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The Mothers of Manipur Hardcover – 1 Mar 2017
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About the Author
Teresa Rehman is an award-winning journalist based in Northeast India. She had worked with India Today, The Telegraph and Tehelka magazine. In her new role as a media entrepreneur, she now edits her own webzine.
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Manorama’s mutilated body, ridden with bullet holes, including in her vagina, was found near her home one July morning in 2004. She had been picked up by the Indian Army the night before. A few days later, a group of mothers staged a unique protest with slogans of “Indian Army Rape Us! Indian Army Take Our Flesh!”, that has been much discussed - in the context of conflict and women in India, of the battlefield that is a woman’s body and the politics of its nakedness - by activists, the media, feminists, and academia.
In her debut book, Teresa Rehman interviews the twelve mothers who protested against the horrific killing of Manorama Devi and brings to the world what made the imas take such a desperate step in spite of hailing from Manipur’s conservative environment. This book also shows the grim reality of what happens if the military is given too much power and what some of the supposed ‘protectors’ do under the garb of AFSPA(Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which provides them legal immunity for their actions. It is this same Act that Irom Sharmila Chanu had held her 14 year old fast against, since 2000, after the Malom massacre took place killing 10 civillians.
In the interviews of the twelve mothers, Rehman also finds stories of Manipur – its conflicts and its resilience – the distraught lives of the common people in between everyday curfews, military exploitation and terrorism by separatists. Through a number of other characters, some of them famous, The Mothers of Manipur captures the complex picture of contemporary Manipur.
Other than the nature 0f the protest, what is all the more unique and empowering is the various backgrounds from which the twelve mothers hailed. While someone was a physics graduate, someone didn’t even have the knowledge of letters. What really unites them is their unthought-of bravery and determination to protect the daughters of Manipur even at the cost of their lives, reiterated in the interviews of the multiple mothers who said that the only thing that they could see while stripping was an image of the “mutilated body of Manorama” transfixed at the back of their minds.
Yet, on another level, they are also ordinary women. Shifting from urban feminism, it depicts the story of a movement born out of spontaneous raw emotions of the mothers – to them it was the very basic, natural instinct of every mother to protect her children from repeated exploitation. Beyond the bravery of stripping naked in public in a conservative society like Manipur, there is also fear, shame, doubt, and anxiety. They all speak about being anxious the night before the protest. Many of them faced contempt and disapproval from their families and neighbours and it is this vulnerability of theirs which makes these ordinary women extraordinarily memorable. Most of them are not comfortable speaking about the incident even to this day and all of them hold the opinion that “such an incident should never be repeated”.
Teresa’s style of writing reflects her years of training as a journalist through the concise account of incidents in her book. Words are not minced upon and facts are put as they are. However, what is slightly lacking is depth in terms of information and has the reader craving for more. More often than not, it is felt there are explorable crevices in the stories whose loose ends are being left untied.
The question that lingers in the minds of the imas, the readers and the world is how successful this movement was. With no sign of the government considering the repealing of AFSPA, even to the extent of ignoring the report of their own Committee, the disappointed and distressed mothers think whether their protest, which they thought would be the final nail on this draconian Act, went in vain after all.
In the afterword, Manorama’s mother Khumaleima comes in. She had waited for years to perform the funeral rites of Manorama, her elder daughter, whose body was cremated by the authorities as “unclaimed” since the family refused to accept it without a post-mortem report. She does not know how long she will have to wait to see AFSPA go. “…Only when it will go I will be sure my daughter’s soul will rest in peace”.
There is also a great religious bias playing in the book which considers North-East a playground of Christianity and Islam and considers the Hindu mainland as nothing more than an unlawful aggressor. So the grievances are not completely real, they have an imaginary religious angle.
Beware of such propaganda books.
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