In the ethnically and culturally diverse Northeast India, one facet which is homogeneous and unique is the region’s status of women in the society. This aspect usually goes unnoticed and has thereby remained unexplored. Since ages the north eastern Indian women have shared a significant social space as compared to most of their contemporaries living in other parts of the Indian sub-continent. Their commendable participation in and contribution to the social, cultural, economic and political affairs of the state have not received the recognition it deserves.
Apart from doing household chores, the women here have shared the work on the fields and helped in generating income along with their male counter parts. This has decreased their level of dependency on the men. Among the tea tribe of Assam it is the women folk who are considered the perfect tea leaf pluckers and hence are the primary bread earners of their families. There also exist matriarchal societies in the region, such as Khasi’s of Meghalaya, which is a distinctive phenomena witnessed in the Indian context.
A lot of women-centric social evil practices which are commonly practiced in large parts of the country are not prevalent in the Northeast. Evil practices such as dowry, sati, female feticide, honor killing, child marriages are non-existent among the natives of the region. The women there are educated and can their presence can be seen in almost every professional sphere.
A number of the daughters of this region has achieved great feats in as diverse fields as sports, human rights and literature. MC Mary Kom has become a household name. Indira Miri’s contribution to education mission, starting in early post independence period, in the indescribably difficult terrains of North East Frontier Areas (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh is beyond words. The literary achievements of the female writers of this region are, if not surpassing, not less than the male counterparts. The wagon of female writers is spearheaded by Jnanpith awardee Indira Goswami to be followed by modern day acclaimed writers like Anuradha Sharma Pujari, Rita Chaudhary and many more.
However, unfortunately, inspite of their social and economic equality with the men, they have been politically marginalized and are kept away from the decision making bodies. The scenario in this aspect has not changed much over time. There is a dearth of political awareness among the women folk of the region. The women’s participation in the region’s existing institutional politics has been tactfully excluded. The reservation for woman in local elected bodies has achieved mixed bag of success in terms of bringing woman at par with man in the political sphere. The rotation of reserved posts for woman in these elections does the disservice to whole idea by failing to give the women to establish a stronghold in politics.
The unending internal conflicts in the states of Northeast have led to displacements of several communities. This in turn has caused deterioration in the status of women and has made them vulnerable.
The government and the civil society should join hands and create political awareness and stimulate the northeastern women on the basis of their rights. They should strategize and reach out to one all; the women present in different walks of life and belonging to communities, without any discrimination. To combat this issue, media can also be a crucial tool in sensitizing and educating not only the women but also the men. Women political bodies or unions too can formed to further the cause. For instance, the Self Help Group (SHG) Model on its own has been successful in terms of empowering women and bringing them to the forefront. New policies should be formulated and the existing policies should be implemented in an unbiased manner in order to bring in and increase women’s participation in the mainstream of decision making and institutional politics.