It was on December 29, 1980 that women activists for the first time rescued a civilian, Ibomcha Laishram, from the hands of the Army personnel who had come to his home to arrest him on charge being a link man of the insurgents.
The Army personnel safeguarded by the Armed Forces (Forces Special) Powers Act, 1958 which was imposed in Manipur on September 8, 1980 had started flexing their muscles to stem the tide.
In those days people from all walks of life had extended support to the insurgents. Every house kept their doors open for the insurgents on the prowl and in some cases two wheelers were made available to enable the insurgents escape.
On several other occasions women vigilantes held army convoys under siege demanding handing over the arrested youths to the nearest police station as provided by the AFSPA or unconditional release then and there.
The officials of the central forces who knew of the commendable role of the intrepid women since the British days did not confront them. After all, the British officials could not disperse the womenfolk despite bayoneting them by the Assam Rifles personnel.
Meira Paibis during British era
People were at the point of starvation as the British officers had ganged up with unscrupulous traders to export high quality Manipuri rice to other parts. The angry women had taken up the cudgels.
Eventually the British officials revoked the order. Today, the government and people observe December 12 as the "women's war day".
Women who fought the liquor lobby
In the early 1970s, the women launched anti-liquor campaign throughout the state. There were 65 foreign liquor shops and two bonded warehouses for a population of hardly 20 lakh people. Besides most of the roadside shops, ubiquitous kiosks, shady hotels, eateries and shacks sold Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and country liquor. The women could not withstand long the manipulations by the powerful liquor lobby and a corrupt system. The prohibition imposed by the government and one proscribed underground organisation had no impact on the brisk business except to soar the prices.
Counter insurgency operations
The women vigilantes next tried to check the excesses committed in the name of counter insurgency operations. The Supreme court admitted writ petitions from human rights organisations which contended that in Manipur more than 1,500 persons were killed in fake encounters. Six cases were randomly selected and a lower court examined them. There was prima facie evidence of abuse of power.
Much water had flawed down the bridge since December 29, 1980. The women vigilantes seem to be tired of the street agitations since the charges are being examined in the law courts.
No support to Sharmila?
One clear and unmistakable message of the women vigilantes becoming fatigued is the way they are, en masse, distancing themselves from the unique campaign by Irom Sharmila, who is demanding repeal of the AFSPA.
In the beginning there was massive support to Sharmila. But the bitter fact is that today Sharmila is a lone ranger and she must have realised that she is fighting a losing battle, not supported even by the womenfolk who had once launched anti-AFSPA campaign. Time and again Sharmila is expressing her anguish over the total lack of support from the people and women vigilantes. Whenever she is produced in court all those who come to see her are reporters. When she returned to Imphal on Saturday after appearing in the Patiala House Court there was nobody to welcome her at the airport.
Operation Charm failed to charm
The army which had tried to use influence of the women vigilantes to decimate the insurgents by launching “Operation Charm” has also distanced itself. The women were given TV sets, furniture and other materials for their numerous offices. Cash was also given to help construct offices wherever necessary. There were also frequent interaction programmes. However insurgents put a full stop by warning the women vigilantes to stay away from the personnel who are constant targets.
Political parties tried to encompass the women vigilantes for their political gains. However the angry women vigilantes said that they would never play the second fiddle to the political parties since they intend to preserve the pristine sanctity of their movement.
During the December 29 conclave the women vigilantes may take some important resolutions to revamp their unparalleled movement.