ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Politics of the Informal

Women’s Associational Life and Public Space in the Hills of Manipur

This article contests the view that women’s public space results from their ability to step in as peacemakers, or as part of civil society groups, during conflicts between state and non-state actors, or from the ability to hold leadership positions in electoral politics or in civil society groups. Instead, women’s public space emerges from church welfare services, reformation of inheritance laws and traditional village authorities, and women’s ability to identify problems in state, civil society, and insurgent politics while maintaining a critical distance. The informal associational lives of women are equally public and political. The informal does not merely legitimise the political role of women; it is political because it is an active, creative, and strategic public space

This article is the result of a collaborative research project titled “Making Women Count for Peace: Gender, Empowerment, and Confl ict in South Asia.” The Research Council of Norway funded the project. I would like to thank Åshild Kolås and Samir Kumar Das for their comments and observations on an earlier draft of this article, and my fi eld research assistant Tara Manchin Hangzo for assisting me in data collection and in translating Hmar language to English. This study is largely based on fi eldwork done between 2012 and the fi rst half of 2015 in Churachandpur district, Manipur.

Studies on women, particularly on those in armed conflict zones, have shown how the woman as a victim of conflict is not the only reality. The general argument in most studies on women in South Asia (Butalia 2002; Manchanda 2001; Banerjee 2008; Orjuela 2003) is that conflict pushes women into the public sphere and enables them to carve out a space to cope with the changing realities around them. The conflict could be communal, ethnic, or an armed state–insurgent conflict. Several studies argue that in coming to terms with the realities of conflict and while performing their roles, women acquire a new identity—as “peace brokers” between conflicting parties or “human rights defenders.” Such images are understood as a public identity, rooted in a certain cultural experience. The experience of women as mothers, although considered disempowering by many, is seen as a political resource for resolving conflict and defending human rights. Studies on women in the North East, for instance on the Naga Mothers’ Association1 in Nagaland and Meira Paibis2 in Manipur (Manchanda 2001; Banerjee 2008; Das 2008; Devi 2012), take this view.

Another significant feature of such studies is their dependence on formal space. Above identity, the role of women is visualised as one that is enacted in the formal space of politics. Thus, according to the studies cited above, while the informal is understood as being mediated by culture, formal space is understood as a space for dialogue among conflicting parties, peace-building, and negotiation between civil society and the state. In conceptualising a formal space in conflict zones, civil society is not just the key term, but also a formal space for active politics. Rita Manchanda, for instance, argues that in peace-building, women’s authority consolidated in the “informal space of politics” is used to legitimise authority in the public space of “formal politics” (2001: 24). In addition to the idea that conflict results in public space for women, there is also an argument that women should be given leadership positions in decision-making bodies or the peace-building initiatives of the state and civil society.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

Pay INR 200.00

(Readers in India)

Pay $ 12.00

(Readers outside India)

Updated On : 23rd Feb, 2018
Back to Top