Women At Heart Of Manipur Stir: Unveiling Historic Role In Political Agitation

Women in Manipur are leading protests in response to ethnic clashes and security force operations. The historical role of Manipuri women in political agitations underscores their influential presence in the ongoing unrest.

Harnur Watta
New Update

Image credits: Hindustan Times

In the recent clashes in Manipur, it is the women who have taken centre stage, leading protests and disrupting security operations. Their active involvement in political agitation is not a new phenomenon but rather a continuation of their historical role in shaping Manipur's socio-political landscape. These recent events have highlighted the determination and resilience of Manipuri women, challenging traditional gender norms and effectively amplifying their voices in the pursuit of justice and peace.

Historic Role Of Manipur Women in Political Agitation

As reported by Reuters, the unrest in the state began on May 3rd, when ethnic majority Meitei clashed with the hill tribal groups, over economic perks and quotas in government positions and educational institutions offered to the tribes. Separately, the Manipur state government initiated an eviction drive in February to evict tribal tribes from forests in the hills, claiming they had encroached on government land, creating outrage among tribal people who were being forced to leave their homes.

As the state grapples with ethnic clashes that have claimed 115 lives and displaced nearly 40,000 people, women from both the Kuki and Meitei communities have taken to the streets to voice their grievances. Their protests target not only the state government but also each other and the security forces conducting operations to recover looted weapons and ammunition. Strikingly, women also led protests in Delhi against the violence perpetrated by Meitei and Kuki groups, emphasising the influential role women play in Manipuri society.

Manipur has a long history of political unrest, with various armed insurgent groups operating in the region. Amidst this backdrop, women have played a significant role in voicing their concerns and demanding change. Throughout the years, they have actively participated in protests, marches, and strikes, becoming a driving force for political mobilisation. 

In Manipur, women occupy prominent positions in various spheres of life. Notably, Imphal's Ima Keithel (Mothers Market) stands as the world's largest market solely run by women, attracting both locals and tourists with its diverse array of products. Throughout history, Manipuri women have spearheaded significant movements, particularly during the two Nupi Lan (Women's Wars) of 1904 and 1939. The first Nupi Lan was a remarkable uprising reportedly led entirely by women against a labour system imposed by the British agent of Manipur. Thousands of women marched to the agent's residence, successfully prompting the withdrawal of the system.

The second Nupi Lan focused on the export of rice, which caused local shortages and harmed the region's economy. Protests erupted in Imphal in 1907, culminating in thousands of women gathering outside the royal durbar office and refusing to disperse until their demands were met. In response, the Maharaj issued a directive to halt rice exports. The significance of the Second Nupi Lan remains commemorated on December 12 as Nupi Lan Day.


During the late 1970s, Meira Paibis (Women with Torches) emerged across Manipur, as unorganised women's group, advocating for action against illicit liquor, drug use, and the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Their non-violent protests aimed to curb the excessive powers granted to the army and security forces in arresting, detaining, or using force against suspected insurgents.

Notably, Manipuri women made global headlines on July 15, 2004, when 12 women disrobed in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters to protest against the brutal killing of Manorama Thangjam, who had allegedly been raped while in custody. 

The recent clashes saw women taking the lead in opposing security operations and demanding justice for their community. In the ongoing protests, women from both the Kuki and Meitei communities have taken the forefront, blocking roads and preventing security forces from conducting operations in various areas. According to reports from Hindustan Times, women-led protests disrupted security operations, marking a significant shift in the dynamics of Manipuri agitation. They fearlessly confronted the armed forces, displaying immense courage in the face of adversity. The involvement of women has not only made the movement more inclusive but has also challenged the traditionally male-dominated spaces of resistance.

Suggested Reading: Manipur Women Form Human Chain To Protest Violence


The women-led movement has garnered attention not only for its strength but also for its success in securing tangible outcomes. As reported by Deccan Herald, the collective efforts of women compelled the army to hand over 12 militants affiliated with the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), an armed group operating in Manipur. 

The Hindustan Times article underscores the deep-rooted connection between women and political resistance in Manipur. It narrates stories of iconic figures such as Irom Sharmila, who embarked on a 16-year hunger strike to protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Their unwavering commitment has inspired and mobilised countless others, fostering a culture of collective action and resilience among women in the region.

It is worth noting that the participation of women in the Manipur clashes goes beyond mere numbers. They have played crucial roles in organising protests, strategizing movements, and effectively challenging authorities.  It is crucial to recognize the multifaceted contributions of women in political movements and to provide them with the platforms and support necessary to create lasting change. 

As Manipur continues to grapple with social and political challenges, the role of women in driving positive change cannot be underestimated. Their presence at the centre of the current stir not only highlights their resilience and determination but also serves as a poignant reminder that true progress and sustainable peace can only be achieved through inclusivity, gender equality, and collective action.

Suggested Reading: Ethnic Violence Continues In Manipur, 3 Killed: 10 Things To Know

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