Gender norms is the truth in every society and every culture. As I was growing up in my hometown (Kokrajhar) in the Northeast, I never realised that gender inequality is unnatural. In my opinion, the power dynamics of gender in the Northeast are so cleverly embedded in the customs and traditions that it often goes unnoticed. There is also a lack of awareness on gender related issues. I rarely heard of any initiatives in my hometown to question the unequal treatment meted out to women. Maybe that was partly due to my ignorance, but it is also true that Kokrajhar has not seen too many initiatives aimed at fighting for women’s rights in the past. But things are changing!
This year, on International Women’s Day, a group of young men and women in Kokrajhar town marched the streets to raise their voices against victimization and harassment of women on social media. Over a telephonic conversation with Maidang Basumatary, PhD scholar from JNU and the key person behind the initiative, I learned more. Basumatary organised the event with the help of some of her social worker friends and other like-minded people. She revealed that a good number of people, especially college students, turned up for the march. ‘Just a few months ago, some rallies were held to create awareness on certain social issues, but very few initiatives had been taken to raise awareness about harassment of women. For the past few years, I realized that girls are being victimised and harassed on social media in my hometown and it increased a lot recently. So, I thought that there was a need to generate awareness among the people on this issue.’
Kokrajhar was not the only place in Assam where such rallies are taking place. The ‘Guwahati Gathering: Women March for Change’, held on April 4, was small in number but not insignificant. LGBTQ+ activist and eco-feminist Purab Brahma, currently pursuing his Masters’ degree in Women Studies from Guwahati University,was one of the participants in the march. He shared that although he expected a lot of people to turn up for the event, the number of participants was sparse. ‘The march was not as big as in other parts of India. It might be because there are no specific organisations to gather people around these causes. I also think that some people do not take these issues seriously, or they don’t understand the importance of such initiatives.’
When I was pursuing my graduation (2015-18) in Delhi, I used to hear a lot of people saying that Northeast India is a very safe place for women. When compared to the rest of India, it might be true, but we still cannot paint a rosy picture of the status women enjoy in the region. The matrilineal system in the Khasi society is often stated as an example of the absence of deep rooted patriarchy in the Northeast. But people often confuse the matrilineal system in the Khasi community with matriarchy. In a matrilineal society, the rights on the children and the family property are passed on to the female members of the family especially the youngest daughter. However, the right to take decisions always lies in the hands of the male member of the family from the mother’s side i.e., either the maternal uncle or the brother of the youngest daughter (Nongbri 1988).
The first step towards bringing change and sensitization of the people in the region on gender related issues is to break this myth. We cannot bring a change if we live in denial of the fact that patriarchy and it’s infliction of violence on women is as deeply rooted in the societal norms of the region as in other parts of India.
During 2016-17, over 29,000 cases of violence against women were filed in Assam alone.* In 2018, around 6000 cases of domestic violence was reported in Assam.**
In the light of the increased number of violence against women in the State, these two marches can be regarded as a means to establish a culture of protest against gender violence in the society. It is only when we resist the subtle gender oppressions in our everyday lives that we can create a more gender neutral space in our society.
Assam, or the Northeast, still has a long way to go to create a culture of protest against gender violence. To encourage the trend, it is necessary to appreciate small yet powerful acts of protests by the youth of the society.
Work Cited: Nongbri, Tiplut. 1988. “GENDER AND THE KHASI FAMILY STRUCTURE: SOME IMPLICATIONS OF THE MEGHALAYA.” Sociological Bulletin 71-82.
By Tanushree Rabha