The status of women in Northeast India has always been better than that of women in other parts of India. This is perhaps due to the presence of matrilineal societies, where descent is transferred not to the men but women. As the economic power lies with women in the sister states, they are also more active in the public sphere and independent when it comes to making economic decisions.
The region has produced some really cool women who have been pioneers in various walks of life, where they are breaking ground and setting an example for people from the ‘mainland’ who constantly other them on grounds of their race. Here are a few amazing women, whose strength and valor is inspiring the world:
IROM CHANU SHARMILA
A poetess, civil rights and political activist, she has been fighting for the repeal of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) through the world’s longest hunger strike that started in November 2000, and has been ongoing ever since. The AFSPA is an act that grants special powers to the army, which interferes with the human rights of civilians living in the region in which it is applicable. Irom is called the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’. Her non- violent means of self-expression and assertion have brought the issue to global prominence, though nothing has changed since 1958, when the act was passed.
OINAM BEMBEM DEVI
Indian woman footballer from Manipur, Bembem has been an instrumental player in strengthening the position of Indian women in football, taking the team to the 57th spot in world FIFA rankings, while the men still stand at 166. She also holds credit for taking the team to win many international titles like the Asian Games and South Asian Football. She was also the first Indian woman to be a part of an international football club. She recently announced her retirement from the sport on the last day of 2015.
She needs no introduction. Not anymore. Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom has made the nation proud with her boxing abilities, and has won the right wing’s admiration due to her ability to sustain a family that is well taken care of. She is a five time world boxing champion and the first Indian woman boxer ever to win a gold medal at the Asian Games. She also won a bronze at the summer Olympics in 2012. Anyone who has watched the movie would know that her greatest challenge was getting back to work after motherhood, though she didn’t let that stand in her way.
Writer and activist from Manipur, Bina has been put in the list of the world’s 100 most influential people when it comes to the armed violence reduction struggle. She not only co- founded the Control Arms Foundation of India, but was also a key player in setting up the Manipuri Women Gun Survivor Network, to help women affected by the civilian attacks that happen because of AFSPA. She is an Ashoka fellow who has also been awarded the Dalai Lama Foundation Peace Scholar award, and she represents India in the UN on issues (apart from armed violence) such as International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Cluster Munitions Coalition.
MAHARAJ KUMARI BINODINI DEVI
Author, Playwright and Padma Shri awardee, MKB Devi was a real-time princess of Manipur who chose literature over her title. Though she passed away in 2011, her work and advocacy remain an integral part of the contemporary debate. Her work predominantly revolved around her political position and royalty, but she chose to return her award on account of the abduction, rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by army personnel in 2004. Her work has been adapted and screened at Institutes and Film Festivals across the United Kingdom, for which she also won several accolades.
The first female IPS from the North East (Sikkim), 28 year old Aparajita is an inspiration for many in the region who still consider basic government jobs as the be all and end all of their capacities. A lawyer by education, she was also the state topper for the region’s ISC examinations and has won various awards for outdoor probation and field combat, and is currently posted in the Hoogly district of West Bengal.
The youngest one to make it to the list, she claimed the spot as she became the first North-Easterner to be elected as Secretary of NSUI (National Students Union of India), the country’s largest student body based out of Delhi. A biochemist by academic interest, she doesn’t shy away from calling herself a feminist and is a reality check to so many young women out there who believe in the word impossible and its possibilities. Read her interview here.