Chapter-5: The Chief Sufferers: Women and Children
The fifth chapter entitled “The Chief Sufferers: Women and Children” of this thesis explores the women and children as worst sufferers in the long arm struggle that the North East region had faced. This chapter is a detailed analytical study of violence and its multifaceted impact upon women and children during insurgency in the North-East as narrated in the selected fiction. Apart from this, the chapter also highlight the physical and psychological anxiety of the women and children whose growing up experience is the continuous sounds of gunshot, bloodshed, and kidnapping as Easterine Kire recalls, “Curfews and continued periods of gunfire were all part of growing up in Nagaland” (Kire,
Writing about the miseries women face in conflict Sanjay Hazarika in In Times of Conflict the Real Victims are Women observes
….how women fare in these virtual war zones…the State has failed them. Take any conflict or potential conflict: women are the most vulnerable and marginalized from either side. (Hazarika, In Times of Conflict the Real Victims are Women 73)
As 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). Hence in times of crisis women along with her child/children experiences anguish of the highest order as they remain traumatized by painful events and experiences caused due to “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy” and “injury by or as if by distortion, infringement or profanation” (Merriam-Webster) they have undergone. Today, the world is becoming increasingly violent and so an act of violence can generate a chain reaction, and a continuous vicious cycle is generated from where it
it is very difficult to step out from its downward spiral. It is a truism that violence begets violence, which then assumes its own inexorable logic. In the process the original cause of the conflict is lost sight of. This is what has happened in the Northeast. (Phukan, Who Killed Mother Teresa? Children of the Conflict 286).
In the long arm struggle that the North East region of India faced, the worst sufferers are women and children. As literature reflects reality, one of the dominant themes of fiction writing is violence and trauma perpetrated by militant outfits and security personals in the name of combating insurgency. Tilottoma Misra observes that “violence feature as a recurrent theme because the story of violence seems to be a never-ending one” (Misra, The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-East India xix) in this region which prompts writers to remain deeply concerned regarding the brutality experienced in their society due to rampant “human rights violation and maiming of the psyche… by the trauma caused by violence (Misra, The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-East India xix). Trauma defined as
an extremely distressing or emotionally disturbing event. An aspect of this distress or disturbance could be described as a disruption of normal everyday experience….the arrival of trauma – the unexpected death of a healthy life partner, a rape by a date, or torture by the police expected to protect one from criminals .. undercuts the usual, slashes unspoken assumptions to shreds, and attacks the very meaning of one’s life. ( Larrabee et al 354 http://www.jstor.org/stable/20010340)
Where the meaning of one’s life is disrupted, there remain no words to be told. Such stories tell the listeners a portion of the life and experience of wounded persons which might have occurred due to political torture, sexual assault, wartime atrocity, abrupt and untimely loss, that make him undergo feeling of chaos that disintegrate. It transmit episodic segment of existence and incidents of wounded people as belated depiction of harrowing experiences allows the memory to pick and choose those which it desires to remember rather than articulate every experience as it happened in the past. This happen because trauma blur the memories between ‘the knowable and the unknowable’ so that it fuses truth and reality to the extent that it becomes “difficult to distinguish between truth and fiction” (Misra, Women Writing in Times of Violence 306).
Diane Long Hoeveler in reading and writing about the wound observes that in her unfinished novel The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria (1798) Mary Wollstonecraft talk about series of insults, humiliations, deprivations, beatings, and fatal or near-fatal disasters undergone by women. Among the tribal, women as carriers of identity have to undergo physical wounding and infliction like tattooing the face straight down from the forehead to the chin, stretched ear piercing and huge nose piercing in the name of observing culture and tradition. Women who had undergone these processes say that it could be a very painful process with a whole month of restriction on smiling and laughing as it may disturb the straight line tattoo which can be seen as synonymous with reprimand. In Dai’s The Legends of Pensam we meet lean, agile, outcast widow, Pinyar, who despite the taxing years of her life, observed the traditional custom of wearing large cylindrical earrings that dragged her ears down, wore all the beads, silver coins and amulets.
Besides, the constant disturbances in the North-East region add to the woes and problems of the womenfolk as they suffer physical and mental abuse at the hands of the paramilitary forces and, at times, in the hands of the militants. The case of 15 years old Rashmi Bora from Rai Dingia village, Nowgaon is a tragic case of local militant atrocity. She was attractive, lively and had dancing expertise. An
extrovert and spunky, she dared to turn down the sexual advances of a local militant. She had been warned against giving stage performances and dressing in ‘Indian clothes’. (Goswami, Shifting Sands: Negotiations, Compromises and Rights in Situations of Armed Conflict 115).
She vocally protested about the threats she received against stage performances attired in Indian clothes saying that such restrictions should not be levied on any woman. One such wonderful performance made the army major and his men visit her house to congratulate on her expertise. This enraged the local militants who kidnapped and allegedly killed her as a lesson to anyone who dare go against them. Besides such threats, they also suffer atrocities in the hands of security personnel.
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 is happening 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. (Yengkhom ; Rakesh, Fear of rape in zoula-leh-sanemla.blogspot.com)
Most of these men hail from the strictly patriarchal societies of mainland India, which are extremely prejudiced against women. Coupled with this, in North East India 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. Anyone who tries to intervene is severely beaten. 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. Writing about the AFSPA Sanjib Baruah observes that
‘A truly nasty and terrifying piece of legislation’..AFSPA’s controversial provisions include the power of the security forces to make preventive arrests, search premises without warrant, and shoot and kill civilians; and effective legal immunity of soldiers implicated in such actions, since court proceedings are contingent on the central government’s prior approval. (Baruah, Northeast India: Beyond Counterinsurgency and Developmentalism 30).
It has become a common practice among the security forces engage 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 fear of rape is common to all women, however among North East Indian women this fear is heightened by the situation in which they live. It stems not merely from the horror of physical assault, but from the subsequent social stigmatization and many other inexpressible feelings. In fact, in Manipur the literal meaning of the word to describe rape is “elimination of one’s esteem” (Yengkhom ; Rakesh in zoula-leh-sanemla.blogspot.com) which would tantamount to extreme heights of humiliation. The imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 has aggravated the condition of women in this region. Women in the AFSPA-imposed India’s North East do not feel safe or secure in their own houses. Daily life has been routinely affected by the arbitrary house searches, body searches, questioning threats and harassment of sorts. The Thangjam Manorama Devi rape and murder case of 11th July, 2004, the arrest, detention and naked torture of two sisters Laishram Bimola Devi and Laishram Manishang on 14th January 1999, the detention and interrogation of an innocent girl, Oinam Subhashini Devi in January 1999, and the taking into custody of Chabungbam Jamini Devi, an “11-year-old girl alleging that she was the girlfriend of an underground activist” (Yengkhom & Rakesh in zoula-leh-sanemla.blogspot.com) are examples of such instances. “The encounter killings, crack down, identification parades, house-to-house searches, nightly raids, disappearances” (Swami http://www.museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2013&issid=47&id=3900) are some of the instruments of humiliation. In fact, in the North East region where much of the conflict is linked with the question of ethnic identities, the pressure on women is tremendous. Despite prolonged existence in fear, terror, and trauma, the people have not yet learned to live with experiences of violence and writers of the region cherish hopes that one day human values will overcome all painful episodes and a peace would materialize out of this ‘trial by fire’ and ‘birth by fire’ as Temsula Ao calls it.
One of the most prominent voices in contemporary Assamese literature, Arupa Patangia Kalita with unflinching frankness, severe violence, and zealous compassion reflects upon women, conflict, and marginalization in her novel Phelani (2003) translated into English by Deepika Phukan as The Story of Felanee. With the backdrop of the language riot, anti-foreigner issue, Nellie massacre, Bodo nationalist movement, several ethnic riots, etc. which had left a scar in the psyche as opined by scholar Makiko Kimura
The master narrative on the Nellie incident in Assam is largely shared by the middle-class Assamese. For them, the incident is a stain in their otherwise successful mass-mobilized movement. (Kimura, The Nellie Massacre of 1983: Agency of Rioters 14)
The book is a subtle study of the impact of diverse forms of structured political aggression on the life of a group of fugitive women who have endured brutal antagonism and who are somehow managing a livelihood on the precincts of society. The novel constructs a strong declaration about the necessity to represent marginalized voices in a society which is gradually becoming unquestionably mannish, a consequence of prolonged existence under militancy. Violence, in gory detail figures prominently in the novel which is reflected through its effect on common people living in those rough, unstable times. Encompassing a time span of more than 50-60 years, the book tells us about a group of marginalized women; people being skinned alive, their fingers fed to dogs; of baby corpses split down the middle; of entire villages being massacred; homes raided and many became homeless; several were traumatized with fear affecting livelihoods and economy of the state. A few benefits from such conflicts and emergency while the ordinary civilians who form the majority of the populace, become poverty stricken, displaced and isolated from their normal life and native place. The violence of the period has remained as a scar in the Assamese psyche.
In the language riot during the 60s, one after the other the surrounding villages were burnt, and smoke and fire filled the air. Dida, Rati Saha’s mother recalls that that awful day Felanee’s mother was pregnant, just as Felanee was now. Her water had broken and the baby’s head had descended. Felanee’s mother had started her birth pains. Khitish and Ratan saw a truck load of gun wielding men arrive. Khitish had to do something to save his pregnant wife. So he boldly started walking on the road and that was the last anyone saw of him. Groaning in pain, his wife managed to crawl to Ratan’s house. Jutimala gave birth to a baby girl and became unconscious. Someone, maybe one of the marauders threw the baby into the pond and here follows the story of the thrown away, castaway and displaced. Kalita, the feminist says about such marginalized women that their existence itself is a struggle. Now the same situation seems to be repeated. Felanee was the mother of a son and was pregnant again and the riot had started once more.
No one could sleep that night. The sounds of people screaming, as their homes and fields burned, filled the air. Last night, there had been at least six such bursts of noise. Groups of villagers kept watch through the night. (Kalita, Felanee 10)
Her husband, Lambodar had asked their son, Moni to look after his mother while he was away. He was much too young for such responsibilities. Boys his age should be sleeping like a log, with not a care in the world. But he had witnessed the vile actions of men which remain a scar in his tender mind as external violence sometimes results in psychic disorder. This produces an
overwhelming experience of sudden, or catastrophic events, in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, and uncontrolled repetitive occurrence of hallucinations, flashbacks and other intrusive phenomena. (Caruth, Violence and Time: Traumatic Survivals 24)
Hence Moni had disturbed sleep, muttering and thrashing in his sleep. Lambodar went out to keep watch with the other villagers as usual. That particular night loud screams filled the air with firecrackers bursting, smell of gunpowder everywhere, and the flames spreading and engulfing the houses. Holding Moni she stealthily hid them in the mosquito infested garbage dumping hole which was stinking. When she heard footsteps and the sound of an approaching jeep she peeped out from between the leaves and in the light of the flames she saw two people run into their house. She recognized Shibani’s brother and her father. The older man opened the back door and a crowd of unknown people with strange faces and clothes followed them. They put petrol and kerosene and torched her house to flames burning the two men alive whose screams rent through the air. A woman running down the road trying to escape fell to the ground death due to a sharp slash on her body. The crowd chopped her half death body and threw her baby into the flaming house. The scene in front of her eyes was so brutal that Felanee felt the baby in her belly turned and give a piercing pain which shot through to her chests. Holding her belly with one hand and Moni with the other she tried her best to keep themselves concealed. At dawn she came out of the swamp still holding Moni. She started at the jute field which was filled with dead bodies. Pools of blood were everywhere. Her’s and Moni’s whole body was covered with leeches and the son’s face was pitted with cuts and wounds too. She dropped to the ground in a faint. This shows how fatigue and agonized the pregnant Felanee was.
The crisis came in such a whirlpool that they could not locate where Lambodar was. In a matter of two nights, a prosperous and content village had been reduced to a cremation ground. Most of the houses had been burnt to ashes. Biren Baishya came with fresh information that the army was planning to take some people with them to the village, to look for the missing. Like many others he was going with them, to look for his three missing children. Felanee also wanted to go but seeing her condition Baishya asked whether it would be wise. She replied
“For my men, yes… !”
“What if something happen to the baby?”
“It doesn’t matter. As it is, I can feel no movement. If the Maker wants the baby will live: if not, then it is His will. But my husband….…” (Kalita, Felanee 33)
Actually the army wanted them to go in order to identify the dead. Seeing her anxious face, he didn’t have the heart to tell her more.
It was the unsteady walker with lisping speech, retarded Raghu who informed Felanee and the others what had happened. The men without faces had set fire to Shibani and her father, poured kerosene on Subhas Master and set him on fire. When Lambodar cursed and abused them for this heinous act they poured kerosene all over him and set him on fire too. In such a situation one cannot lead a normal life. The abnormality of the situation brought all these people to the relief camp. Children of Moni’s age should be in school studying and playing with friends. But for Moni and children like him books and play are far away from them now. They cannot spend another shift of the day without food and therefore these boys are always on the lookout for small jobs. The jobs that fell into his hands were odd because he was still very young and unskilled too. Like the other boys, Bijoy, Kulu and Jogen, Moni too worked for the girls who did prostitution and brought ‘pepsi’ (liquor) for the men who visited them because that was the only job which brought good profit. At such a tender age these boys are exposed to that kind of life which society deemed it unfavorable and disrespectable. Earlier this business did not exist but now it is thriving and Bijoy explains why
They have almost stopped giving rice in the camps. When they were giving free rice this business did not exist. But now it’s on the rise. (Kalita, Felanee 46)
When asked by Moni about his family, whether his father was there he replied
Yes but not my mother. Both my mother and my sister were killed. My father had bullets in his legs that the doctor here took out. But gangrene has set in, and they say nothing can be done. I have a kid sister now (Kalita, Felanee 46).
So they both didn’t have a father. Through this conversation Bijoy says
What can one do, tell me? Most people have gone half crazy. Our Maina is also like your mother. She goes on pointing at people and things, muttering to herself. She saw my mother and sister being… (Kalita, Felanee 46-47).
Binoy couldn’t continue anymore because it was too painful which indicate the disturbing experience one goes through recalling traumatic incidents.
Everything that holds true for society in general applies with doubly force to the children of that society, for the simple reason that they are much more vulnerable to emotional trauma and to indoctrination, leading to an erosion of values. (Phukan, Who Killed Mother Teresa? 287).
A distant relative of Felanee, Bulen Sarania, was reasonably wealthy. He and his wife Sumala had invited her brother, Madhab Das for their son’s annaprasana. Das, a well-known leftist was accompanied by a friend, Baishya. Most people liked him but he had several enemies too. When the boys came to know about Das’s arrival they came to Bulen’s village, went to his house shouting ‘traitor’. Wounding Bulen, they forcefully took Madhab Das and Baishya with Sumala running after them and pleading to let go of her brother and his friend. But instead they cut off a finger of her brother and threw it at the dogs. Seeing this, Sumala fainted. The boys took them to the party office where they
skinned Baishya and Das, rubbed soda and salt into their bodies. They then dug out their eye balls. In a little while the two men were still. … That day in Bulen’s village, not a fire was lit. The villagers kept watch over Bulen, Sumala and the baby through the night. It was as though the silence of that night was transmitted to Sumala. She never spoke after that. The happy-go-lucky girl was frozen. (Kalita, Felanee 50)
She was so traumatized with the deep pain received in the psyche and the guilt that she went into a withdrawal syndrome culminating into insanity and sometimes went berserk with lunacy. She was oblivious to the existence of her child. Even the caring husband loath her after he became the member of the Bodo underground outfit. Later she was brutally gang raped and gruesomely murdered.
Sumala was found lying dead in the reserve forest below a Sissoo tree, just a little distance from the road. Her naked body was disfigured and there were distinct signs of brutality on her person. In place of her breasts there were two raw bleeding wounds. Her emaciated genital passage was a huge open wound. (Kalita, Felanee 246)
There is insinuation that this hideous act was the handiwork of the security personal deployed near the settlement because the place she was seen last was near the military camp.
One day when Bulen brought a dokhona for Felanee to wear for safety, she stepped on the verandah when she heard a groaning sound. As she peeped in, she saw a young girl around thirteen or fourteen lying there. She was covered with a thin quilt. Beside her was a middle aged Bodo woman in a dokhona fanning the girl. When asked, the old woman said
“Look at what your Government, your police have done. They devoured our tender girl like crows and vultures.” As the woman removed the quilt from the girl’s body Felanee screamed in horror. Chunks of flesh were bitten off from her breasts. There were teeth marks all over her body. A bloody stained rag was packed into her vagina. (Kalita, Felanee 179)
Felanee didn’t understand why the old woman said “your Government, your police” (Kalita 179) with venomous expression directed at her. That old woman was the only relative of Bulen and the groaning girl, his niece. This young niece was amongst the group of people who went out in a procession. Felanee asked the cause of the procession taken¸ to which Bulen replied,
“Just as your people went in processions during the Assam agitation. The policemen fell on our girls and ravished them. If they didn’t have the government’s backing, could these dogs have the guts to do what they did?” Bulen hit the ground with his huge knife, and it stuck hard…. “For our own state. We won’t live with these dogs any more. Just you wait and watch. We will get our own state. Hari Bhangura’s son has gone to the hills to get training in making bombs. Wait till they all return.” (Kalita, Felanee 180)
The excesses being carried out in the name of controlling law and order in the state had created a deep divide between the masses and the security personals with the later practicing atrocities on the weaker lot, comprising of women. The history of oppression of woman had revealed that man had always used force and might to control and silence women. The enactment of outrageousness carried out on women who participated in the procession is a case of history being repeated. As most of the security personals were men their thought process would be ruled by patriarchic notions of exercising hegemony over the less powerful people in order to control chaos.
Common folks like these women revered the leaders of the Assam agitation. One day when Minoti, Jon’s Ma and Felanee where returning from the market Minoti stepped on a large crumpled sheet of paper. She could clearly see the picture on the paper was that of the bearded, bald man with a round face. She jumped up, as though she had committed a sacrilege. She knelt and flattening the creases, she folded her hands in utter respect. She then picked up the paper gently. Her face registered shyness and her eyes dampened with unshed tears as this was the image of the man worshipped by her man. They believed that this was the only person who had the capability to drive out infiltrators from Assam and the only one who could change the face of Assam and bring progress and happiness in the golden State of Assam. And these folks equally trusted all the boys who worked for the cause of golden Assam. But what they did in turn showed the hideousness engulfing their mentality for prolonged practice of brutality, butchery, carnage, aggression and massacre that the beast in them were on the front foot. What they did to Ratna had reduced her to a pathetic figure. The leader of this group of boys, Minoti’s Prince charming, had already ruined her life and now eyeing the youthful Ratna who left the village in his car and after the elapse of almost a month she returned back to the village with a pregnant belly. She was physically abused not only by Minoti’s Prince charming, but by his boys too, who were extremely brutal with her. She was in a quandary now and her poor mother had no choice but to abort the unwanted thing. The young Ratna had to endure the painful process of traditional abortion which affected her tender womb and uterus to such an extent that initial signs of prolapsed uterus can be noticed. Her youth, dreams, and innocence are shattered forever. And this catastrophe was caused not by some foreign element but by those boys who belonged here and who claimed that they are soldiers vested with the sacred duty of creating golden Assam. But they had no qualms damaging the mind and body of one of their own sister’s.
One day the three women, Felanee, Minoti and Jon’s mother went to a shop for purchase of clothes when they saw four boys on motorbikes stop in front of the shop. At once ten to fifteen boys from inside the shop charged at the boys on the motorbikes with sticks and knives and steel rods. In fear and panic the three women ran past an almirah and entered a godown. In the midst of the stack of garments they remained pressed together like sardines. None of them had the guts to close the door. Today, once again, after a long time Felanee relived the nightmare she had somehow survived. Once again she goes back in time and sees herself hiding in a pond filled with drying banana trees while the boys who ran past poked the barks with their spears to see if anyone was hiding there. Her mind’s eye reenacts a raging fire engulfed her home and the piteous screams of two people locked inside the burning house rent the air.
Another day, a boy like them brought a big load of colourful materials to Phool’s husband’s shop who was the tailor and asked him to begin sewing. They specified a time for the delivery of the tailored garments. The old man was bewildered because he had never stitched any garment for the young. He was at his wits end. Then one day, the boys came and broke the old man’s shop destroyed his sewing machines and hit him. When he fainted they left him for dead and went away. The excruciating pain in his spine left him almost crippled. His wife, Phool had to start brewing liquor to make a living for the two of them, though it was not a respectable profession.
The long thousand hour bandh had turned many of them to prostitution to support the hungry bellies at home. Kali Boori and Minoti were no exception. Minoti’s son was running a severe temperature and there was no money to purchase medicine which forced her to take men in thereby providing opportunity to the sharp-tongued driver’s wife to hurl insults like slut at her.
During one such humiliating incident Minoti’s son came and stood by her side. It was a pity that the child never smiled. There was something very sad about his face; as though something was tormenting him. He was a child going through trauma. To be known as a bastard and called son of a prostitute could do huge damage to the tender mind and this is what had happened to him stealing joy away from his life.
One night the armies conducted search operation on the banks of the river and asked the men folk from the settlement to assist them by bringing torches and look for dead bodies. The last was the corpse of a tall young man. The ring on the finger indicated that it was the body of Minoti’s prince charming. In the morning the army men came rounding up Minoti. They were trying to put her in an army van. She was resisting with all her might, screaming and howling as she knew exactly what they will do to her. Her little boy held fast to her. The men and women of the settlement gathered near her house. They stared silently, unable to speak.
One of the jawans pushed her with the butt of his gun. Another abused her in uncouth language and a third grabbed her by her hair and was trying to drag her out. Her screams increased. (Kalita, Felanee 275)
Felanee couldn’t stand any more of this. Trembling with rage she walked up to the group of men and asked what she had done, whether she was responsible for the death of those men who were buried in the mud. Seeing Felanee, the rest of the women came closer to Minoti and encircled her. Slowly the menfolk too came closer. One of the army men shoved her again with the butt of his gun. Minoti held on to Felanee and sobbed. The rows of people encircling Minoti grew steadily. More and more people joined in and the circle grew from strength to strength till it was impervious to the army men. The communal resistance by the people of the settlement forced the police and army to leave the spot.
There was bandhs, curfews and lots of police and armies around the settlement. Despite so many security personnel a huge explosion took place in the driver’s yard. They all walked towards the driver’s house. They heard a moaning sound coming from inside. In a pool of blood laid the driver, his body riddled with bullet and Ratna’s father dead. The driver’s wife was taken away. A stifled sob from under the bed drew their attention towards it. They looked and found the driver’s daughter holding on to her brother who was shot as well. When they tried to make her stand she fainted due to the shock and fright received seeing the violence in front of her eyes. A child’s tender mind encounters scar and wound seeing and experiencing cruelty, bloodshed and massacre.
Nagaland, the most ravaged states of all the North East Indian states, had been under arm duress for an extended period. As a warring tribe there were several inter-clan wars. The region saw both the British and Japanese army as Kohima was the place where the Japanese advance into India was stopped during the Second World War. Then came the atrocities practiced upon these people by the Indian security personals. Frustrated by the step-motherly treatment meted out to them the region rebelled with a demand for a separate homeland. Fierce struggle between the Naga rebels and Indian army started and it continued for several years. The horrific life experienced by the folks is best captured by Easterine Kire in her novels and revealed the impediments endured by the people, more so the women and children under such time of crisis.
In Mari, everyone knew there was a war going on in Europe but it seemed a distant thing for the folks in this part of the world. In 1943, the war that had seemed such a distant thing for so long, finally reached Kohima. It began with hordes of refugees that the Japanese invasion had pushed into Nagaland. Kire observes that happy times leave no scare but it is the memories of loss that searingly remain. Loud roar of guns and the sound of grenades and bombs exploding were the growing up experience of almost all the children during early 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Kohima folks left their home and town for fear of safety. Within the span of a few days their peaceful and charming little town and home went up in flames and everything ravaged. When the Japanese marched into the village, people stopped what they were doing and stood still. They dared not stare at them openly because of the stories they heard and the people feared them. It became apparent that the Japanese were going to stay on in the village. Mari and her siblings sat along with the villagers. Now the villagers fell into the Japanese hands who laughed and stuffed the clothes and food into their backpacks while Mari and her sisters, looked at one another with tears glistening in their eyes. That evening Mari’s uncle told them,
It will be better if you are taken to the woods. The Japanese presence will surely attract British bombing and it won’t be safe for anyone. Your aunt will take you to a shed for the night. (Kire, Mari 61)
In the woods after eating, they gathered straw and jungle leaves together to make mattresses for makeshift beds. As they were preparing to go to sleep, they heard a tiger growling outside. It terrified them as it was a low angry rumbling sound. The night was moonless and they couldn’t see the animal but hear its growling at short intervals. They put more wood into the fire to keep the beast away. The next day, after hours of walking, they came upon a thatched hut roofed shelter with bamboo poles and mud walls were they found a woman with her three young children. She offered to share the hut with them. The woman told them that the Japanese had taken her husband away and she was not sure if they would release him. It was in the months of April and May, the dry months and the worst month to be camping out in the woods. There was no fruit in this season and no fish in the partially dry rivers.
We were hungry and lonely. The cold at night added to our woes…The wind blew in through the walls and the chill would wake us up frequently. I felt nauseous all the time and thought it was the lack of food and shelter. I struggled to keep down food after every meal and certain smells were repulsive. It was actually morning sickness but I didn’t know this then. (Kire, Mari 66)
It was only later she came to know that she was pregnant with Vic’s child.
Talks of Japanese atrocities on the simple folks and molestation of women were spoken of in whispers among elders, because rape was considered the most heinous of crimes which was absent before the advent of Japanese. These men looking at them now were men of that race. They had no idea how the Japanese soldiers were going to treat them. The soldier sitting closest to Mari leaned forward suddenly and peered into her face. Frightened she winced and turned away. They wanted food and the woman told them through gestures that there was none. They ignored her and kept on sitting for a long time making Mari, her sisters, the woman and her children feel vulnerable because the only man with them, young Jimmy would not be in a position to protect them. After Easter Sunday their food supplies ran low. As her husband was back, Vikieu decided to leave her baby with him and go to Kohima village to scavenge for food taking Mari and Zhabu along with her. While they were still looking around one of the houses,
a Japanese soldier came in and signaled to Zhabu to follow him. She ran back into the kitchen to Vikieu’s father-in-law and grabbed his hand. The old man begged the soldier to leave her alone but he picked her up effortlessly, slung her over his shoulder and walked off (Kire, Mari 72).
Zhabu was only fifteen but she was a sturdy young girl and very brave. She bit down on the soldier’s arm till she drew blood. The soldier roared in pain and threw her to the ground. Zhabu sprang to her feet and ran to the back door of the house where the old man was just coming out with a stick to hit the soldier. The pair ran back to the jungle footpath where they met Vikieu and they ran all the way back to their hideout without any food.
The next day they camped at another hut. Marina was with them and that was a huge comfort. They didn’t have food with them and were hungry. Marina went out looking for food for them and found a papaya plant. They were happy and plucked it. It was not yet ripe and so tasted bitter. They were half-starved and had to consume it because that was the only food available. Besides, the sounds of battle could be distinctly heard. She was worried and wanted to take her sisters to a peaceful place with food available.
I wished I could take my sisters and go away somewhere, anywhere, so long as it was away from the present suffering and the deaths all around, away from the constant echo of gunfire. Human life seemed so meaningless in the face of war. I felt nauseated at the sight of fresh blood on wounded men, their bandages soaked through. We had seen so much in such little time. (Kire, Mari 80-81)
After a few days they received information that Vic was killed on the 18th of April by a sniper’s bullet. Her world collapsed. Mari wanted to scream – but a choked cry was all that came out of her throat. Vic killed on the eighteenth of April – that was the same day that the bee had hovered around her for hours.
Everything hurt so much inside me. I felt as though my heart was about to burst from the pain, and I hoped it would. This could not be happening. Vic had said he would come back to me. He had promised. He had always kept his promises in all the time I had known him. (Kire, Mari 86)
Mari had a difficult pregnancy and that made her missed Vic more. Her daughter was born on the 19th of December on a cold winter’s night. With joy mingled with grief, they greeted her into the world. They wept because she was fatherless but rejoiced that they had been given a healthy baby, a life to replace the one they had lost. They were happy but her happiness was tinged with a pain and sadness that sometimes stopped the laughter welling up in her throat. Before Mari being Vic’s legal wife she became his widow and the child in her belly half-orphaned.
Six months later Dickie, a young British soldier came into her life. They both knew there would be many obstacles when they decide to marry but at present, they were happy to be alive and in love. Soon a daughter was born to them. He intended taking Mari to England as his bride but it was not to be. He was not permitted to take his small family to England. Neither did Mari’s father and brother consent to the union of Mari with Dickie. So, both her daughters grew up without seeing or knowing their father.
The upsurge of insurgency in the region has taken a toll on the life of man leaving the women to fend for themselves with responsibility of children and overburdened with family members. The imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 has further aggravated the condition of the women in this region because it legitimized the Armed Forces indulging in extra-judicial killings, rape and torture that traumatized the women. In the author’s introduction to her novel Bitter Wormwood, 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 of 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. In such turmoil women, face double loss and anguish.
In 1943 with the arrival of the war the schools in Kohima closed down. Vilau with her mother in-law Khrienuo and son Mose fled the Japanese invasion of their village and took refuge in the village of Rukhroma. They returned after two years when the war got over and the schools reopened. The Naga fight for independence started in the early 50s. This made the government come down heavily upon the people. Curfews were frequently imposed and school might be closed down again is the thought in everybody’s mind. For the election of the Prime Minister people were rounded off and taken to the village council where they were forcefully made to sign on a piece of paper. Grandmother Khrienuo painfully recounted to her grandson Mose that after they left for school, they were getting the mats out to dry paddy when they heard shouting. So they stopped their work and went to see. Suddenly there were policemen and soldiers all over the village. At gun point they were assembled at the Village council. The policemen forced them to put their thumbprints on little pieces of paper and put it in a box. Anyone who refused got a hard hitting on the head with the rifle. So, no one dared to refuse. They didn’t want to put their thumbprints on the papers. But there was no way they could avoid it. It was wrong. “What they are doing is so wrong” (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 64-65) cried Khrienuo. They were both frightened at the events that had suddenly overtaken the quiet lives of the villagers. After the forced election, the police and the army closed in everywhere. The villagers saw them hiding in the woods when they went to the fields. The situation became worse
The Indian army has burnt several Ao and Sema villages and raped women and killed some gaonburas. In some villages, they have killed many innocent people (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 66).
The women folks did not dare to loiter in the fields when they had finished for the day. There was such a sense of being watched that they hurriedly finished their work and prepared to go home. One evening mother in-law Khrienuo and Vilaü finished and were preparing to return home. Vilaü was at the stream washing her hands when she heard gunshots. Immediately she reacted with a shout, “Mother!” Hearing no response Vilaü turned around and saw her mother in-law lying in a dark heap. The bullet that entered the back of her head killed grandmother. Vilaü screamed and ran towards her mother-in-law. Hearing her cries brought people running from the neighbouring fields. They tried to revive Khrienuo but it was too late. So they quickly prepared a stretcher with a body-cloth and two branches and the men took turns to carry her home. The sight that met Mose’s eyes was that of his mother resembling a frenzied wretch and beating her chest. When Vilaü caught sight of her son she threw her body-cloth away in extreme devastation. In a state of disbelief tears rolled down the cheeks of the boy incessantly. Perceiving how his grandmother’s death was caused a deep rage overpowered his sorrow, his heart hardened and he had no more tears left. Later he told his mother that he didn’t want to continue school anymore because he didn’t feel right to be studying when everyone is living in such troubled times.
A few days after the shooting in town, a woman of Kohima village went missing. Mose and Neituo joined the search party. They carried their daos and went out in a group of thirty. Mose and Neituo were searching between the long grasses when they saw something lying on a rock. The two gagged when they realized that it was a limb which established the fact that the missing woman was raped, murdered and decapitated. In her funeral men spoke loudly of revenge as they saw it as a direct attack on their community.
In the narratives on collective violence, there are often cases of attacks targeting children and women being emphasized as a reason for retaliation. When, in particular, the enemy is defined along ethnic/religious lines, children and women are taken as community “property” and any harm to them attempted is regarded as a threat to the whole community. (Kimura, The Nellie Massacre of 1983 99)
The soldiers attitude added injury to their wounds as they “made no secret of their crime” (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 82) committed by them which provoked further retaliation. The elated position the security personnel enjoy in the North eastern region under the shield of AFSPA made them give or care a hoot about the people and the hideous crime committed by them. The public ire was beyond control. “We will do that to all those who oppose us,” (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 82) sneered the Captain. Such resentment and frustration made young boys like Vilaü’s son, Mose and his friend Neituo joined the Underground with their anxious mothers missing them at home severely, worried sick for the safety of their sons.
The hoisting of a Naga flag in the stadium on Indian Independence day brought tears to every Naga eyes that saw it. This incident gave the impetus to the Indian army to launched fresh search operations for the Undergrounds with even greater intensity. They were sought out in their Jungle camps and hideouts and tortured agonizingly to make them confess the names and whereabouts of their comrades. The longer they held out, the more unbearable became the torture. Many died and those who survived were maimed for life. Whenever one member of the Naga Underground was caught, the others would break up camp and flee elsewhere to avoid detection and capture. The villagers suffered greatly in these operations because the army knew that the villagers would succumb to the terror and pressure tactics and give out some information about the Undergrounds. Village elders were targeted and tortured until they confessed or died from the torture. In order to cut off the lifeline for the Underground members, villages were burnt and the villagers tortured effectively. “Almost every week reports of rapes and killings poured in” ( Kire, Bitter Wormwood 94). Villages that were grouped together and starved for days had large numbers of deaths. As in the battles with the Indian army, the Underground at first gained the upper hand resulting in even more troops pouring into Nagaland, and even more villages being burnt. The increased presence of Indian soldiers meant that the brutal attacks on the villages continued unabated. In 1963 the dismal news that Nagaland was being made into a state in India came as a shock to the Underground and was unwelcomed. They realized that something had gone terribly wrong. The cease-fire that had been talked of for a long time finally came at the height of the fighting between the Indian army and the Naga Underground. The peace Mission, where the Rev. Michael Scott, Jayaprakash Narayan, a Gandhian and B.P. Chaliha, Chief Minister of Assam worked with the local people, had successfully brokered peace.
For a few months, there was some respite from the fighting. But the army continued to raid villages and torture in the interior. The raping of women continued unabated. The peace Mission received complaints about these cease fire violations. (Kire, Wormwood Bitter.. 104)
It was around this time Vilaü became very sick and so the officers granted Mose his discharge. Vilaü had a tumour in her stomach which the doctor said was cancerous. This hastened the marriage of her son as she wanted to see her daughter in-law. Mose married the ‘Rifle girl’, Neilhounuo. A daughter, Sabunuo was soon born to them. For a few days Vilaü seemed better, sitting and playing with her granddaughter. But soon the ailment took a toll on her and she succumbed to her disease.
Neituo used to come and visit Mose in the evenings. On such evenings, Neilhounuo would come out with two cups of red tea and leave them to their man- talk. She smiled wryly as she remembered her nickname in the Underground. ‘Rifle girl’ they had called her, because she was so good with guns. She had been a better shot than the boys. After marriage, she had put all that behind her. The womenfolk like Neilhounuo wanted a lasting peace to return to their land so that they could all raise their children in peace. It was more than twenty years now that the strife and struggle had gone on without any respite. She was all of 30 now and, she felt disillusioned by it all. Too many had died needlessly. Twenty- one long years of continuous conflict without any pardon or any long-term solutions has almost blurred the memory. It was a man’s war. She felt that if it had been left to the women, may be they would have talked it over and sorted it out long back. After all it was they who bore the brunt of the deaths of husbands, lovers, brothers and sons. But the Naga custom decreed that women did not settle wars. The women’s lot was
to mourn their dead. And the very next day try to find food for their families. The women themselves didn’t think that was very much. It didn’t compare with the heroic things that the men did. They never tried to take any credit for looking after their families in the absence of male members in the household. Certainly, not many women had done as she had done. Taken up a gun. But that didn’t mean those who had stayed at home had not done brave things. Carrying messages hidden in the folds of their clothing past army check-points. Sharing their food with the ones in hiding, tilling extra fields when they could, cutting trees for firewood, repairing houses and taking on the works of men. Not many remembered what the women had done to keep their families alive in those dark years. Because war was men’s business, not women’s (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 113-114).
Age and experience make a person wiser. Neilhounuo, now wiser with age said that it was never an equal fight because India is so much larger in comparison to the Nagas. She now felt that to raise arms by a smaller group of people against a huge group was like disturbing a hornets’ nest. She worried that how much longer could they continue fighting.
In the bomb explosion at Ruby Cinema Hall a twelve-year old boy died. This cinema hall was important because, besides movie the hall was also a place where all the Kohima schools organized their annual function and variety entertainment programs. The blast occurred during a show injuring many and killing some. The blast was followed by a deafening explosion that made houses in the area vibrate. Screams, chaos and agonized groans were heard. Blood was splattered everywhere. The hospital was not advance enough to provide treatment to the injured in time of emergency. Doctors were roused from their homes to treat the distorted victims. Though Mose and Neituo had seen gruesome sights in the war, the sight of damage in front of their eyes really shocked them. Charred wood splinters and pieces of human flesh were strewn everywhere. Mose heard a whimper, looking towards the sound they found a young boy whose legs had been blown off below the knees. Similar carnage happened in the March killing of two students in a protest rally in the heart of Kohima town where students were shot at instead of using tear gas which made the people furious on the police for having used live bullets to quell the protest.
The first factional killing occurred around ’87-’88 when a former schoolmate of Sabunuo and Vilalhou was killed. Shock waves ran through the community as he was shot in a hotel. This killing paralyzed the town. They heard about such killings going on for a long time in the jungles but in the capital town that was the first visible factional killing. After a few months another man who was said to have dealings with a factional group was shot in the head on his way back home from market. Drenched in blood, Vihu lay on the road; face down with the vegetables he had bought strewn over as he had dropped them. Horrified, people ran off in different direction. His killer ran down the Mission road with his gun held high. No one tried or dared to stop him. On hearing about the brutal killing of her son his widowed mother ran out of her house in a mad frenzy. Beating her chest, she covered the blood on the road with her arms and wailed aloud. The neighbourhood women came out to soothe and escort her back home, but she was devastated, and the air was charged with her stifle shrieks.
On Sunday, the 5th March 1995, people got back home after the morning services and went home to eat a leisurely Sunday lunch. Suddenly the quiet of the afternoon was shattered by the sound of gunfire carried on by the army convoy of the 16th Rashtriya Rifles when a bullet grazed the calf of an old man of the village who had stepped out of his house. People were alarmed over the gunfire and also the news that the army was shooting at pedestrians. A 2-inch mortar shell exploded in the front yard of a Lotha gentleman. The exploding shells severely injured two of the daughters and their grandmother. The horror-stricken family was helped into the jeep and Vandanshan drove his family to the hospital. On the way, the same soldiers stopped and questioned them over and over, delaying them from getting to the hospital which caused dead to three-year-old Soyingbeni. Young Rebecca never fully recovered from her wounds as her left hand and leg became paralyzed. The incident left the town so badly shaken that an old woman expressed her worry saying, “My God, we are not safe anywhere, not on our streets, not in our own homes, not from any one side,” (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 167). She was right.
In order to get safeguard from the atrocities carried out by them the Army sought protection from legal charges under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Under the AFSPA, the soldier who fired the shot was immune from being charged by a court of law because it is accepted as part of official duty, legally correct, done in order to maintain law and order in the state. Frustrated Neituo said that
It is just an excuse for the army to kill us, that is all that the AFSPA does. Why don’t we join the Manipuris? They have been protesting for a long time to have it lifted, and their women are the ones forming the backbone of the struggle. (Kire, Bitter Wormwood 168)
With the coming of AFSPA in North-east India, the trouble increased double fold. It was like giving license to the Indian army to kill the native people freely without a sense of guilt or pain. But what the common folks here wanted was peace, though it may sound unbelievable. This region had experienced the maximum crisis incidents in this area. First, the Naga undergrounds were fighting Indian occupation from 1947and doing a good job of it until factionalism entered into the group in 1975. Then they were plagued by infighting that made everyone think they were quite mad because the factionalism made Nagas kill fellow Nagas. Then the Indian government used the lure of money to destroy their integrity and impose Indian citizenship on them. Now Naga children are being taught they are Indians but when they go to the Indian cities they are completely alienated by the Indian population and the Naga girls are called bachhallan, by the metropolis dwellers providing themselves a stage to molest and raped them at will with no punishment whatsoever. Another problem is home-grown state terrorism. They had seen the growth of the Indian Reserve Battalions and their abusive conduct. They had now almost come full circle because people today fear the Indian army less than they fear their own.
Kire’s main focus in her novel A Terrible Matriarchy is on the theme of position of a girl-child vis-à-vis that of a woman in Naga society. Besides the main theme, the novel makes an occasional reference to the time of war and atrocities the people suffered at such times of crisis. War, conflict, in-fighting, etc. were a regular feature of a Naga life till very recently. The writer herself had firsthand experience of such disastrous act with kidnapping, intimidation, shooting, stalking, etc. being the order of the day. Bulie’s friend Vechoi lost his father when he was quite young. The Naga’s never believed that they were fighting an unjust war because they were independent before India became a nation. They were fighting to get back their freedom because it is their right. Vechoi’s father and his brother had been shot by the Indian army when they raided the village and pick out twenty men to be killed as a lesson to the neighbouring villages. During this gruesome raid the women were raped. Young boys like Bulie and his friends made a pact to join the Naga Army when they grow up to avenge their friend Vechoi’s father.
Dielieno and her mother would be filled with anxiety if any of the boys returned home late. They would warn them not to stay out late because the police and the army are picking up young men at night and the treatment meted out to them was quite brutal. Lieno’s mother recalls a horrid experience of a day when they were young. That day they were cooking dinner when a British officer came into the kitchen. He handed a chocolate to Pfunuo. Mother explained that their father was working and would be back late. Suddenly the officer pulled her into his arms and there was no doubt what his intention was. She struggled with all her might and desperately called to Pfunuo to get help. Pfunuo began to cry aloud. At this, the neighbour’s dog barked and would not stop. The man cursed and flung her from him, leaving abruptly. Such incidences were not few but several. Security of children, more so, girl child and women were at high risk.
In all situations where there is constraints and stress it is women and children who suffer the most. The domestic anxiety and financial constraints at home as we see in Anjum Hasan’s The Lunatic in My Head, adversely affect little Sophie so much so that the teacher at school, Miss Wilson noticed and had to talk to her father.
I’m concerned about Sophie. She looks so unhappy and distracted. I just wanted to find out if everything is alright with you and the missus and the young one. Sometimes problems at home can affect children…Sophie used to be very bright child… she’s gone down even in English which she was always excellent at… This is not about her misbehaving. Please understand what I’m saying, something seems to be troubling her but you don’t seem to have noticed this at all. (Hasan, The Lunatic in My Head 314)
Sophie was nearly at the top of her class and in just half a year she had gone down very badly. She appeared to have lost interest in everything. She cried in the class too. Instead of discussing the problem properly with the teacher Mr. Das argues with her saying that he knew best what is good for his child. The almost regular squabbles at home between her parents made little Sophie want to escape into a world of fantasy where she imagines that the Das couple were not actually her parents, that she was adopted, and that her real name was not Sophie. When her friends asked what her real name was she replied immediately without hesitation,
Anna…My father is not my real father. He’s my uncle. He doesn’t know my name is Anna. And I know who my real parents are…My mother is dead…she died long back, but my father is not dead. He comes to our house sometimes. He always wears a raincoat, even when it’s not raining (Hasan, The Lunatic in My Head 87-88).
She tells her friends that her real father’s name was Uncle Syiem who was actually a “benign septuagenarian” (Hasan The Lunatic in My Head 88) friend of the Dasses. When adults at home are at loggerhead, the child scared, confused, isolated, desperately lonely sought an escape from the chaos by going out of the house
Sophie needed to walk up the lane and visit the house – her house and Anna’s house, the house of her dreams, the little whitewashed two-storied house that she could see from the kitchen door. (Hasan, The Lunatic in My Head 290)
One such fight between her parents had exposed the vulnerable child to exterior terror in the person of Jason who suggested that they go and look for her real father and then took her for a drive to Upper Shillong where he made her drink beer. She swallowed the horrible, sour, pissy smell beer with clenched teeth. Then he entered with a woman friend of his in one of the cubicles leaving Sophie sitting all alone till six in the evening. She was exposed to an awkward situation with the hotel owner and waiter looking at her now and then as she had occupied a table for some time now without ordering anything to eat. Her father would be pacing up and down from the gate to the verandah as she had not reached home till late in the evening. Her anxiety made her get up and peep into the cubicles looking for Jason. She found him in the third cubicle engrossed in the act of kissing a woman. Seeing her he told her brusquely to go sit and wait and she did wait till the pointer in the clock showed quarter to seven. She got up and the waiters at the door reluctantly let her leave the hotel with one of them uttering something which she could not comprehend while the other laughed. That evening she almost lost her way if it had not been for the vegetable vendor from whom her father bought veggies every day.
Mrs. Das and Mrs. Moondy are two housewives who had come to Shillong after marriage to their husbands Mr. Das and Dr. Moondy respectively. They suffer loneliness, friendlessness and longed to return to that part of India from where they hailed. Mrs. Das at least get the company of her husband at home most of the time as he was out of job in half of the novel. The condition of Mrs. Moondy is worst. Her doctor husband would spend hours in his clinic and a son who is constantly busy with his musical programmes. In her drab and dreary house she spend long monotonous hours all alone. In both the cases their husbands obstinately refuse to budge from Shillong. Both the husbands, especially Mr. Das fell in love with this sleepy hilly town, its rain, its weather, its smell and life. They cannot understand the fact that their wives may feel forlorn and in need to have a friend with whom they can share their thoughts, feelings, etc. This leaves them dissatisfied affecting their conjugal life, and affecting their children’s life making them drift. Sophie Das is such a case who undergoes both internal abuse, in the form of witnessing domestic violence at home, thereby creating a world of her own, and external abuse in the form of Jason forcing her to consume beer, witness him smooching one of his girlfriends, and to leave her on the lurch in the dark. Such experiences can leave a deep scar in the mind which may not be revealed in the exterior self but affects the psyche as these memories of fear, pain, anxiety remains in the deep recesses of the mind for many, many years. If the home atmosphere was congenial she would never have felt the need to go out with others without informing the Dasses or sought companions outside the family as she was still a juvenile.
The women characters in Felanee are downtrodden who face abuse severely at all levels. Unlike them the women characters in Lunatic in My Head are not browbeaten like the one we meet in Felanee. Despite that they undergo subjugation. Firdaus teaches in a college and is pursuing MPhil for the last four years under supervisor, Thakur. Her single status makes her vulnerable to attempted molestation by Prof. Thakur. If Firdaus had been a male scholar she may have been exempted from encountering such lecherous behavior as physical abuse. Irrespective of their position women face oppression whether downtrodden or otherwise, whether she is in the highest office or in the lowest situation, whether she is from the hills or plains, whether she is tribal or non- tribal, wife or spinster.
The dark side of a person gets exposed only at time of crisis. In Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife the prolonged unrest state of affairs in Assam was a huge crisis aggravating the human situation to such an extent that the worst is revealed in human nature. At such crisis the situation of women is at high risk as they are more vulnerable. When demand for money to the tune of five crores to the Manager of a tea garden was not met with, both the Manager and his wife were tied to the bedposts before being shot. The wife was raped repeatedly in front of her husband before she was shot. The watchmen who had been with tea garden for so long didn’t help because Bihu bonus was not agreed upon to be given to them by the manager. His selfish need had depraved him to such an extent that he denied himself the opportunity to help persons in need of it.
In such a situation everyone is exposed to violence and threat. The most vulnerable group, children, who are very much ignorant of so many things gets lured by patriotic thought which thrust them into acts of violence thereby disseminating the chaos. Rukmini was attacked by such a young thing during the protest violence when she was in town with Manoj Mahanta. She saw one of the children, a boy with protruding belly and large fiery eyes, turn away from the shepherding gestures of the women and ran towards the still- marching procession. He scooped up a large stone from the potholed lane, stood up and, reaching back his arm, balanced for a moment, concentrating all his strength on the muscles of his right arm. Rukmini, running still, saw the taut, sinewy curve of his skinny arm, and in slow motion, it arched a perfect throw.
There was a sudden flare of pain above her right eyebrow. Her hand flew automatically towards it. She felt dizzy and her steps slowed. There was a roaring in her ears and she fainted on the road. Such incidences were a common feature during riot situation. Such young children should be in school, far away from chaos and riots. But the situations in the state involve them to such a level that the children become part of the rioters and are thus ruled by crowd psychology.
Bandh was a regular feature in Assam during the 70s, 80s & till the late 90s. Offices and institutions suffered closure due to the prevailing adversity that hit the state. Protest rallies were everywhere. Rukmini stopped to have a word with the protesting students who were at their posts near the entrance to the college. She asked them for how many more days the protest would go on to which one of them replied
“This phase of our agitation will last for a week. After that, we’ll take to the streets, call for bandhs, do whatever is necessary,” said Bibek.
“What about you students?” she asked. “Exams aren’t too far away. Have you managed to put in some work?”
The students looked at each other, then back at her again. Bibek shook his head. “Perhaps after this week, ma’am. We get tired after all this, you know. And then there’s tomorrow’s plan to be chalked up as well…” (Phukan, The Collector’s Wife 155)
During such agitations the students’ community suffers the most with classes called off and exams terminated. Risk to life was also high. Rukmini wanted to get away from the endless rounds of shooting, kidnapping, extortion, activities that were slowly draining away the life blood of all who lived here. She wanted to wake up every morning in a place that was vibrant with energy.
Kidnapping, extortion, injury, death, MOFEH bandhs, are the everyday talk in the novel. Deuri, the Superintendent of Police and his family went to the Chinese restaurant to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Nandini Deuri, wife of the Superintendent, her husband and the children’s father was shot dead in front of their eyes on the dining table. When the attack took place Nandini Deuri and her three children were sitting around a table piled with noodles, chilli chicken and sweet and sour prawns. The security guards of the Superintendent, instead of fighting the aggressors took flight in fright. Nandini and her children were unhurt, but in a state of shock. Deuri’s time had come, theirs would come too, must be their thought. It was obvious from her expression that when she saw Rukmini she was glad to see her. She was the first woman that Nandini encountered after her sudden widowhood. She was shell-shocked with eyes glazed and hands fidgeting nervously on her lap. The three children, two plump boys who resembled their father and a thin girl who looked like her mother, all below fourteen, seemed uncertain whether to wail or not. Nandini through tears told Rukmini
We were laughing-we were just beginning to eat… Deuri was sitting there, just opposite the door that leads outside-he seemed to see something. I mean he stopped laughing, and his eyes, they became, became frightened. I turned around but I could see a hand with a gun, coming out from the door-I saw a finger press on the trigger, yes, I saw it distinctly. There was a terrible sound. When I looked back again Dueri wasn’t anywhere. He was on the floor. He didn’t even speak. He looked at me. (Phukan, The Collector’s Wife 172)
After Deuri’s gruesome murder, things moved to a different pitch in the town. Killing and shootings had become common enough. But Deuri’s murder was different. He was, after all, the highest police officer in the district. The MOFEH, who had quickly claimed responsibility for the shooting, were now perceived as being even more powerful, well-organized and brave. They had gone straight into the lion’s den. If an SP, with his ranks of security men who formed protective circles around him could be killed so easily, then no one can be safe in Pabatpuri is the fear instilled in everyone.
Rukmini appeared to be free from such suffering as she was the DC’s wife, protected and guarded, who lived high up in the secure residence of the DC away from the clamour of the town. A woman with such standing is thought to be very fortunate and believed to have a complete life in all spheres. The suffering and pain she undergoes cannot be overtly seen. Her position as the collector’s wife removes her from the crowd. As she had not delivered a child even after ten years of marriage she was assumed by all to be infertile which forced her to endure the barb and jibe of ladies in the society categorizing her as an inauspicious person whose presence is not required in any auspicious occasion. Renu Bezbaruah, her mother in-law, though very kind and friendly had asked her to wear an amulet which had been blessed by the Mahamaya god and had very lovingly instructed her that she was not to separate it from herself when she goes to bed with her husband. She also had to go through several fertility test and takes pergonal for ovulation. Rukmini felt as if she has been through the process of douching every time she visited the doctors but she could do nothing to prevent it. She had silently suffered and felt a sense of violation after each examination of her womb, vagina and ovaries. No one ever thought in their wildest dreams that Shiddhart maybe infertile. If Manoj Mahanta had not come into her life she would have taken to her grave the thought that her womb was dysfunctional. But she never gets the opportunity to let Mahanta know that she was expecting his child. Neither will the child ever know its father who became a victim of insurgency nor its supposed to be adopted parent who was also killed in the cross firing between the militants and security forces.
Towards the end we see Rukmini as a more emancipated woman. Along with her decision to pursue a career of her choice, she acquires the immense strength and courage to face two deaths of the two men in her live, both victims of MOFEH killing. Sidhart is killed as he was the district administrator trying to stop the MOFEH flight. Manoj, as a hostage gets killed in the crossfire that ensues between the security personnel and the insurgents.
In Mamang Dai’s The Legends of Pensam we meet several widows both young and old, with responsibilities of children and in-laws. Omum in her mid-twenties had her hands so full with household tasks that she cannot stop awhile to pine for her deceased husband or utter recriminations. From the wee hours of the morning till night her hands are full with household tasks and fending food for everyone. Another widow, Pinyar, had borne a son to another man, Orka with whom she had lived for some five years. Orka acknowledged paternity of the child and within a year of its birth he coldheartedly abandoned Pinyar taking the child for it was a son. Pinyar bowed her head in shame. She spent her days in pain and agony. Her husband also became a victim to hunting expeditions. She is a victim of their customary practice which eliminates a person whose house has been burnt to the outskirts of the village thereby making her an outcast. When she finally got her son who was a husband and a father now showed signs of psychological disorder. Her son, Kamur blamed her for living him alone when he needed her most. Deprived of a mother’s tender love and care the boy grew up in agony with deep scars in the recesses of his mind as a consequence he murdered his own children.
As the region practice jhum cultivation workers who can till these lands are a necessity. Traditionally this was realized through marriage. Therefore, the more wife one had, the more the men power he received. A man is permitted marriage even at his retiring age. Old Dumi had served her husband well with all the chores whether at home or in the agricultural field. She had even birthed sons for her husband. Now she is old, withered, weak and not beautiful anymore and hence her service was not required. On the other hand the old man was preparing to bring home another bride. But the customary marriage practice of the land does not see anything wrong in doing so. Women endure such existence because their custom didn’t recognize equal position to them with that of the menfolk and as such they are deprived of several rights. When a boy attains marriageable age the look for a bride begins. The most important criteria one looks for in a good wife was that, she must be a good and hard worker as exemplified in the character of Arsi. As such looks and education were not important criterion for a good woman. Therefore, custom of the region didn’t encourage education to their daughters. Old Meme advised the narrator’s mother against sending her daughter outside for higher education because that would not fetch a good and rich husband. Their men didn’t want their women to be too highly educated nor did they want them to be outspoken. A strong hard worker with no complaints at all was the approved quality for women. In such a scenario suffering for womenfolk was laid in a platter for them by the society in which they were born into.
In Mamang Dai’s other novel Stupid Cupid we see pangs of loneliness and frustration that comes the way of the other woman in a relationship. Here we meet six women who appear to be in love or out of love — Adna, Amine, Mareb, Julie, Jia and Mesochenla. Adna, the other woman in a relationship suffers pangs of loneliness and frustration for she would never be the first priority in the list of her man. Her relationship would never be openly acknowledged and her man would never dare to leave his wife for her. This leaves her emotionally insecure.
Mareb juggles between her husband, Dayud and old flame Rohit. She didn’t find life fulfilling being only Mrs. Lyang for it was just a role she played as expected by society. She would never want to be reduced to the position of a maid like her mother. Her petite mother ran around the house, doing all the errands for her father, keeping the house prim and proper, arranging the curtain here, doing the mat there, never once complaining or make anyone know she also harboured a desire to study. She was still a young girl when her mother died to be immediately replaced by a new mother who was barely older than her. This injured her mind so much that she immediately decided to leave home. She had craved for love before and now too. Her mother never had the time to devote her full attention to her as she was too busy running around for her master husband. The father as of now is too busy with the young thing to spare time for his growing daughter. With Dayud she saw herself replicating the role played by her mother and hence wanted an escape from this marriage which she felt was suffocating her. Her search and crave for love push her towards the capital city to look for old flame Rohit. But later her thought for her little daughter brought her back into the protective arm of Dayud and their marriage. The mother in her didn’t want Asinda to go through the same emotional turmoil like the one suffered by her.
Amine, though happily married with everything going right died early. Her conjugal life was complete with children, a successful lawyer husband, a happy and rich family, flourishing family business and a wonderful housewife. But she was murdered as if such happiness was not warranted to womankind. She was the anchor in the family holding everyone and everything together. Her husband and children would miss her terribly. The emotional anchor of her two young boys had been snatch so cruelly that they were left dazed. It will take a long time to heal their wound.
At an early age Jia suffered a death child and a failed marriage. As the cause of the death of her child was the violence of the so called irresponsible husband of hers, she kicked him out instead of enduring his brutality for prolonged period. Among the tribal people it is expected that women work harder than men with senior ladies directing the parents that boys should not be asked to fetch water and they
should be taught to be manly. In my father’s days, boys never did any work because they had to look after the village and engage enemy warriors in warfare. A household that did not have a male heir was considered as barren. (Kire, A Terrible Matriarchy 35)
Such being the precepts, in the present day some boys on the pretext of custom choose to remain inactive idling away his time drinking. Unlike the tribal women of earlier times, Jia refused to go through the turmoil of losing a child again, be a wife-maid and lead the life of drudgery. Therefore, kicking out the lazy husband, she came to the city to undergo refresher course and pursue a career in journalism sincerely and diligently.
It is obvious that women face violence in situations of conflict but what it means in terms of the short-term and long-term impacts is still being studied. In such crisis situation women apparently go into a state of anguish due to physical or sexual violence. The restrictions placed on women in a patriarchal society and prolonged exposure to brutality gives opportunity for occurrence of psychological scarring which is detrimental for a woman’s well-being. The situation and condition of a woman impacts the whole society. The deep wounds received from physical and psychological scaring affects the community to such an extent that it affects not one but several individual’s life. Women find themselves at the receiving end of violence on three