospects are fewer for them in comparison to their male counterpart.
…the track of sexual difference is doubly effaced. The question is not of female participation in insurgency, or the ground rules of the sexual division of labour, for both of which there is “evidence”. It is, rather, that, both as object of colonialist historiography and as subject of insurgency, the ideological construction of gender keeps the male dominant. If, in the contest of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow. (Spivak, Can The Subaltern Speak? 41)
So much so that that there is believed to be no virtue in global laundry lists with woman as pious.
The promise of a sheltered life almost made women forego her need to liberate herself, turning her into a passive and docile being. Rules, laws, religion, writings, science, etc. have found delight in exhibiting the flaws of women pushing her further into the periphery. These groups of individuals kept in a ‘situation of inferiority’ suffer marginalization in the hands of the superior group. As the depiction of woman has not withered in literature she needs to concern herself how representation of her is made. According to Spivak the female intellectual has a restricted task which she must not disown with a flourish otherwise she may turn into a perpetual other which may further push her to the periphery. Another subaltern group of individuals, which we tend to overlook, are children whose voice elders have a tendency to ignore considering them to be juvenile utterances, which need not be seriously heard. When the child is a girl, her suffering is twice over. Elders, both male and female, perpetuate subjugation on the girl child. Matriarchy is design in such a way that women themselves uphold and maintain the principles of patriarchy. The girl child from a very young age lives in chains making her undergo the feeling of lack. Like the women who are second to the men in society, the place of the girl child is always second to her brothers. Every society whether plains or hills, foreign or native are in harmony in believing that man are man because God blessed them to be man and designed women according to the man’s will.
The concept of emancipation of women did not confine itself to socio-political spheres but it found its articulation in the creative arts, especially in literature. Literature being the mirror of the society does not remain unaffected but explores the “woman’s questions” extensively and vociferously. In feminist literature, woman’s experience becomes the central concern. This type of literature seeks to demythologize the myth that man is the universal representative of humanity, and woman is the unnamed and the invisible. Hence, there is urgent need for women writers to write their own literature, which provides centrality to woman in every way- thematically, structurally and stylistically.
Feminism as an ideology developed in Europe and the United States in the 1960s permeating in several parts of the world. The feminists’ movements can be identified as an endeavor to make women a self-conscious group, which would help strengthened in creating a rational sensible attitude towards women. It can be identified also as an approach to view women in their own positions and through their own perspectives. These movements did not emerge all at once. It was an outcome of several years of suppression, inequality, and gender biasness which arose with a strong sense of liberty. The sense of deprivation women encountered at several levels is said to be the driving force for the upsurge of this movement. As such, the essential attribute of the movement is upgradation of the status of women and to reaffirm their position in society. Feminism has been divided into first wave, second wave and third wave feminism. The first wave feminism started from late 19th century till the early 20th century; the second wave feminism began from early 1960s in USA till the early 1980’s; and the third wave feminism is marked from the early 1990’s and is still continuing.
Europe developed the first wave feminism in eighteenth and nineteenth century with the major thrust on the demands of equality, liberty and universal suffrage. The first voice in favour of women’s right was raised in the year 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft in the first major feminist manifesto A Vindication of the Right of Women, where demands of equal opportunities for women in the field of education, economics, and politics were raised. The book attacked the social and economic systems and strongly pleaded for women’s education and their protection by laws. Thus, with A Vindication of the Right of Women, being the first feminist treaties where full humanity of women is affirmed saw Wollstonecraft as a pioneering figure which became a turning point to the feminist movement. The book is Wollstonecraft’s respond to 18th century political theorists and educationist who did not consider women’s education important. She emphasized the need for women’s education by stating that a woman with education would be more helpful as she would be able to impart learning to children and be a companion to husband instead of being a mere wife. She observes that women are also human beings who deserve the same rights to that of man and as such should not be treated as ornaments and property in marriage. Along with Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf played a significant role in broadening the concept of feminism. They authored famous books, The Second Sex and A Room of One’s Own respectively. In A Room of One’s Own Woolf’s argument is about female writers who also need space as their male counterpart in order to produce great and quality works like those produced by renowned male authors. Beauvoir in her book discusses the social process of othering where women are considered as other or more precisely the second sex in male dominated society. These works not only played a great role in functioning of first wave feminism but laid the foundation for second wave feminism too.
Emerging in post war western society in the 1960’s in US, the second wave feminism lasted through the 80’s. This wave of feminism is concern with equality of women in workplace, sexuality and family. Second wave feminism includes coloured women and women of developing nations and sought solidarity, classless sisterhood and considered women as a social class. It was an outcome of the movements like the Vietnam War movement, the civil rights and black movements in USA. The focal points of these movements were issues concerning oppressed class, specifically women, the working class, and the coloured people. This wave of feminism involved theories of Betty Friedan prescribed in her book The Feminine Mystique (1963), Juliet Mitchell Woman’s Estate (1971) and Shulamith Firestone The Dialectic of Sex: The Case of Feminist Revolution (1970). The latter two books observed that the origin of patriarchy lay in the bourgeois society where sexual difference becomes a basic difference in everything. Besides these The Bitch Manifesto (1968) by Joreen Freeman, Sexual Politics (1969) by Kate Millet, Robin Morgan edited book Sisterhood is Powerful (1970), Elaine Showalter’s book Literature of Their Own (1977), Alice Walker’s book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983) boosted this wave of feminism. Millet argues that women are the masters of their own body and her sexuality should not be deprived by any responsibilities that come with marriage and motherhood. As this wave of feminism is associated with working class, black and lesbian feminism, it is believed to have given rise to the term identity politics which is believed to have lead to the formation of new ideas like gynocriticism and womanism.
Gynocriticism originally sought to theorize on women as producers of textual meaning, based on postulation about female creativity, women’s history, themes, structures and genres of writing as well as about a specific women’s language. It strives to bring women from the margin of knowledge-making to the centre, as points of analysis and reference to Humanities…. Sexual difference and the hitherto unknown facets of women’s experiences were central to Gynocriticism. (Wickramasinghe, Feminist Research Methodology 62)
Showalter first developed the concept of gynocriticism in Literature of Their Own while Alice Walker developed the concept of womanism in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. In the US, black women organizations became a platform through which coloured women raised their voices against gender and race differences and struggled to bring these issues to the national perception. Increase of such studies brought out different levels in third wave feminism.
The1990s is marked as the beginning of third wave feminism and is said to be continuing till the present. In European countries this phase of feminism is known as new feminism while in America it is referred to as girl feminism. This wave stressed the need to alter the conventional image of women portrayed by media and society. The derogatory terms used to write about a girl is man–made, constructed to maintain the powerful position of the dominant groups in society. This phase attempts to provide a platform through which women can express their views and opinions on feminism. Rebecca Walker, one of the pioneers of third wave feminism, in To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995), talks about the difficulties faced by feminist when they try to communicate their thoughts and find themselves in a quandary whether to adopt the identity of a woman or a feminist. This phase critiqued earlier feminism for generalizing the concept of feminism and description of womanhood. In The New Feminism (1998), Natasha Walter discuss about the aspiration of new feminists to hold power in the new global world order. This phase of feminism collaborate with subaltern, black and diasporic feminism and try to set up a globalized perspective of feminism.
Feminism in India developed ideas and objectives different from western feminism due to historical conditions, social standards, values and diverse culture the country has. But the basic concept of upgrading woman’s status remains the same. In western country the concept of self rests in individualism but in India the individual is a part of the collective whole who survives through cooperation and abstinence. Though influenced by western ideas, one cannot rule out the role of local issues which helped accelerate the feminist movement in India. Prior to Indian independence feminist concern revolve around questions of women education, prohibition of child marriage, abolition of Sati, widow remarriage, etc. But the questions on women were limited as it was concerned with the upper caste ‘bhadromohilas’ of the Hindu society. Though reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Dayanand Vidyasagar contributed immensely towards emancipation of women with their attention on widow remarriage and the age of consent, it failed to touch the large masses as their focus was on upper-caste women. Among the upper caste widows are the most marginalized, though their situation is considered superior than untouchable girls and widows of lower caste whose condition is almost deplorable. Meanwhile, a transformation took place in the domestic sphere with women’s education leading to awareness of a fresh sensibility about their duty and responsibility.
Seventy years post-independence witnessed a dismal position of women. The available literature on women in India also reflects declining value of women as they reveal many negative social practices like domestic violence, dowry deaths, discrimination at work place and at home, prostitution, and the heinous crime of rape. Though representation of women in society may differ from culture to culture, place to place, and from age to age, yet one thing common to all is that woman has never been considered equal to man and has been treated like a beast of burden and an object of pleasure. Man has always looked down upon her as the weaker sex, as his property, servile to him. But with the rise of feminism, in India too, the ground beneath women’s feet has extended. Even in India, women began to form their autonomous organizations and a special category of women’s activism was begun. By the seventies, equality between the sexes which was a constitutional promise was denounced as a sham and a new spate of women’s organization was born with the old ones being revived. By the late nineteenth century, women in public spheres began to increase with novelists in Bengal such as Nirupama Devi and Anurupa Devi, Kashibai Kanitkar, the first Maharashtrian woman to write a novel and Anandibai Joshi, the first Maharashtrian woman to qualify as doctor. Kanitkar and Joshi once ventured out wearing shoes and carrying umbrellas which provoked the people to stone them in the street for having the audacity to assume male authority. This echoes the words of Beauvoir that men are defined as human being while woman as female and if she tries to be a human being she is charged with duplicating the male.
Tarabai Shinde in her defence of Stree Purush Tulana (1882), one of the first feminist critiques of caste, argued that the faults commonly ascribed to women such as superstitious, suspicion, treachery and insolence could be found in men too. She also reiterated that women should uphold the epitome of virtuosity so as to make the man hang their head in shame which invited a heated debate. Shinde refused to consider home and family a sacred domain for women. This made her insist upon state intervention so as to make it easier for women to marry on her own choice, and to punish those who are responsible for humiliating and corrupting the innocent.
The first half of the twentieth century saw a symbolic use of the mother as a rallying mechanism. The feminist claimed women’s authority as mothers of the nation, terrorist invoked the shielding and ravenous quality of the mother goddess, and Gandhian lauded the spirit of endurance and suffering that is personified in the mother. One of the first women to do so was Sarala Devi Ghosal, a rebellious and independent person, who was one of the architects of a militant mother-centred nationalism. A woman member of Hissar Arya Samaj, Purani, exhorted women to bring up their sons not with a view of joining government service or to be great man but raise them up to be able to participate independently in the manufacture and trade of swadeshi. Alongside this developed a goddess-centric patriotism giving rise to a contradictory image to the mother figure. Worship of Kali, Durga was encouraged as they were believed to shower courage and strength to their sons to fight in liberating the country. It also propose an assumption of complex images of female powers which represent an image of uncontrollable and dangerous Shakti, female, that is interpreted to be an outcome of women’s failure in observing rituals to protect the men and home. Therefore, under the vicious patriarchic order, moments of calamity and turmoil became occasions for punishment of women. A menace predominated in the mindset that death of husbands is caused due to failure in ritual performance by wives. The wife is thus blamed for fatality caused to the husband and as such sati is performed as a self-punishment of widows’ sins for this failure on her part. The figure of the widow was also seen as crucial, more as symbolizing danger because they were viewed as displaying volatile and harmful erotic energy which need to be re-channelized. This is done by providing the widow with a husband whereby according to the widow remarriage act she is to lose property rights of her previous husband’s and become solely dependent on her new husband. British dominance had earlier crumbled some traditional rights of women thereby strengthening the patriarchal mores. Now, the mother image gave the scope of new spaces for women which had been almost lost. Since the days when rakhi bandhan was observed by Bengali women tying it on the wrist of Muslim brothers so that goddess Lakshmi would not leave Bengal, to Swarnalata Devi with her Sakhi Samiti to provide help and education to orphans and widows, to Sarala Devi Ghosal with her thrust at creating a warrior-hero, to Kumudini Mitra who liaised between revolutionaries in hiding, to Lilabati Mitra who sheltered students, to several mothers standing in support to students who were rusticated for participating in the struggle and sheltering a many, to Kamini Roy protesting against tea planters ill treatment on women workers in Assam, to Rani Gaidinliu’s campaign against tax and compulsory porterage leveries in Nagaland – touched by the nationalist protests and ideology, came out to extend assistance with all the motherly inclination. Sarala Devi Ghosal, Kumudini Mitra and Madame Cama through their writing and work help construct the symbol of a Mother India waiting for Mother Shakti to liberate them. On the other hand, Annie Besant’s idea of a self-sacrificing feminine nature elevated and sustained their strength, while Sarojini Naidu emphasized on the quality of inherent sustenance in women. Since its inception the movement had concentrated on educating women that was later elevated by Annie Besant in 1904 towards an education that would produce well competent wives and mothers, intelligent and affectionate rulers of the house, educated teachers to teach the young, valuable advisor and trained nurse. The following year education became a birthright and denying it to the women denied oneself a nation. This found a strong supporter in Madame Cama’s and Sarojini Naidu’s feminist assertion of maternal power which made them opine that educating women will help the nation take care of itself as the hand that rocks the cradle rule the world, moulds character and it is she who plays a vital role of a nation’s life. Unlike them Gandhi emphasized on the distinguished qualities of motherhood required to curb the most disturbing facet of femininity which lie in the erotic tangibility. Gandhiji, hailed as the parent of Indian women’s movement illustrated women’s inherent qualities which was received by feminists as being expanding and detailing the meaning of their self. However, feminists did not fully accept his views regarding the relationship between the sexes as he found both of them different and complimentary at the same time. Pre-Independence feminists, despite their adherence to gender based shades of themselves as nurturers, desired an existence based on equality and sameness rather than different and complimentary. By 1920, two validations for women’s rights were expressed. The first one, as women have a socially important role as mothers, their rights should be recognized. Secondly, as women too have the same desires, needs and capacities as men, they were entitled to the same rights. By then the awareness that different classes of women had different conditions and needs began to influence the women’s movement due to which the 1926 AIWC meet juxtaposed in the charter of educational reform that they wanted an education which would best fit Indian women to perform their role at home, with a demand for vocational training for poor women.
Post-Independence feminists’ movement started on the basis of principles of equality, declaring that gender-based structures like sexual division of labour, oppressed and subordinated women. As the difference between men and women is a biological one it should not hamper women’s right to equality whether in public or private sphere. Two images replaced the symbol of the mother as a guaranteed mechanism – that is the women as daughter and the working women. This turned the focus away from women as mother and wife, and looked on her productive potential rather than her reproductive capabilities. This was a distinct turn from the pre-Independence movement, which was concern with women in relation to men. The daughter symbol is significant because it generated a new kind of exploration of the girl from her childhood.
..the pain and helplessness of being born a girl; the shock of puberty and the associated development of sexual fear; the terrible rejection of being ‘sent away’ at marriage; loneliness and loss of the self after marriage; and a repetition of the entire cycle of pain, fear and rejection through the birth of another daughter. (Kumar, History of Doing 02)
Such sense of vulnerability brought a new expression within Indian feminism which had never been articulated before. Firstly, the attention on working women replaced the wife-mother-power image with economically independent women. Secondly, interest in mobilization of women could be organized due to the increase of class consciousness. Thirdly, there occurred a growing involvement of feminists with workplace.
The 1970s feminists’ class consciousness brought awareness to the innumerable inequalities that prevailed in India. The inequality existed not only between men and women, but also among women themselves, based on caste, language, region, religion, etc. With the concept of equality extending to cover a whole range of inequalities, the demands for equality with men grew less important than before. Moreover, along with economic independence the demand for control of one’s own life also began to gain strength. The late 20th century feminist asserts that a woman’s body must not be treated as subject of social control and this gained impetus with the legal definition of crime against women widening to include family rape, the rape of prostitutes and invasion of the women’s body by scientific experimentation for reproductive purpose. These emphasized on women’s right to be treated as useful members of society with the power to decide her own life for self-determination similar to Mohanty’s visions a world
where women and men are free to live creative lives, in security and with bodily health and integrity, where they are free to choose whom they love, and whom they set up house with, and whether they want to have or not have children; a world where pleasure rather than just duty and drudgery determine our choices, where free and imaginative exploration of the mind is a fundamental right; a vision in which economic stability, ecological sustainability, racial equality and the redistribution of wealth form the material basis of people’s well-being. (Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders 3)
It is generally believed that tribal women in Northeastern part of India enjoy high status because their societies are egalitarian, there is no restriction on women’s movement, attire and widow remarriage, and when a woman is in trouble or when she is ill–treated by her husband, she is supported by family and clan members, etc. Though comparatively higher in status than the mainland Indian women, they are not completely free from the patriarchal reign. Baring Meghalaya, the rest of this region follows patrilineal and patriarchal structure of society. Almost all the tribes assiduously follow customary law, which in spirit is patriarchal. Such patriarchal society draws the perimeter for a woman. Therefore, the social custom decreed that
Birth of a male child is auspicious
Man is provider and protector of society
A woman is subordinate to her husband
Birth of a female child is welcomed for the reason that she will help her mother in household chores and help her brother (Zehol Status of Tribal Women 302).
The concept of an ideal woman in Manipuri mythology speaks volumes. According to the deity Imoinu, an ideal woman is one
..one who is faithful to her husband, who regards her husband as divine and worships him, who obeys orders and is submissive to the husband, who eats only when her husband has eaten and so on…..A girl who is adept at household chores, who devotes her spare time to weaving, who seldom goes beyond her home, who is shy and obedient is considered a good girl by the society. (Arun, Manipur Update, Volume 1. Issue 3. January 2000)
The shaping, programming and designing of such an ideal girl begins from childhood, with the active collaboration of the mothers to please the male gaze, at the man’s will, convenience, desire, fear, likes and dislikes. Along with the defined role of woman, which she must fit in, the customary laws also deprive them from right to inheritance and property. The opinion and resolution of men folk are foremost in decision-making. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the tribal people, which could not be overcome despite education, occupation, and religion, is gender biasness. According to Zehol, in the traditional society of this region the image of women is rather negative. Many tribes ridiculed their women comparing her to animals and birds having less intelligence such as the Mizos who believed that
Women’s words as having no value because ‘a crabs’s meat is not counted as meat, so also a woman’s word cannot be counted as words’… In traditional Garo society, women are ridiculed with the saying that just as a goat is without teeth, so a woman lacks brain. Among the Nishis of Arunachal, a man’s social status is reckoned in terms of the number of wives and mithuns he possesses. (Zehol, Status of Tribal Women 30).
Some tribe even believed that when a man is to start on a new venture or prepare for warfare a woman’s contact is considered evil portending bad fortune. Man refuses to eat the meat of an animal killed by a woman because that would be below their dignity. Amongst some tribes, husbands are credited for extra-marital or illicit affairs; the more mistresses he keeps the higher his status. But in the case of the wife she is meted out physical punishment like the tip of her nose being chopped off, her heel sliced off or her hair cut off. Women are also understood to be carriers of tradition. As carriers of tradition their demeanor must reflect the role prescribed for them by their custom. Their attire, conduct, mannerisms, etc. are supposed to bear signification of the tribe to which she belong. Among some tribes they are made to undergo physical wounding in the name of preserving cultural and traditional customs and practices. The portrait of North East woman shown in print media is commonly that of a lady whose face is mark with a tattoo running from the forehead straight down the chin, with stretched earlobe piercing and huge nose piercing inflicted. Talking to old ladies who had undergone this experience inform that such process of body piercing with sharp thorn could be extremely painful. For a period of three weeks to a month after the tattoo the woman is prohibited from smiling or laughing as it would cause a fissure which will disturb the straight line running from the brow to the chin. Such practice introduced at the advent of the Burmese invasion in order to protect the ladies from enemy abuse had pushed them towards enduring physical wounding in the name of preserving culture and tradition.
Temsula Ao observes that such state of affairs and the inferior status has continued with the absolute consent of women due to some practical considerations. In those days life in these hilly terrains was fraught with danger as sustenance of life itself in such topography was a constant huge struggle. Adding to this is the constant threat of being attacked by wild animals which were always on the prowl. The region is also burdened with the need to protect themselves from the sporadic attacks of unfriendly neighbours. Due to all these – difficult terrain, danger from wild animals, and hostile neighbors – the physical proficiency of men began to play a crucial role. For example, to clear the thick jungle this terrain possessed, to safe oneself from wild animals and enemy attack the physical strength of men was a basic requirement. Hence the service of women is not a necessity here as she is believed to be lacking in physical strength. So the man’s role became that of a protector which situated him a superior position in society. Such practical necessities initiated the exclusion of women from decision making bodies like the “putumenden” (Roy & Rizvi, Tribal Customary Laws of North East India 72), the Ao village council and governance which impressed upon the women as highly logical. In this pristine far off region women extended their endorsement and without demur accepted their role as second at home and in society. As the region follow customary system of law, the women here undergo economic exclusion as the system does not give women the right to inherit her paternal property. A father who does not have sons but only daughters, after his demise his property is not inherited by his daughters, instead it reverts to his male siblings and their sons. When a woman dies a spinster, all her material possessions left behind is claimed by the daughters of her brothers or uncles and not a single possession is supposed to be claimed by her niece and nephews from the sister’s side. Though some claim that the economic scenario for women has changed tremendously, it is seen that economic power still rests with men. Even in politics and government where decision making is involved the male stronghold dominates because women have not been able to make much of a flurry in this area even after seventy years of independence. In several states of the northeast they have no women in their state assemblies. In marriage, initially the customary payment of bride price was mandatory. But in recent times
customary payment of bride price (cheumen/seumen) is being discontinued. In the past the bride price usually was one hundred japelis (old Ao Naga currency)… Ao bride received dowry like small pieces of ornaments, clothes, baskets of paddy, dao, utensils for cooking, etc… The quantity of the above items varied from family to family. However, more the number of filled in baskets with paddy the higher the social status of the bride’s parents within the society. (Roy & Rizvi, Tribal Customary Laws of North East India 69).
According to Ao the socially constructed image of women was so meticulously subordinated to the male that she learnt to accept it as the definition of her identity. People of the North-East region apparently appear to be modern towards society and life, more so because of the liberty in attire and mobility enjoyed by the womenfolk here which is better than the rest of the country. Many may find it difficult to believe that out here the society is still very traditional in outlook which is revealed in the inferior position attributed to women in public domain. Today several women are inducted in public bodies, organizations, boards and institutions but it has been noticed that their induction is largely in minor capacity, specially in the rural areas. As their induction is in minor capacity they are not expected to have a say in decision making, rather their assigned role in such meeting is to prepare tea and snacks. Thus it is seen that the woman’s lot are not really being empowered in the true sense of the word. As the Naga society existed on male superiority and prerogatives, when book learning came into this region
it was the male child who got the first opportunity, and if, in a family a female child is allowed to go to school it was only to study up to the stage where she could read the Bible and the song sheet. That was considered ‘enough’ for a female… girls had to stop their studies at the village level… and help the parents in the farm work in order to support their brothers to go to Kohima and Mukokchung to continue their studies in the middle and high schools there… It was never considered a ‘sacrifice’ but the ‘duty’ for girls to do so (Ao, On Being a Naga 46-47).
For the Konyak Naga women, the day starts long before dawn as they have to walk a long distance in search of fuel, water and firewood. Apart from all the household chores, the women work throughout the day in the fields on the steep hillsides, slashing and burning old crop residues and growing new ones in the jhum cultivation practiced in this region. As most of the region is a hilly terrain, swidden /jhum cultivation is in vogue. Danish economist, Ester Boserup calls swidden cultivation “a women’s enterprise since it is they who almost entirely managed the show” (Burman 2012 https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article3314.html). In the slash and burn method women work harder than men. In the midst of these entire hectic tasks they are expected to bear five to ten children. As the majority of them hail from an agricultural family the women “want at least five children” (Chinai, Even if We Shout There is No One to Hear 245) because more children would mean more helping hands in the farm work. Some of the rural women are not in favour of birth control because they believe that children are gifts of God. According to Kelhou, a girl in a traditional Angami society is not entitled to hold any ancestral property even if she is the only daughter of her father. However, she may have some right over the property bought by her own parents. The ancestral property will pass on to her father’s male relative after his demise. In a traditional society
The occupation of a woman in the past was first a housewife and mother and secondly, a farmeress. Because of the strong stand that, ‘a girl’s duty was not to earn’, the girl child remained illiterate and hence ended as a somewhat ‘working machine’.. Even now, if we look into the division of work within the traditional family, the women situation is pathetic. (Kelhou, Women in Angami Society 55-56)
Besides her farm duty, a mother/sister has to drudge along the various domestic chores minus the help from husband/ brother. A woman has a bigger share of work in the traditional family circle which most of the time is pathetic with her loaded basket at her back and carrying a baby in the sling in front while the man smartly tag along. The loincloth is originally decorated with three lines of white cowries, but the loincloth for a man who has illicit affair with another married woman or his wife’s sister is decorated with four lines of cowries as an honour to his male prowess. But in the case of a woman, instead of such liberties physical punishment would be in galore. Besides these, she will be socially exposed to shame. Though divorce is permissible, there are certain prejudices against women. A woman who cannot adjust or who wants to leave her husband will be allowed to leave for her parent’s house only with a short white loin cloth. Whatever she had brought to her husband’s house in marriage, whether gold, ornaments, diamond, clothes, jewellery, etc., will be confiscated by her husband and the marriage will be declared null and void. Whereas, a husband can leave his wife without any condition attached to his property. To an animist Angami, a woman usually performs sacred rituals like rituals of dedication of a new house, annual ceremonies in remembrance of death, rituals observed to initiate field work, starting of harvest, and sanctification of the harvest. But in certain ceremonies it is seen that she is considered a taboo. For example, in the most popular Angami festival, Sekrenyi or feast of purification, on the day of observing the ritual women are not allowed to fetch water from the spring due to the fear of defilement; their cooking is not taken by men; they are prohibited even to go near the men or to walk pass them. Kelhou observes that with the advent of Christianity, some changes have come in the condition of women. Though there is still much pressure on the womenfolk, when it comes to morality she does not have to suffer passively. This has happened due to rise in women’s education which is one of the most important tools in instilling courage in them. This gave them courage to raise their voices against injustice meted out to them. Christianity brought a huge change in marriage laws too. Both the wife and husband are equally bounded by the vows pronounced before God and men. The people celebrated festivals without observing the rituals, and both man and woman can freely participate in all religious ceremonies. Women are now allowed to use the pulpit and can even be ordained as ministers in the church. In a traditional tribal society, a daughter is seldom encouraged to study because education was seen as a means of making girls go wayward and unhomely. Even the sister’s ability and desire to learn is sacrificed for the sake of the brother’s future who enjoy undue importance for being born into the man race.
In Nagaland the Naga Mothers Association (NMA) formed on 14th February, 1984 has been very active in Northeast region of India. With the theme ‘Shed No More Blood’, their chief concern is to render valuable services for the cause of peace. Initially the challenges that faced them were mostly eradication of social evils that were eating into the hearts of every Naga mother who had watch helplessly their children and family members become victims to anti-social elements like drugs and alcohol abuse. One of the pioneering elder Khesheli Chishi said that the Naga Mother’s Association undertook a very important initiative in supporting the Church in their campaign for total prohibition of sale and consumption of liquor. Similar to Manipur, the campaign led by NBCC and NMA grew in stature leading to the government declaring Nagaland a dry state with total prohibition of the sale of liquor. The NMA started a rehabilitation centre called Mount Gilead Home which is now called Community Care Centre. In the year 1994 Peace Team was formed which is a landmark achievement of the Mother’s Association. The NMA aimed to confront the deteriorating political situation in Nagaland which began after the fallout of the famous armed political movement of Nagaland for independence. This prolonged war has been the cause for the growth of fratricidal killing which threatened the Naga society. The NMA’s greatest initiative was to penetrate into the cadres of the movement and persuade them to stop all kinds of slaughter and violence amongst brothers. They spoke against killings perpetuated both by the army and militants. Apart from peace initiatives the NMA provides facilities for de-addiction and HIV testing. They are amongst the first women’s organization in the Northeast to test pregnant women for HIV virus and providing pioneering service for care of patients afflicted with Aids. Their greatest achievement is that most Naga women’s organizations are its collaborators. Today NMA has massive influence in Naga politics as they are the only women’s group in South Asia who participated in a cease-fire negotiation. In the year1997 they mediated between the GOI and the NSCN (IM) faction and facilitated a cease-fire.
According to Lal Dena, in the past a Mizo woman had no rights either in family or society and belonged to a father, brother or husband. Some aphorisms give evidence to the inferior status accorded to the Mizo women in the past such as —- the wisdom of women does not extend beyond the bank of a river; woman and old fencing can be replaced anytime; let a woman and a dog bark as they like; woman and crab have no religion; etc. Similar to the other tribes the Mizo woman had no right to inheritance of property, and also had no freedom to choose her future partner. The practice of bride price and dowry that accompanied her marriage tended to treat her as a commodity. When divorced a woman could not claim ownership of her children. But with the coming of Christianity and modern education the position of Mizo women have undergone tremendous change. The Hmeichhe Tangrual (HTP) Pawl was established in 1946, followed by the Mizo Women Organization (MHIP) in 1964. Initially, the new women organization raised the need to reform traditional and cultural practices of the Mizos. They raised their voice against discrimination and injustice in the society. At present their activities range from setting up of orphanage, drug de-addiction camp, and protests against rape, domestic abuse, reform of customary laws, reform of bride price and many others.
In Call of the Blue Hills: Recollections of Arunachal Pradesh Chandra Bardoloi recollects that till the late ’70s women were seen to have no voice against the practices that prevailed in their custom. Bordoloi states that traditionally the Nocte tribe prefers to have their women clean-shaven head and wear just a loincloth. “There is a strange system amongst Laju Noctes – girls of marriageable age had to prove their fertility before getting married” (Bardoloi, Call of the Blue Hills: Recollections of Arunachal Pradesh 66). The young girls have to mix freely with young boys over a period of time which leads to her conceiving a baby without any emotional attachment between the boy and the girl. When the girl recovers after delivery of the baby she was considered fit to marry. Among several tribes, a rich man owning a number of mithuns could have as many wives as he wanted irrespective of his age. A girl who run away refusing to marry a man who already had five wives would be forcefully dragged back by the men with machetes, spears and ropes even though she is not at all willing to be the sixth wife. Among the Nyishi community, while fixing marriage the girl’s consent is not taken. She has to marry the man chosen for her by the family members failing which she will have to repay the bride price her parents had taken from the concerned man.
Generally girls are not in a position to repay the bride price. So, if the girl refuses to marry the boy then the girls are forcibly taken to the boy’s house and kept in the boy’s house against her will. Sometimes the girls are bound by ropes so that she cannot run away. (Langkam, Role and Status of Woman in Tribal Societies of Arunachal 08)
Child marriage was also prevalent with negotiation taking place during childhood or when they were in their mother’s womb. In such cases girls cannot opt out of the arrangement due to practice of bride price while the boys can opt for a second marriage. There is also a tradition of keeping slave girls amongst some tribe. Despite government compensation some slave owners were unwilling to part with their slave girls while some of the slave girls went back to their masters on their own volition even after emancipation as the idea of living independently after years of subjugation frightened them. The patrilineal system followed by the society prefers male progeny but that does not mean that the girl child is unwelcomed though she is regarded as a guest in her parental house. But
a family without male child is considered incomplete…There is saying among the Adis that the woman do not belong to any particular clan. They are born in their father’s clan but married off to other clan and become member of that clan.. boy is the one who perpetuate the family lineage and inherit the family property. (Langkam, Role and Status of Woman in Tribal Societies of Arunachal 04)
As right to inheritance is deprived to the women she had no right to claim patrimony even if she is the only child of her parents. Even if she is gifted valuable beads and utensils by the father in affection, she has to return them as per custom if and when brothers and clansmen asked a return of such properties. In their traditional society daughters were not given even immovable properties as gift. The reason behind this tradition is the custom of
the son who looks after the parents… Son continues the family legacy. The daughter goes to another clan. The child born to her belongs to another clan. So if she inherits property it will pass on to another clan. In the tribal societies landed property are very important. (Langkam, Role and Status of Woman in Tribal Societies of Arunachal 05)
The daughter is entitled to keep her personal property like utensils, beads, clothes, and sometimes her mother’s personal property if she gifted it to the daughter. However, some of the above practices have disappeared from the tribal societies of this region with the spread of education and development. Yet, the general believe that tribal women enjoy very high status faces some challenges due to disparity being practiced. Majority of the tribal traditions were community-based which allot a fairly high status to women without making them equal to men. In North East region, there exists both patriarchal and matrilineal system. Patriarchy is a culture, which the tribes have been practicing for centuries and this system will continue to exist in the present society. Discrimination, subordination and oppression of women are products of patriarchal culture, in which men exercise control over women, restrict women’s freedom of choice, behaviour, action, and even thought.
Since independence the northeast has been a cauldron of unrest with the region witnessing an escalation of violence to an unprecedented scale in the last few decades. In this violence torn region, women have been on the forefront fighting for their rights and eventually playing a very significant role in the various movements. In Manipur though women are marginalized in politics yet they are known for their active participation in the social, economic, cultural and political life of the state. Unlike their counterparts, they are found to be independent, courageous and assertive. They have always been in the forefront in fighting for their rights, protesting against injustice and violence and also in defending their husbands and sons. In Manipur and Nagaland Women’s peace groups have achieved a huge success. They have become an important and necessary component of their societies. Their involvements in developmental activities have increased their effectiveness in their own society. Manipuri women are perhaps the most politically empowered in the country in comparison to women in other races. They have played major roles in the politics of Manipur for they do have a say in many matters. Rajesh Verma opines that they have followed their women predecessors who actively participated in the economy of the state by contributing both to the organized and unorganized sectors of the economy. A few movements in Manipur started by women are Nupi Lan, Women’s War against inflation of food and Nisha Bandh (70s) which means anti-liquor movement. The women of Manipur came out in large numbers and started a mass movement for the maintenance of social order and peace. The anti-liquor movement was one such which stressed upon checking and controlling the persons consuming and involved in transaction of liquor business. The women groups at this stage were known as Nisha Bandhis. This movement gained in strength so much so that the government finally had to declare Manipur a dry state. This was a victory for the Nisha Bandhis or the Meira Paibis. The Meira Paibi protested against drug trafficking and abuse of women too. They tried to establish a moral code of conduct and dealt with issues pertaining to family and land dispute. A very important event that can be dated back to 1939 took place in the form of an uprising which was called Nupi Lan. It was an uprising by women solely for a social cause when they stood up against what they called chak tangba (inflation of food i.e. rice). The uprising started with women agitating against exports of rice to Assam to feed the British when rice itself was inadequate in Manipur in 1939. This revolt which initially began as a rice agitation against the government’s policy, evolved into a movement of constitutional, political, and economic reforms in Manipur. December 12 is annually observed to remember the uprising of women folk against the artificial rice scarcity suffered during the British Raj. Initially beginning as a group to punish drunkards and anti-social elements, the movement evolved into a political force. Since then they have learnt the importance of group effort and have taken up many social causes. One of the significant movements they took up is the Manorama case where a dozen of women stripped in front of the Kangla Fort to protest against army excesses in the state. They actively got themselves involved in family disputes to resolve them, checked and controlled immoral traffic, captured and handed over persons who are involved in drug trafficking, illegal and immoral relationship and land disputes between neighbors. A glimpse into their activities and contribution makes the Meira Paibis an institution in their own rights. Despite being so actively involved in bringing several social changes the women in Manipur hardly figure dominantly in electoral politics. The most active and long standing activist, popularly called the Iron lady, Irom Sharmila who had been protesting in the form of fasting for the last sixteen years for repeal of AFSPA had been rejected by the masses in the recent general election. This can be indicative of the people wanting to see their women follow the path of Goddess Imoinu.
Women of Assam have their glorious history right from the ancient times. The
north-east India, and as such in Assam, was by and large tribal in medieval times and this is why contemporary and subsequent observers found that Assamese women possessed great freedom at work and movement. (Gogoi, Social Attitude Towards Women in Medieval Assam 09)
But during the medieval period there was an attitude of contempt towards woman in Assam. Even Sankardeva, who is regarded to be comparatively liberal, influenced by medieval literatures
states that women are full of illusion and mesmerism; and even a sudden look at a woman would destroy all sorts of penances, sacrifices and devotions. According to him, therefore a wise man ought to have tried to avoid companionship of women as far as possible. (Gogoi, Social Attitude Towards Women in Medieval Assam 10)
Emphasis was laid on the chastity of women accompanied by certain prohibitions and relaxations on the role of women. Though widow remarriage was condemned, the practice of Sati was not familiar and there was an instance of widow remarriage. Relaxations were noticed in terms of selection of husband while there was curtailment in women’s education. But the dancing girls were allowed to cultivate fine arts
It is interesting to note that dancing girls are neither condemned for dancing nor prevented from cultivating the art. This was because the males of a particular class who could have condemned them, could enjoy their beauty for their satisfaction; in fact, the dancing girls cultivated fine arts for the pleasure of man. (Gogoi, Social Attitude Towards Women in Medieval Assam 12)
There was also relaxation in eating from the hands of a widow which was initially prohibited. The prevention of child marriage and polygamy reveal the good position attributed to women. Going through the pages of renowned writers of Assam further reveal the position attributed to Assamese women. “Writings of Bezbarua do not reflect an honored position for women” (Hazarika, Status of Assamese Women in Family and Society as Reflected in Assamese Literature 65). The heart-felt grief of a child-widow; miseries of a caste excommunicated women; anxiety of parents for their unmarried daughters – indicate the status of women much lower to that of men in the society. Recent renowned writers like late Mamoni Raisom Goswami had reflected upon characters kept under suppression. In the works of Nirupama Borgohain protest against discrimination between boy and girl child find focus. Coming to the realms of history one witnessed the heroic deeds performed by Assamese women at various ages. Sati Jaymati, Sati Sadhani, Mula Gabhoru, Ramani Gabhoru are some of the stalwarts among women in the realms. Gandhiji highly praised the women of Assam in Young India after his visit in 1921 by saying that he fell in love with the women of Assam for they are “shy, modest with extremely refined and open faces” (Saikia, Economic and Social Status of Rural Women (Non-Tribal) in Assam 39). Assamese women even took an active part in the independence movement with martyrs Kanaklata and Bhogeswari sacrificing their lives for the cause of the country. India was agog with the struggle for freedom in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and that was the time when the foundation for women’s movement in Assam was laid. The women organized themselves into Mahila Samiti based on Gandhian principles. Through the efforts of
Debiprava Bhuyan and her daughter Hemaprava Das, a Mahila Samity was formed in 1915 in Dibrugarh, and under the aegis of Khagendrapriya Baruani another Mahila Samity was formed in Nowgaon in 1917. (Phukon, Contested Space of Democracy in Assam 49-50)
Tezpur formed their Mahila Samiti in the year 1919 under the guidance of Chandraprava Saikiani and later formed Assam Pradeshik Mahila Samiti which was a state level Mahila Samiti “created in the year 1926 which had Chandraprova Saikiani as its secretary” (Ansari ; Kundu, Role of Feminist Movements 105). Following this several women organization were formed at village and district level dealing with issues of child welfare, maternity, weaving projects, social reforms and mass education. In the 1970s and 1980s the women organizations focused their interest and attention on political issues like gender equality and women participation in the society. During the Assam Agitation a huge number of women, who were later recognized as Matrijati, participated in the campaign to secure Assamese identity and drive away foreigners from Assam. Women organizations like the Sadou Assam Nari Sanstha, Mula Gabhoru Sanstha, Assam Jagrat Mahila Parishad protested and challenged the state and centre against the rapes and killings committed by the security forces. These organizations
staged protests against the rape of rural women in Kamrup district by the Indian Army, and took up the Bhumuka rape case in Kokrajhar in Assam, where soldiers of the Indian Army raped an Adivasi woman in a forest village of Bodoland.
(Phukon, Contested Space of Democracy in Assam 55)
district by the Indian army. Organizations like the Assam Mahila Samata Society which had their branches in the villages known as Womens’ Sanghas, were concerned with issues of gender inequality and discrimination, and as such aimed at securing equal participation of women. The trainings provided to them by renowned feminists in the year 1986 – 88 helped in acquiring basic education and minimize the ordeals of domestic abuse.1994 saw the formation of Assam State Commission of Women which aimed at raising the status of women through their social and economic fortification. There are several indigenous women organizations whose objectives include protecting the rights of both tribal and non tribal.
Post-independence Assamese women have made remarkable progress with foundation of the desired principle of liberalism and secularism in their society. Dowry is uncommon and bride price was common in the past but not anymore. Similar to the women in the rest of our country, these women too observes certain kind of rules –
Married women observes some rules of avoidance particularly with the senior male members of her they are not expected to talk face to face with senior male members of the husband’s family. Women are not expected to talk face to face with senior male members. The wife usually does not address the husband by name. Married women are expected to cover their heads, (Saikia, Economic and Social Status of Rural Women (Non-Tribal) in Assam – A Case Study 40)
with chaadar in presence of elderly members, in rural societies unmarried girls attaining puberty are not allowed to cook or enter the kitchen, so on and so forth. But with time and period things have transformed. Assamese women today form a force emerged out of experiences with their economic independence enabling many of them to stand on their own feet. Today they have a dual role, one as mother/housewife in the family almost in traditional style and the other as an efficient professional competing with the menfolk. A glimpse into the life of Chandraprabha Saikiani reveals the liberty Assamese women were allowed to enjoy. Born in 1901 at a time when girls’ education was not a priority, Saikiani was christened as Chandrapriya by her parents but later changed it to Chandraprabha out of choice. She was outspoken, brilliant, courageous, had fierce oratory skill, had a sense of fair play and justice, and organizational zeal which, at age 15, made her
raise her voice against unwarranted act perpetrated on a fellow student, an act of discrimination against Indian girl students…She took on the religious establishment of the time, when she fought for the right of entry for all at the Hayagriva Madhav Temple at Hajo. (Phukan, A Single Mother’s Battle 114 – 115)
where women were previously debarred from entering. Her strong conviction helped her cross all hurdles. She became an unwed mother at the age of 22. The person who was responsible, being pressurized by his family did not take responsibility and instead married another girl. Regardless of the social stigma and humiliation she went ahead and birthed a son. She was born a Mazumdar, mothered the child of a Kalita but choose to be a Saikia. So, Chandraprabha Saikia was the name and identity she chose by and for herself. Despite the stigma, the Assamese society did not discard or disown her which speaks volumes about the status ascribed to women.
Patricia Mukhim opines that even in matrilineal society whose matrilineal practices are still very strong yet in practicality it is patriarchy that dominates. Generally, in matriarchal system, women have authority in all activities connected to allotment, exchange and production, as well as socio-cultural and political power. Hence, the general assumption is that as Meghalaya practice matrilineal system the position of women must be very high. But in reality most of them limit property inheritance to men and deny it to women. Divorce is not uncommon among them. Divorce as well as the absence of dowry indicates a higher status of women. A boon of modernization is education. Its facilities are available in most of the Northeast states but in many of their societies they are not as accessible to women as it is to men. In a matrilineal system descent and inheritance are traced through women, but the women hold power only in domestic matters and control of children. Though, in the matrilineal system women have a higher status than women in a patriarchal system, they hold less power than those of men. In Meghalaya and also all north-east states, there is no purdah system imposed on women, there is no restriction on women’s physical movement, or their attire. There is no bride burning, female infanticide, no dowry and there is no social stigma attached to a widow re-marrying. So, women in Meghalaya are in a better position than those in other states in India. However, though Meghalaya is noted for its matrilineal culture with people imagining glowing images of women lording over men in their place of haven, Mukhim vehemently contest this imagined rosy representation by uttering that women in Meghalaya are very vulnerable. Mukhim wishes to demystify the matrilineal system as people see it and put it in proper perspective as to reflect the ground realities at home. The major tribes in the state, Khasi, Jaintia and Garo practice matrilineal culture that traces lineage from the mother’s clan line. In comparison to the sisters in other states, the women here appear to be in a better place because they perpetuate the clan line, unmarried women are not under any pressure to tie the nuptial knot, marriage is purely by choice and not arranged,
cohabitation or what modern couples call ‘living together’ is part, and parcel of Khasi customary practice and not a taboo. In fact Khasi society never considered polygamy to be immoral as long as the husband was in a position to cater to the emotional, financial and material needs of his wives and offsprings. (Mukhim, Land Ownership Among the Khasis of Meghalaya 287).
As cohabitation makes it very easy for the husband to abandon his wife, marriage is very brittle leaving a trail of psychological trauma for both the partners and more so the children who are left with the mother, sometimes she herself has no means of support resulting in the children dropping out of school and taking up some kind of an odd job to increase the family income. In the past, the clan used to look after its destitute members but with modernization and fresh economic challenges clan ties are weakening and hence assistance from well-off family are far off and in-between. Amongst the Khasis ka khatduh, the youngest daughter is the custodian of ancestral and parental property,. Therefore she is not the inheritor but simply a custodian, which literally means guardian or caretaker. She cannot sell it, except only the property that she may buy on her own. All possessions of parents are vested with khatduh because she is expected to fulfill certain responsibilities and obligations which the brothers might be reluctant to undertake because a Khasi man leaves the parental home after marriage. An unspoken and unwritten rule prevail which make her custodian of ancestral and parental property with conditions that
khatduh must look after her parents as long as they are alive. Her unmarried brothers also live under the same roof. If any of her nieces or nephews are orphaned it is the khatduh who must take care for them. If her brother divorce their wives or vice versa they come back to the ‘iing khatduh’ or parental home. (Mukhim, Land Ownership Among the Khasis of Meghalaya 289)
once again – these shows that along with the property she has huge responsibilities to shoulder which also deprive her of certain personal liberty and mobility. The khatduh is only the warden or caretaker of ancestral property while the maternal uncle acts as the chief executor and administrator over that property with every family member having a say in the matter. Mukhim further says that though educational opportunities are equal to both boys and girl, the Khasis also like the people of all other societies believe in the cultural construct of male and female. Similar to the other tribes of North eastern states, amongst the Khasis too, there is a marked division of labour between men and women. As a rule men do not cook, wash dishes or clothes. Among the agrarian families, the woman has to get up at 4/5 a.m. and finish her work only after everyone had their evening meal. She has to be a multi-tasker who has to take care of the sick and elderly, fetch water and firewood, grow vegetables in the kitchen garden, an astute farmeress during the farming season helping plant, weed and harvest the crops, and the additional burden of marketing as the tribe make this duty the domain of the womenfolk. Writing about the role of Khasi women Esther Syiem put forth that the women were assigned responsibility of looking after children, to raise them up to be responsible members of society, to inculcate in them a strong sense of commitment to their own clan and respect for the paternal clan, that is to know one’s maternal clan and to revere the paternal clan. This role for women has been designed and decided by men where the woman is never asked whether she enjoys the drudgery of kitchen work at all. Even the piece of property owned by the khatduh is often administered by her husband or her son. She does not have the right to decide how to use the property until and unless she gets the green signal from her husband or sons. Traditionally women do not participate in any decision making process at home, at the political arena or at the administrative affairs. They themselves consider it to be the domain of man’s affairs. On the domestic front too, major decisions are not vested in her hand. She is allowed to take minor decisions and sale and purchase of lesser livestock like chicken. All major decisions along with purchase of jewellery, sale and purchase of bigger livestock like cows, pigs, and agricultural products are vested in the hands of men. The saying that kitchen is the empire of the Khasi woman where she enjoys cooking for the family had been so repeatedly echoed that she had begun to believe it herself to be truth and therefore never questioned. Rather women themselves negate their own strength by expressing that they do not want to be involved in activities outside the home sphere, leaving the dorbar work to the men folk which ultimately lead to their becoming invisible politically. Mukhim claimed that in the public sphere like dorbar they are almost nil as “Politically, we are invisible. In the Dorbar, we have only one female member as opposed to 60 males” (Mukhim, Eclectic Times, November, 2010). The world outside believes that khatduh is a powerful heiress but in reality she is a prisoner of gender biases. She is simply a titular head of the ancestral property handed down to her. Though she is believed to enjoy a little financial independence due to the inherited property, she is called upon to use this income judiciously as to benefit the extended family members. All family activities, rituals are performed at the youngest daughter’s house at her expense. As such, it is seen that the responsibilities of the khatduh is manifold. A woman is looked upon as having the power to nourish, to feed, bear a child, the one whose doors can never be closed to another sibling in need for she is the sustaining force of the family. As a society that claims to follow matrilineal system, they appear to elevate the position of women, but in reality they are powerless to help the women in their multiple subjugations. Women have stifled their dreams of self expression and articulation of their deepest secrets and fears which maybe one of the cause why there was no woman writer among Khasis. According to Syiem, within the matrilineal system the stimulant for self expression through the written word seems to have been denied to Khasi women. Today there are a number of Khasi women’s organizations coming up in different parts of the Khasi-Jaintia hills such as the Seng Longmie, Seng Kynthei. The Lympung Ki Seng Kynthei was formed in 1992 as the coordinating body for 24 affiliated women’s organizations of Shillong and its suburbs. Under this banner the women organized social awareness programmes relating to women and children, youth, self employment, environment consumer’s rights, women’s empowerment and legal rights. Though traditionally women are debarred from the dorbar, today there are localities in the urban areas where women not only attend dorbars but also freely express their views, some even nominate women as members of their executive committees. But this is yet to be seen in the Legislative Assembly where representation of women is still minimal.
The tribal culture is comparatively egalitarian and as such there is no purdah or dowry. A strong solidarity amongst women’s group is noticed today which is visible in women’s markets like Manipur’s Ima Keithel where it is the women who run business and Shillong’s Lewduh where maximum of the shops are run by women. The women who run the market are well groomed, dressed in bright colours, full of teasing laughter which can be enchanting at times. As their contribution to the economy is tremendous, they do enjoy some amount of economic autonomy. In spite of the supposedly empowered status attributed to women, women’s role in decision making is minimal. Syiem argues that none of the traditional institutions of governance accept women, and even if they are accepted the roles assigned to them are peripheral as these institutes adhere to customary laws and practices that are biased towards women.
The effect of prolonged existence under constant militancy, ethnic clashes and sexual abuse has been and continues to be felt on the lives of the women of North-East India. While it is true that in any situation of conflict, the entire community, whether they are directly or indirectly involved in the conflict are affected, the impact on women is especially complex because of their already marginalized status in society and their sex. Women undergo multifaceted experience during armed conflicts as they have to endure separation, loss of family members, physical and economic insecurity, increased risk of sexual violence, wounding, detention, deprivation and even death. In all conflicts, women suffer in ways specific to women.
..in times of communal strife, women were the worst victims. It was their homes that were destroyed, their husbands and sons that were killed, and they were left behind to pick up the pieces (Butalia, Women and Communal Conflict 104).
Very often when peace returns, even temporarily in a certain conflict area, there is a tendency to forget the insidious effects that violence and trauma has had on women. A psychical trauma enters the psyche, overwhelm it, and cannot be processed and assimilated by usual mental processes. The traumatic event falls out of the conscious memory but remain present in the mind like an intruder, waiting to strike. In trauma, there is a sense of belatedness about responses, a deferred action, or an afterwardness. Writing about trauma theory for the first time in her book Unclaimed Experience, Cathy Caruth discusses about Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he describes
a pattern of suffering which is inexplicably persistent in the lives of certain individuals. Perplexed by the terrifying literal nightmares of battlefield survivors and the repetitive reenactments of people who have experienced painful events. (Caruth, Unclaimed Experience 1)
She talks about Freud’s wonder at the peculiar and mysterious way in which catastrophic events seem to reappear themselves for those who have passed through them. This argument reveal that the repetitions that occur is not initiated by the individual’s own acts but rather they are the result of a fate where they are subjected to a chain of painful incidences that seem to be utterly beyond their desire or control. Trauma is the root cause of cultural, institutional and structural violence as well as interpersonal and intergroup physical violence. The perpetuation of physical violence is both the product and result of a past-trauma continued due to a second experience of trauma which produces chronic erosion of identity that results in cultural, institutional and structural violence from which virtually no one completely escapes. There is a relation of vicious spiraling circle that exist between violence and trauma. According to Mark Bracher one of the main causes of violent behaviour is a vulnerability of identity resulting from a significant traumatic experience the person/persons have undergone during his/her formative years. The trauma persist due to the perpetrator’s abusive words/sentences and harsh conditions experienced by a person/persons because of violence that may erupt due to economic/political/social crisis leading to a collapse of his/her existing condition. Collective brutality transforms the offender, the victims, and the world in which it occurs where the body, psyche, and socio-cultural order of that place is targeted. The changes produced by violence in societies can sometimes still be seen generations after the violence has ended. Hence it is necessary that violence need to be fundamentally prevented so as to check the after-effect. Bracher suggest that identification of vulnerabilities reduce them by preventing traumatizing experiences and help support them strengthen their identity which will make less vulnerable. This will help recognize the role played by trauma in all forms of violence as
realization that will help people sympathize with rather than condemn or demonize these perpetrators, which will in turn help them to eschew their hatred and vengeance and engage in behaviors toward the perpetrators that will reduce violence rather than escalate. (Bracher, Healing Trauma, Preventing Violence http://www.jstor.org/stable/20866642)
The question of gender violence, particularly in the context of political conflicts, is addressed as perceived triviality and effective invisibility of violent acts committed in the domestic realm, which amount to a continuation of war by other means.
North-East India neglected socially, politically and intellectually is plagued by backwardness and underdevelopment. More importantly, the oft-debated well-known issues are left unattended despite promises to solve them. This far-flung neglected fringe of the country has been ‘chopped off’ many times with unending cycles of crisis is a complex region that had experienced difficult times with many an inhabitant experiencing gunshots, killing, kidnapping and abuses as their growing up experience which are extremely painful. The region’s history is rough; the literature narrates different movements, insurgencies that are ethnic, linguistic and cultural, with horror and terror extremely violent in nature. Tilottama Misra rightly opines that a region marred by decades of violence, its literature is not just a social and historical map of events, but also a medium of telling its story to the world.
Violence features as a recurrent theme because the story of violence seems to be a never-ending one in this region and yet people have not learnt ‘to live with it’, as they are expected to do by the distant centres of power. Writers across the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura are deeply concerned about the brutalization of their societies by the daily experience of human rights violation and the maiming of the psyche of people by the trauma caused by violence….All depict their perceptions of a people living in the midst of terror and fear and yet cherishing hopes that human values will triumph some day and a new dawn of peace would emerge out of this trial by fire. (Misra, The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-East India Intro xix)
There is a sense of deep deprivation which is the basis for much of the unrest and violence that the region has been witnessing over the past five to six decades. Constant militarization and brutality has created a deep distrust between the centre and the natives of this region. Sanjay Hazarika’s and Rupa Chinai’s opine that people take to arms when pushed to the wall, speaks volume about the delicate scenario in this region. At such times of prolonged clashes the most vulnerable sections of society are women and children as Hazarika has rightly titled an article of his, ‘In Times of Conflict the Real Victims are Women’. The most obvious impact that a woman suffers in a situation of violence is physical and sexual abuse. During the infamous Nellie Massacre of 1983, in the fields one witnessed a whole family butchered and a mother with slit throat. The unseen impact is the psychological scarring received due to prolonged exposure to brutality and the restrictions placed on women by a patriarchal society which further impacts the whole social order adversely by giving a deep wound to the entire community. In such a situation women find themselves at the receiving end of violence on three fronts, from the state, the militants and a corresponding violence within their own home. The Thangjam Manorama case is a historic evidence of Indian army atrocities on the women of Manipur. According to P. Ngully the effects of atrocities, torture in the form of physical assault, sexual abuse and rape have led to a deep psychological and emotional trauma leading to high incidences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Women have to cope with the realities of life, as mothers they have to take the responsibilities of the hurt and wounded children who are victims of conflicts.
They are the wives of injured, disabled or missing men, the soldiers of warring factions and the state. They suffer as civilians with their freedoms curtailed and shackled. They are assaulted, beaten, humiliated, raped and murdered during conflicts. The loss that women face in conflict time is not just emotional, or physical in terms of losing a loved one, but also transfers into the economic and social spheres (Gill, The Peripheral Centre:Voices from North East 10).
Most women face a decline in their social status and reduced to the fringes of society as they are not well equipped or educated to take on the burden of the whole household resulting in making them become members of completely poverty stricken class. During conflicts female-headed households increases as many men are killed in encounters, raids and secret killings. Besides, as the geographical location of the terrain is difficult it has serious repercussions on the women as they have to take on the role of food provider and caretaker at the same time. It means a collapse of their known existing circumstances exposing them to unknown, uncertain, insecure and dangerous territories. To think what impact it may have on the memories of children growing up in such situation is unfathomable. In conflict area women spaces become restricted and their mobility severely hampered. Their bodies become site of battle with instances of atrocities and brutalities practiced on them. Raped victim do not find it easy to lead normal lives nor can they reduce the stigmatization attached to their name. Women are targeted during search operations, as shelter providers to victims their vulnerability is at high risk, besides the pressure is on them to keep the faith and values of their community intact. Justice J S Verma, former Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (India) has said that the law enforcement agencies are the biggest violators of human rights in the country. His statement is highly relevant to what has happened in Manipur and the other neighbouring states of North East India, which are subject to an exceptionally high level of militarization. In this part of the country, the rapists are typically members of the Indian armed forces deployed to curb insurgency as they enjoy elated status as security forces. They usually carry out rapes during combing operations in residential areas, when they compel the males to come out of their homes and gather them at one place, while women are forced to stay indoors. Generally, the perpetrators go completely free, as they acquire immunity from prosecution under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA), which has been imposed in the whole of North East India for decades. It has become a common practice among the security forces engaged in the counter insurgency operations to do away with the safeguards accorded to women by the Criminal Procedure Code. After the crime, the army also always tries to cover it up by using any available means. The encounter killings, crack down, identification parades, house-to-house searches, nightly raids, disappearances are some of the instruments of humiliation. Kire writes about the report documents of the tortures in April and May 1955 by the Assam Police Battalion, beginning with the burning of 200 granaries at Mokokchung village.
This was accompanied by atrocities like beating a pregnant woman and forcing her to give birth in public, raping of the village women and killing of the menfolk. ..the harvest was destroyed by the same police battalion and five village women were raped, amongst whom were two minor girls. Both young students and adults were shot and killed or tortured to death by the battalion (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 02).
In such turmoil women face double loss and anguish. As long as AFSPA exists, security personnel will continue their unabated abuse and assault on women who become doubly vulnerable as they face abuse, both in the hands of armed forces and the local militants. The violence and cruelty practiced by AFSPA on women is immensely huge, pushing many into traumatic conditions leaving them physically and mentally wounded.
Adding salt to their woes and wounds is the inferior treatment meted out to them by the rest of mainstream India, discriminating them more, pushing them further into the periphery. A large number of North-East Indian young women are employed in restaurants and shops in Delhi – their Oriental looks and English language skills being considered desirable for those positions. Many of them suffer sexual abuse at the hands of mainstream men folk which is very common in public places.
The situation in the Indian metropolises is worrying. Students and workers from the Northeast continue to face racist attacks. The times of India dated October 27, 2009 carried a long article entitled, “Girls from NE soft target in city”. It listed various incidents including the rape and murder of a 6-year-old girl from the Northeast, the murder of a Naga girl by an IIT student and the beating up of Naga and a number of Northeast people by locals. Sexual harassment and rape of Naga girls were initially denied redressal by the police in Indian cities but by 2009, the Ministry DonNER had decided to set “North-East Connect” to provide relief to beleaguered students (Assam Tribune, Oct 30, 2009 (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 4 – 5).
Such discrimination is mainly based on racial and cultural differences which undeniably exist between the North Eastern Region and the Indian mainstream. Both are equally blamed for the failure to integrate. Women from the North East come from a free culture where they do enjoy equal opportunities which is different from the mainland socio-cultural setup thus they are considered as outsiders polluting the existing mainland culture. The discrimination to these women is a violation of their constitutional rights which needs to be addressed before it becomes too late. Instead of tackling the situation with the powers conferred upon them, Delhi Police in July, 2007 released a booklet, Tips of Do’s and Dont’s for North East Communities in Delhi which basically is asking the citizens of the country to behave differently in their own country! Women of North East India were asked not to wear ‘revealing dresses’, ‘avoid lonely road /by lane when dressed scantily’, and to dress according to sensitivity of the local populace. Delhi police has actually brought into the aspect of infringement of Right to Freedom. The culture of the North Eastern people is questioned; the women are blamed because of their dressing sense for the exploitation that they suffer from. Even when attired in their traditional dress they are looked upon with disdain. A very recent occurrence is an example of such discrimination. On June 26, 2017, a Khasi Lady, Tailin Lyngdoh was asked to leave a venue in Delhi Golf Club for wearing her traditional ‘Jainsem’ justifying their acts by saying that the attire made her look like a MAID! The inhuman and third-rate treatment accorded to them in the metropolis is a case of triple marginalization, making their life a horror. The region, its people and its women have been misrepresented and misinterpreted time and again thereby creating an image which in reality is absent. Thus, a sympathetic attitude may be a basic requirement to heal the wound. The Naga Mother’s Association, Meira Paibis, Indira Raisom Goswami, Ima Thockchom Ramani Devi and her group, and several other women’s organizations attempted to create a compassionate approach in the past two decades to heal the scar, the deep wound, to create peace for the growing child but little recognition bestowed on their efforts.
Going through the annals of history one notices that glowing tributes are paid to mainland women freedom fighters and activists, a welcomed act as their contribution to the cause/causes are immensely great. But one is dismayed to see that equal footage has not been specified when it comes to women freedom fighters or activists from North-East India. Representation is almost absent about them in the pages of history book despite their contributions and sacrifices. Neither does one come across the name of Kanaklata nor Rani Gaidinliu in the national history text. Gaidinliu’s campaigns against tax payment to the British government, against forced labour and her retreat into the jungles with her gang, were never seen as activities equivalent to those initiated and implemented by Swarnakumari, Sarala Debi, Madame Cama, Kamaladevi, Sarojini Naidu, etc. as they were seen as tribal agitations.
As happened in most of the tribal agitations in the civil disobedience movement, they could not be restricted to the lines laid down by Congress leaders, and were often not, therefore, given their place in the nationalist hall of fame. (Kumar, The History of Doing 84)
Hence, Gaidinliu has been more often acclaimed by communist historians than by nationalists. Today, this can be perceived as being highly misrepresented in the annals which need to be restudied. This is interpreted as ‘mainland’ India attributing inferior status and negligent look to the women folks of this region. But now things have gradually started to change. In the recent years, publishing houses like Katha, Zubaan, Penguin, and Oxford have started to show a keen interest in the literatures of this region. Zubaan/Penguin has shown exceptional interest in the women writers of North-East India. Urvasi Butalia, noted writer and founder of Kali for Women said during a panel discussion at the Guwahati Litfest, 2014
Northeast India has a fantastic line-up of women writers and a strong and unusual tradition of women writers. “They write about contemporary Assam and lot of history. There is a strong women writers group who continue to write and meet even today.” (Butalia, http://www.thethumbprintmag.com/urvashi-butalia-lauds-northeastern-women-writers/)
She mentioned names of Indira Goswami, Mamang Dai, Sabita Goswami, Rita Chowdhury, Arupa Patangia Kalita, Mitra Phukan, Esterine Kire, Uddipana Goswami, Temsula Ao, and Teresa Rehman among others. Books written both in the original and translated form, like novels and stories of the above writers reflect upon varied women experiences in their writings. Through such publishing houses the space earlier denied is now seen extended to provide room where they can express their opinion, views, history, experiences, contributions, sacrifices, heroism, success, failures, etc. which were previously omitted.
Mamang Dai, recipient of the Verrier Elwin Award from the State government of Arunachal Pradesh in the year 2003 and the first person from Arunachal Pradesh to be conferred Padmashri from the Government of India in 2011, became an established name as a major voice in literature and one of the best poet from North East India, with the publication of her first collection of poetry, River Poems (2004). She was the member of the film Censor Board as well as the member of Public Service Commission. She had once served the state as an IAS officer but left the service soon to pursue her interest of journalism and literature. She has also authored Arunachal Pradesh: The Hidden Land, Once Upon a Moontime: From the Magical Story World of Arunachal Pradesh (2005), The Sky Queen (2005), Mountain Harvest: The Food of Arunachal Pradesh (2005), Legends of Pensam (2006), Stupid Cupid (2009), etc. With her experience as a civil servant, journalist and poet she brings her personal knowledge of the primitive customs and beliefs of her people in Legends of Pensam and recounts the many legends that influence the lives of Adis. The book has been prescribed in the course of Mizoram University for the students to be studied. As a media person she had seen violence and threat at close quarters. She saw her colleagues been threatened. But despite all the risk attached she loves her job. Her siblings highly encouraged her in her writings, though her parents were kind of it ‘is not a job, it is something one does just like that’. She loves common folk and gets inspired by the words and activity of villagers, vendors, etc. In them, she sees the real essence of life and living in Arunachal. The writer is in search of her own roots and so she documents the tribal lores of her land, so that they are preserved and not lost and forgotten in the fast moving pace of modernization. With her charming language she transports the reader to the Siang valley through her vivid and lyrical description of green mountains, flowing rivers and singing rain sometimes becoming raging torrents, kitchen garden and planting of paddy in the fields by the people of Arunachal. She writes through a half-animist and half-pantheistic outlook. Dai stand out in her descriptive ability which only a few writers could achieve. Her choice of words is simple and in style she is natural and concise.
The Legends of Pensam is a collection of stories in a village in Arunachal Pradesh. It is a combination of legends and superstitions, which are entwined with the lives of the village folks. The book is divided into four parts. The first part titled A Diary of the World begins with stories based on the first generation of villagers portrayed in the primitive age who sustained themselves by hunting and primitive agriculture. In the second part titled Songs of the Rhapsodist we see administrative unit being set up by the British. A road is built and civilization enters. The third part Daughters of the Village covers the second generation of people. They have their love affair and marriages, some of which are happy, while a few others are tragic. This love affairs and marriages lead to the appearance of the third generation who receive better education and achieve academic and professional distinction. Some return to the village. The link with the traditional is not broken despite modernization setting in. The fourth part titled A Matter of Time leads to the ageing and passing away of most of the second generation. The third generation enters middle age. A fourth generation appears, in its infancy. Through her brevity and simple style Dai vividly portrays some generations of women in Arunachal with their hard life, sometimes set by customary practices and prejudices, at other times by the geographical condition of the region.
Born to Pramod Goswami and Geeta Goswami on the 16th May 1953 at Dhubri, Assam, their lovely daughter Mitra Phukan went on to become a renowned writer, translator, columnist and a trained Hindustani classical vocalist who lives in Guwahati. Moving along with her father wherever he was transferred she did her schooling at various schools in Africa and different states in India and finally passing the ISC exams from Loreto Convent, Shillong. She graduated with Honours in English from St Mary’s College, Shillong, followed by a post graduate degree from Gauhati University. She is adept both with the pen and the art of music. A well-known writer of fiction in English, she is one of the most prominent literary voices in English from North-East India. When she started writing some thirty years or so, the scenario for writers writing in English was not encouraging. People preferred reading materials written in the mother tongue saying that expression becomes more accurate in this medium. Several even queried why she doesn’t attempt to do so. Despite the dismal scenario she didn’t allow herself to be discouraged and continued her articulation in the language she is most adept at and today she has several books to her credit. Her published literary works include four children’s books, Mamani’s Adventure; Chumki Posts a Letter (1989), The Biratpur Adventure (1994), and The Terrorist Camp (2003). She also penned a biography of R.G. Baruah titled R.G. Baruah, Architect of Modern Assam (2004). She has two acclaimed novels to her credit, The Collector’s Wife (2005), and A Monsoon of Music (2011), both published by Penguin-Zubaan. Her book Guwahati Gaze published in the year 2013 is a collection of fifty of her columns. Blossoms in the Graveyard is her recent translation of Jyanpeeth Awardee Birendra Kumar Bhattacharjee’s novel Kobor aru Phool, and A Full Night’s Thievery is a collection of her short stories, both of which appeared in October 2016. Her short stories have appeared in various journals worldwide. Her works have been translated into many languages. Through her translation work she has put across the works of some of the best known contemporary writers of fiction in Asomiya into English. Her fortnightly column All Things Considered in The Assam Tribune is very widely read. She has won the UNICEF-CBT award for her book Mamoni’s Adventure in the year 1986. She has also rendered some beautiful short stories touching upon different facets of women, some of which are The Reckoning, The Homecoming, Spring Song, etc. She is an active member of Aradhana, an organization that takes music to the underprivileged sections and interior areas of society where access to music is much more difficult. When asked by her interviewer Anjana Rana whether she teaches music Phukan humbly replied that she does but not in the strict terms of the word. She guides them through voice training and remains extremely elated with the fees she received in the form of cucumbers and bottle gourds from their kitchen garden. She is a founder member of the North East Writers’ Forum and is actively involved in all its programmes. She is also a popular invited speaker and panellist at Litfests around the country.
The Collector’s Wife is a story about an episode in the life of a District Collector’s wife, Rukmini Bezboruah, part-time lecturer in English at the local Deenanath Saikia College. She lives with her husband, Siddharth, in Parbatpuri, an unquiet district town in trouble torn Assam. In her own words Parbatpuri is a totally imaginary place,
‘I like to create places according to the demands of every new story. Along with the place social milieu, topography, everything is created around plot, character and situation’ (FB message to Kabeen on 23/11/2017).
Her protagonists’ marriage and her life have been uneventful; neither madly passionate nor bitterly unhappy but deprived of enjoying what motherhood brings about. From the very beginning the relationship between Rukmini and Siddharth is apathetic. Apparently stable on the surface, Rukmini suffers from inner turmoil and loneliness. Siddharth is always busy with the ever-occurring clash-ridden incidents which keep him on the move all the time that he does not have time to discuss the fertility issue in their conjugal life. Much of the time, she lives all alone in the DC’s bungalow. She longs and waits for her husband’s companionship, and his touch. But he neither hugs nor touches her. Into such a scenario walks in Manoj Mahanta and fills up the emptiness in her life making her realize her womb was never dysfunctional.
Arupa Patangia Kalita, recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award (2014) is an Assamese novelists and short story writer. She is also a recipient of several other awards such as the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad, the Katha Prize and the Prabina Saikia Award (2012), and Assam Valley Literary Award (2016). Born in 1956, Kalita did her schooling in Golaghat Mission Girls High School and joined Debraj Roy College for higher education. She further pursued her MA at Gauhati University from where she later went on to receive her PhD on her thesis Pearls S. Buck’s Women Characters. She served Tangla College as Professor in English from which she received superannuation from HOD on 22/06/2016. She has penned several books consisting of poetry, short stories and novels. Some of her popular novels/novellas are Mriganabi (1987), Ayananta (1994) translated into English as Dawn: A Novel by Ranjita Biswas, Millenniumar Sapon (2002), Felani (2003) translated into English as The Story of Felanee by Dipika Phukan, Marubhumit Menaka Aru Anyanya, Kaitat Keteki, Rongamatir Paharto, Tokra Bahor Sunar Beji (2014). She released her collection of short stories Alekjaan Banur Jaan and Mariam Austin Othoba Hira Barua. The later fetched the author the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. On March 18, 2017, Madam Kalita was conferred the Assam Valley Literary Award for the year 2016 for her contribution to literature, her prolific writing and vocal supporter of gender equality. Her stories surround questions concerning women and society. Her novels and short stories have been translated to English, Hindi, and Bengali. Her writings have also been included in syllabus of many colleges and universities. Her works touch upon Assamese history and culture, addressing the lives of people from middle and lower income group, and focus specifically on concerns of women, violence, and insurgency. She even wrote dialogues for the critically acclaimed Assamese feature film Kothanodi. She rejected the Basanti Devi Award bestowed upon her by Assam Sahitya Sabha on grounds of it being in the ‘women-only’ category. In an interview to Shib Shankar Chaterjee presenting her point of view she stated that a text should be accepted only as a text and judged by the merit of the text and not whether the writer is male or female. Her fictional works provide oppressed and marginalized women the space and freedom that is denied to them by society. She glorifies the existence of women who are thrown away like garbage, oppressed, marginalized, rejected because even in this state also, they vibrantly assert life. As a native of Tongla, she too has seen and experienced violence at close quarters and cannot help but reflect the reality that she had seen for it is in her pulse. In her own words,
Whenever we pick up the pen, we are haunted by the disturbed times resulting in repetition and hackneyed handling of themes and characters but that doesn’t stop us. We strive to tell our tales. (Kalita, https://www.theweek.in/ webworld/features/society/ assam-strives-to-tell-its-tales.html)
She had witnessed in front of her house the dead bodies of seven young boys who were killed in an encounter between insurgents and the army, their body being taken away in bamboo biers. Even her own student was chased and shot dead by ULFA militants after he surrendered. She cannot forget the day when a hand-grenade was found in their college common room. Her heart wrenches out to the day when their college principal was shot dead in broad daylight. Hence, in her writings words like insurgency, terrorism, and extortion occupies a huge space attempting to give it a new direction.
The very title of the novel, The Story of Felanee is suggestive that we embark upon the tale of woman who is thrown away, castaway and displaced. Felanee whose actual name is Malati, who was tossed off into a swamp to die while her village burned, and women like her, who are resilient, cling to the last vestiges of life, in the hope of a better tomorrow, swirl through the maelstrom, and survived. These women despite their existential human predicament; thrown away like garbage, oppressed, marginalized, rejected, seem to speak up, vibrantly asserting life and resist in their own small ways against the society which is very much patriarchal. Felanee, is a poignant story of a woman who survives the fierce massacre and bloodshed but loses her husband, unborn child and her home in ethnic conflict. She brings up her son all alone under the constant shadow of violence. It is also the story of how war affects the lives of women and their children. Kalita focus on the struggle of women for livelihood and survival, friendship and commitment towards one another. Through the portrayal of these oppressed women the author delineates the role and position of women. The protagonist embraces the women folk around her, teach them to live life during conflicts at all levels.
Easterine Kire, born to Joshua Kire and Joyce Kire, is the recipient of Governor’s Medal for excellence in Naga literature in the year 2011 and Free Voice Award by Catalan PEN Barcelona, was born on an Easter Sunday, 29 March, 1959 in Kohima. Her book, When the River Sleeps was awarded The Hindu Literary Prize in the year, 2016 and Son of the Thundercloud was declared Tata LitLive Book of the Year (2017) award for fiction at Mumbai. She also has a band ‘Jazzpoesi’ whose digital CD topped the Norwegian Jazz charts in 2013. Completing her school education at the Baptist High School in Kohima till class X, she continued her pre-university at Kohima College from where she graduated. She went to Shillong, North Eastern Hill University to pursue further study from where she completed her masters in English literature passing with a first class. Then she underwent a year’s course in Journalistic studies at Delhi when she occasionally contributed her writing in a column for the local newspapers, followed by a PhD in English literature from Savitribai Phule Pune University. Then she was appointed Editor in the State Government of Nagaland’s Directorate of Information and Publicity from which she resigned after two years to teach English at Kohima College. Later she moved on to become a professor at the North Eastern Hill University, Kohima. She has to her credit a translation of two hundred oral poems from her native language, Tenyidie, into English and also enjoys the popularity of being the first Naga writer to have published a book of poetry in English when she was just twenty two, titled Kelhoukevira (1982) and a novel in English A Naga Village Remembered (2003). In the same year she co-authored a book titled Ernie Wombat and the Water Dwellers with an Australian writer. Her second novel A Terrible Matriarchy (2007) was followed by Mari (2010), Bitter Wormwood (2011), Forest Song (2011), Life on Hold (2011), When the River Sleeps (2014), Son of the Thundercloud (2016), Don’t Run, My Love (2017), etc. She has been actively involved in working towards better opportunities for Naga youth and Naga folktales. She has also written children’s books, articles and essays. Her first children’s book in English was released in December, 2011. Some of her books have been selected to be translated into Germany. Kire’s works reflect the unpleasant realities of life in Nagaland and the complexities around the colonial atrocities and discrimination. It also highlights the internal rivalry and ideological differences that existed among the Naga brethren who fought for freedom. She also writes about the battle between the British forces and a Naga hamlet, the Japanese invasion of India/ the battle of Kohima in 1944, the internal and social strife that grips Nagaland, prolonged turmoil the people had to go through, trauma and how the people had to move on, to learn to live once again. Through her writings Kire tries to bring to the fore everyday lives of the people in Nagaland and the human cost involved. Along with the focus on the vibrant Naga culture, Kire has also brought out the realities which have changed the lives of Naga women. As she states that her motivation to write is the need to create a written Naga literature before it is lost as oral narratives are gradually dying out, she as co-founder of Barkweaver published children’s stories, Naga folktales and factual inspiring stories of ordinary people. She had seen and experienced violence at close quarter for curfews and continued periods of gunfire were all part of growing up in Nagaland. Since the age of five she was exposed to the conflicts that prevailed at her home state which were of two types, the atrocities on the natives by the Indian army and the infighting between Naga brethrens on ideological issues. Her home was stalked by Indian armies at night, her daughter traumatized, her son kidnapped, her father shot at, her sister almost shot at, a school friend killed in the heart of Kohima, etc. She was stressed living constantly a life of violence and fear, full of threat. So in 2005, when offer came to be put on a program on Tromsø’s first Fribyforfatter she accepted and moved to Northern Norway in March that same year. The writer confess that the one year in Norway, a city of refuge and freedom for her from a life where it was normal to hear gunshots every night, and be in constant fear of death, has been very positive to her. It was during her stay in Tromsø that she wrote six of her books. Currently she is associated with Norwegian PEN, Austrian PEN, Norwegian Writers Association, and North East Writers’ Forum.
A Terrible Matriarchy is a Bildungsroman about a little girl growing up in a strict, traditional society in conflict-ridden Nagaland. Dielieno, a victim of gender abuse within the same gender, who is five, is sent off to be raised by her grandmother who is steeped in patriarchy and who thinks that girls need no education, love or time to play. The little girl-narrator begins her account candidly by telling us that her grandmother did not like her. She realized this when she was about four and a half years old. The little girl asked a piece of the chicken leg when grandmother was serving the children hot rice and chicken broth. But she was snubbed by the old lady who said that the best portions of the meat are to be served to the boys and the girls must have rest of the portions. Dielieno exemplifies the ideal Naga girl, never fighting pro-male privileges, yet gradually managing to pose the quietest interrogations that were to be an eye-opener for the rising status of women in contemporary Naga society. With a quiet portrayal of inner strength, Dielieno leaves an undeniable impression for a stone-hearted matriarch, who was trained and programmed under patriarchal norms and was as such anti-privilege to a girl child, from a simple treat of jaggery to education.
Bitter Wormwood traces the life of Mose, a common man who lives with his widowed mother and grandmother in one of the tribal villages of Nagaland from 1937 till 2007. The minute events of Mose’s early days, his family and the ritual practices of traditional village life paint a peaceful way of life, now nowhere to be found. With the coming of a radio they learn of partition, independence, and America. Mose, his friends and Neilhounuo, a Naga no-nonsense girl, joins the Naga struggle. Many girls of this region, like Neilhounuo, left their home to become members of militant group with a patriotic hope of achieving peace and liberty one day, and also to free oneself from all the physical abuse endured in this long span of military control, militancy and ethnic clashes. However, they are caught in a maelstrom of violence that ends up their community apart. The novel provides a moving insight into the human expense suffered following the political headlines from one of the most beautiful and misapprehended regions of India.
Mari is a novel on the battle of Kohima, 1944, known to most historians as the ‘Stalingrad of the East’, and reflects a history unknown to many. The people of Nagaland who often experience the rage of being marginalised, were culturally subordinated before and also during the period of World War II. It records the voices that are repressed, the unacknowledged heroes and ignored events of history. Mari is a true story of Mari O’Leary, barely seventeen when the Second World War reached the remote region of Nagaland. After losing her fiancé Vic in the war, killed by a ‘sniper’s bullet’ of the Japanese army, is enveloped by the existential human predicament. As a young mother, she bravely makes the decision to live on for her child and finds happiness again.
Anjum Hasan is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and editor. Born and educated in Shillong, Sahitya Akademi published her first book of poems Street on the Hill in the year, 2006, followed by her first novel Lunatic in my Head (2007). Her second novel Neti, Neti came out in the year (2009), followed by her short fiction collection Difficult Pleasures (2012), and the novel The Cosmopolitans in 2015. Her book Neti, Neti has been translated into Swedish as Bort, Bort and Street on the Hill translated into Norwegian under the title Gata På Toppen Av En Ås. Her books have been nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, the Hindu Best Fiction Award and the Crossword Fiction Award. Her articles are published in Granta and Griffith Review, The Popcorn Essayists: What Films do To Writers, Five Dials, Wasafiri, Drawbridge, Los Angeles Review of Books, Asia Literary Review, her short stories in anthologies such as A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present, and her poems published in Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. She is presently Books editor at The Caravan, India’s leading magazine of long-form reporting and essays.
Lunatic in my Head is the story of eight year old Sophie Das who loves reading stories and fantasizes that she is adopted because she finds the truth too dull. It is also the story of Firdaus Ansari, a spinster in her thirties who is a professor of English literature. Along with her teaching she is pursuing her MPhil for the last four years. For Sophi Das, Firdauz Ansari, Shillong is their only home because they were born here and they love this small hilly town immensely despite their being dkhar, a foreigner who do not have roots here. Hasan enlighten the readers with the matrilineal practice practiced by the Khasis in Meghalaya in the character of Kong Elsa, the landlady of the rent house where the Das family have been residing since the time they had stepped into Shillong. According to Kong Salty Kong Elsa had lots of property because of being the khadduh, the youngest daughter who enjoy such special privileges as per their matrilineal custom. Hasan uses feelings like wonder, sadness, disgust, fear and anger to mark the sections of the book.
G.S.P. Rao reviewed Mamang Dai’s The Legends of Pensam and observed that the novel is a set of stories interconnected across a few generations of a family that makes the book more of a novel. There are a host of memorable characters steeped in traditional tribal beliefs and living vulnerable lives influenced by spirits, shamans and unnatural events. Rao praised Dai’s language and stated it charming because it transports the reader to the Siang valley with vivid and lyrical description of mountains, rivers, rain and life of the people. (Rao. Highly Engrossing Content and Narration. http://indianshortstoryinenglish.com/reviews/mamang-dai-the-legends-of-pensam/).
Nigamananda Das in his article Ethno-ecology, Women’s Predicaments and the Idea of Evil in Selected Works of Mamang Dai and Indira Goswami stated that Dai, the eco-historian has narrated the states of disharmony in nature in her bioregional narrative The Legends of Pensam. The novel constructs a subalterm history involving Arunachal’s Adi tribe, pristine animism, mysterious ecology and its tribes’ profound sense of the existence of evil in numerous forms.
Anindita Sengupta reviewing Mamang Dai’s novel Stupid Cupid observed that it is not chick lit. The story of Stupid Cupid does revolve around love though. Adna, a north-eastern migrant to Delhi, finds her late aunt has left her a bungalow in South Delhi. She decides to start a “love agency”, a “decent meeting place where men and women, lovers and friends, could rendezvous without too much sweat.” She said that Dai weaves a larger picture of life in Delhi and in the north-east and what happens when people travel between these two worlds.
Pattanayak studied Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife from realistic point of view and commented that the novel is realistic in nature as it depicts social, political life of a people in a particular juncture of its history. It captures the certainties, troubles and tribulations in the life of individuals both born and to be born, through the characters like Rukmini, her husband Siddharth, and Manoj who helped her to bear a child. Ms. Phukan uses resisters and some local words to throw the colour of realism.
S. M. Gupta published an article Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife: Exploring from Protest to Insurgency and concluded that the writer seems to disapprove of violence by stating that there are three parties involved in any violent movement: insurgents, public in general including victims of violence and security forces that try to prevent violence and all the three suffers. Gupta further questioned whether we shall ever celebrate the end of violence in this world.
S. Kanitha through her article Reading Mitra Phukan More as a Humanist than a Feminist establishes that Phukan has the female perspective and humanistic understanding in presenting the life and characters. She further adds that if a man can understand that a woman has a mind, she needs a companion, she has her aspirations and dreams about her future and career, and if he can listen to her, there is no chance of losing his precious life. This understanding about the human feelings becomes necessary if at all, they want to be faithful to the institution of the family. In Indian situation, “a little bit of understanding, and a respect for each other’s views may help the man and the woman be equal partners in life”(Kanitha 55).
Riddhi Sankar Ray writing about the novel in SEPHIS-e magazine vol. 2 no.1 (Sept 2005) observed that leaving the fictional element apart, The Collector’s Wife should be pleasant reading to anyone interested in state, society and politics in modern India. First, the author conveys a sense of being born out of the colonial past at least insofar as life in the mofussil is concerned. Second, it directly concerns regional and ethnic demands for a more exclusive identity, the periphery’s struggle against the centre, as also its inherent contradictions and ambiguities– issues central to the history of independent India, and the post-Cold War world at large.
DesiLit Daily, a journal on South Asian and Diaspora Literature, substantiate that Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife is a good and elegant book with its quiet charm and composed, poised piece of writing because of Phukan’s confidence, sensitivity and a good amount of finesse in writing. She has skillfully weaved into the story’s fabric both joy and sadness to tug powerfully at the readers’ heartstrings. The plot is well crafted and the language is simple and smooth flowing. The author takes us through Rukmini’s life at a measured pace which allows the reader to fully understand her state of mind and at some level even connect to her (http://zubaanbooks.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/the-collectors-wife-by-mitra-phukan).
Unmana Datta reviewed Felanee and commented that Arupa Patangia Kalita makes for some difficult reading – but contains a moving story at its heart. She further adds that this is a beautiful story, both an intimate look at the life of a woman who struggles to make a life for herself and her son, as well as a critical look at violence in a state that has been ravaged by it. http://www.womensweb.in/articles/felanee-assamese-book-review/.
Mompi Choudhury, in her article “Violence and Marginalization of Women” in Felanee narrates the history of Assam with its different movements – ethnic, linguistic, cultural- which are violent in nature. It tells about the impact and consequence of violence and war on women starting from the language movement in the 60s till the devastation caused by the “freedom fighters” and the trauma by Indian militants. Throughout the novel, the writer involves the fortune of a group of displaced women who are directed from fear, violence and marginalization to an atmosphere of empathy, sisterhood and self-discovery that comfort, provide security, stability of mind as well as healing. Preeti Gill observes that insecurity, violence, death, kidnappings, rape, torture on a daily basis, governmental apathy, corruption, poverty and unemployment that the region experienced and how people are caught in the crossfire of insurgents, militants, counter-insurgency operations are powerfully presented in the novel Felanee.
Commenting on the leading feminist and Assamese author, Debojyoti Chakraborty writes that Felanee, meaning thrown away, is a brutally honest tale about the experiences of woman and a passionate story of survival and of ethnic conflict, a ground-breaking work which is very relevant in the current state of affairs in Assam. The writer herself says that
“as a women writer of Assam, social issues have attracted me. In Felanee, I wrote about a group of marginalized women. I picked up my characters from my devastating times. I picked up the title of the novel from the oral story in Tangla, my hometown. In my new novel, I have tried to decode the mindless violence. My canvas is very big. It is a canvas of unrest. The 450 pages novel encompasses a time span is more than 100 years”. (http://www.thethumbprintmag.com/urvashi-butalia-lauds-northeastern-women-writers/A.J. Sebastian through his article Gender Inequality in Easterine Kire Iralu’s A Terrible Matriarchy pointed out that the fictionist looks into the various aspects of matriarchal assertion in manifold ways challenging the commonly held feminist point of view.
According to Ashley Tellis, The Terrible Matriarchy deals with resistant in the psychoanalytic sense. “It is the inner world of the central protagonist, Dielieno, that shows an ‘unrelenting resistance to the pain and mess’ of the political realities in which it inheres. This is affected through a curious gendering of the text. The text is saturated in a women’s world, where the protagonist is trapped; the Naga political world is almost completely denied entry through the dense gendering of its world. All the violence of the context is displaced onto the violence of dominating matriarchal figure in the form of a grandmother” (Eastern Quarterly 13). In this, the text differ from her two other novel Mari and Bitter Wormwood, which explicitly deal with the political turmoil the Nagas had gone through during and since the World War. Kire has very realistically portrayed matriarchal hegemony through acute gendering of the text by revelation of gender abuse that take place within the same gender. She has acknowledged that
“the little girl is a combination of many little girls. Some girl readers have told me, ‘I am that little girl; I was mistreated because I was a girl-child’. Some girl-children have suffered more abuse than this one in the story” (Easterine, E-mail to I. Swami, 14 January 2010).
Commenting on her fiction Bitter Wormwood in an interview, Easterine Kire herself said that
it is a novel that spans the years from 1937 to 2007 and is about the freedom struggle of the Nagas from Indian occupation of 1947. As I stated in the introduction, it is a book about the ordinary people whose lives were completely overturned by the freedom struggle. So I could say that it was the stories of the people and their untold suffering that inspired me to write this book” (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120120/jsp/northeast/easterinekire.jsp).
Similarly, IANS published review on Easterine Kire’s Mari and commented that it is the story of a young Naga girl Mari caught in the midst of the battle. Her family is dispersed as they are forced to leave their village home. Separated from her parents, Mari looks after her younger sisters. Through the weeks of the battle, the young girls move from one hiding place to another to escape the Japanese soldiers. Short on food, they forage for herbs and greens in the forest and hide in cattle sheds. Throughout this difficult time, 17-year-old Mari longs for her fiancé, a British sergeant who is in the midst of the fighting in Kohima and is shot dead by a sniper just a day before the siege of Kohima is lifted (http://www.Ibnline.in.com/agency/IANS.html).
Hasan’s novel, Lunatic in My Head, according to Amarjeet Nayak, begins by introducing the readers to this world “by focusing on the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural ambience of its setting, the hilly North-East city of Shillong”. She enlightened the readers with the matrilineal practice followed by the Khasis in Meghalaya in the character of Kong Elsa, the landlady of the rent house where the Das families have been residing since the time when they stepped into Shillong. Kong Salty, the elder sister tells Mrs. Das that Kong Elsa had lots of property because of being the khadduh, youngest daughter in the family.
Pip Newling while reviewing Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic in My Head observed that the novel centers on that most ordinary of desires – to escape. Anjum Hasan works her slow and steady magic as she pulls her three main characters – Firdaus an unmarried, slightly older, literature teacher; Aman, a young man about to sit the public service exam after failing it once; and Sophie, an eight-year-old girl, who tells lies because the truth is too dull – into an ever-tightening circle. The landscape, both cultural and literal, is also slippery. Caste and ethnicity matter. Age and wealth matter. Generosity is watched and noted. But not everything is said, explained, made clear (http://www.readings.com.au / review/lunatic-in-my-head-anjum-hasan). Eminent writer, professor, and journalist Siddhartha Deb praise Lunatic in My Head by calling it, “Haunting, lyrical and daring, bringing fresh air into stale confines of Indian writing” (Hasan, Cover of the novel 2007).
Preeti Gill, in her thought provoking article Women in the Time of Conflict: The Case of Nagaland stated that “India’s North-East has been “one of the most continuously militarized regions since Independence” (213). She further comments that the reasons of local militancy and popular secessionist movements are the common problems of economic underdevelopment, exploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation and changing demographic profiles. Preeti Gill’s collection of essays, The Peripheral Centre: Voices from India’s Northeast (2010), questions the issues of nation, identity, of what makes the people of Northeast so alienated from the “mainstream” and shows the troubled image of Manipuri women. In July 2004 Thangjam Manorma was arrested and murdered by the Assam Rifles in Manipur which triggered a protest the likes of which no one had ever witnessed. In some way this was one of the cause in publishing this collection of essays- to provide a space to women and men from the ‘North-East’ to tell us about the problems confronting them every day, to articulate their daily anxieties, the insecurities, the uncertainties confronting them in an area that has been facing low intensity warfare for decades. That incident has turned into an image that has stayed in minds, transformed into an icon of protest in the popular imagination pointed by the essays on the Manipuri women holding them up as a flag of rebellion, of protest, of questioning.
Jaideep Saikia edited a volume, Frontier in Flames: North-EAST India in Turmoil (2007), which include essays by eleven specialist commentators on the North-East and critically examine aspects of security in the region. This book is a definitive departure from the existing debates on this topic in its censure of the Indian government’s policy towards the region. In their analysis, while agreeing on the principle reasons why the land of the seven sisters continues to burn, the writer suggests strong remedial measures to establish peace and prosperity in the region.
Similarly, Sanjib Baruah also edited a collection of essays, Beyond Counter-insurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northern India (2009) which provides analyses of the conflicts at three levels: structural determinants like poverty and underdevelopment; the nature and politics of postcolonial state; and the agency of multiple actors with diverse motives. The book conveys a sense of Northeast India’s rich and vibrant public discourse.
Jeremy Waldon deals with contemporary politics, security law and the continuing struggle for an ethical response to terrorism in Torture, Terror and Trade- Offs: Philosophy for the White House (2010).
Apart from this, host of other critics have published their articles on the selected fiction. References from these studies are made at appropriate junctures in further course of discussion. Thus, the review of literature reveals that the contemporary fiction selected for the present study has been studied by various research scholars and has also inspired scholars providing various themes but no systematic and full-length study of the selected fiction have so far been made to explore the marginalized condition of North-East Indian women who faces double and triple marginality and to trace the multifaceted experiences they face in armed conflict situations.