Given the complexity of the multifarious roles of Meitei woman in society, writing about Meira Paibis is not an easy exercise. She has had to play the roles of a dutiful and obedient wife to the husband, a caring mother to her children, a hard-working woman trying to find her moorings in the socio-economic and agricultural domain, and a Meira Paibi committed to natural justice and basic human rights.
On the other hand, she is an underdog in the domestic space and at all levels of decision making. For example, the husband and male members take all the decisions in the family although her opinion is sometimes sought. At the community level or Leikai meeting, the opinion of the male members always takes precedence while they are relegated to mere participation. Her social status is also dictated in relation to her male counterparts from her father and husband and lastly the son.
A woman who gives birth to a son, more particularly the first born, is held in high esteem by the society. A woman cannot be formally married more than once while a man can formally marry any woman as many times as he likes. A widow is placed at the bottom of the social ladder. Perhaps, these patriarchal norms and inner frustrations associated with it may have had some influence in the political expression of her being. But then, many other patriarchal societies also have the same frustrations among women. Therein lies the distinctive character of Meitei women which is far removed from the images of bondage of patriarchy all over. That is exactly why, the political role of Meitei women is held both in awe and high esteem.
As we said before, we must understand that a keen sense of natural justice and defiance against subjugation or authority besides maternal instinct is embedded in the political consciousness of Meitei women. In both the two Nupilals in history, the maternal instinct is very much evident in defiance against forced labour of their men-folk and as a state of hunger and starvation dawned upon the general population by artificially induced food scarcity of the British colonialists.
In the 80s, it was the pain and frustration caused by widespread cases of arrests and torture, enforced disappearances, rape and staged encounters of their sons and daughters. Which mother could remain silent when their sons and daughters are subjected to extreme forms of oppression? Many sons and husbands were taken away and tortured and killed while some disappeared without any trace. Like Sanamacha of Angtha village, whose mother is still waiting for a piece of bone of her son to conduct the last rites.
The defiling of Thangjam Manorama and the disrobing by twelve mothers in protest in front of the Kangla in 2004 still continue to haunt us. That is Meira Paibi for you, a model for women in protest. They are ready to face the batons and lathis, tear gas and pepper sprays and even death for protecting their sons and daughters and men. Many had tried to infuse a central structure in the various Meira Paibi groupings spread across the valley and it had not succeeded.
In times of peace, a semblance of structured organization could sometimes be seen. However, these groupings become autonomous at the community and district level in functioning and organisational decisions during disturbances like the present situation and any semblance of central authority is lost. It is every leikai or organisation for itself. Even at the Leikai level also, it is a loosely held co-operative with every Meira Paibi as equals with the Chairman or Secretary as mere figureheads. Another role of women is that of decision making at the community or Leikai level of matters from mundane to punitive action against someone who has crossed the line within the community. The patriarchal writ also runs large in such decisions also.