Women as recorders, writers & tellers of history, society, politics

Women as recorders, writers & tellers of history, society, politics

The NEISSR and Peace Channel jointly organized a one-day consultative meeting and workshop on ‘Gender Peacemaking: Explorative in Performance’ in collaboration with OP Jindal Global University, Delhi (OPJGU) on May 4 in Dimapur (Photo Courtesy: NEISSR)

Morung Express News
Dimapur | May 4

Who records, writes and tells history? Men, more often than not. The result has been the subversion of women’s narratives from history and, in the Naga context, reduction of the woman to a one-dimensional character, personified, most often, as the benevolent mother.

What of the rest – the single mother, the woman single by choice, women with disabilities, women as social workers, lawyers, journalists, publishers, politicians, peacemakers?

To understand them, “we need to encourage our women to keep writing, to document our work and our stories,” said NK Keny, a Para Legal Volunteer (PLV), who has been working with women and children of Nagaland for decades.

Keny’s work was recognized on an all-India level when she was given the Best PLV award for the North East zone and Nationally, 2014-15, by the Prime Minister of India. Yet, her vocation – which consists of exemplary work with victims of human trafficking and homeless children – has never been recognized in Nagaland State. Such is the story of several women social workers of the State.

But that doesn’t stop Keny or any of the others from continuing to fight for gender justice. To keep up, she appealed women to “support and encourage one another” at a ‘consultative meeting’ on ‘Gendered Peacemaking:

Explorations in Performance’ held at the North East Institute of Social Sciences and Research (NEISSR) here today. The meeting and ensuing theatre workshop was jointly organized by the NEISSR and OP Jindal Global University, Delhi; it was moderated by Dr. Upasana Mahanta and Gargi Bharadwaj from the latter.

‘Men do the talking’
Women have largely been silent through history – even women’s stories have been told by men.

“In our culture, men perform – men tell the origin stories, of where we come from” and, indeed, where we will go, noted Dr. Talilula Longchar, a Folklorist and, currently, journalist with Nagaland Today. During the course of her research, she found women directing the researcher to hear traditional folklore from a husband, brother or uncle. “Women know these stories yet men do most of the talking,” she observed.

Today, thanks to the likes of Prof. Temsula Ao, Easterine Kire and more, women have become the recorders, writers and tellers of history and folklore, the heroic or flawed protagonists of their future.

It is not just voices though. Women’s names remain almost uniformly absent from Naga genealogy. “Family trees only have men’s names on them,” lamented N Krocha, a member of The Naga Blog, a popular social networking page on Facebook. Miffed by this, Krocha decided to include the name(s) of his daughter(s) on their family tree hoping this may be the turn needed to bring transformation.

But even young Naga people have a long way to go. “Few women speak up on social media groups,” he acknowledged.

In 2017, Krocha moved to Nagaland from Delhi where he had a steady job—his central purpose was to support a woman candidate in the 2018 Nagaland Legislative Assembly elections. They held several meetings with women in the constituency. “They were overwhelmed. No one had ever bothered to take their opinion,” said Krocha. But few voted for the candidate. She got national and international media coverage even as her own village council blocked her campaign. “Traditional organizations need women as part of their core team not just as women coordinators,” he suggested by way of correcting such decision making.

Vulnerability & resilience
Patriarchy, perpetuated by both women and men, produces vulnerability for women; resilience and struggle in the face of it is aplenty, albeit less documented.

Fatima Vikengunu Kera, a disability rights activist with Prodigals’ Home, is a brave example. Being a single woman living with disability, it was hard for her family, relatives and neighbours to digest that she could move to a city and survive on her own. “I have talents; I can work and live independently. Single women do not exist to enjoy life with boys,” she asserted, calling for broadening how society perceives single women and ‘allows’ them a life of choice.

She also acknowledged that life is not easy for household workers, like mothers, who have to bear the taunt of relatives and friends when children grow up in unwelcome ways. “Most of the time alcoholic fathers are the root cause of family problems but mothers are blamed for its effects,” she observed. It is necessary, thus, to also empower women in household work to record, write and tell their stories.

Struggles are varied; beyond catharsis, each story of resilience empowers the collective and lends colour/possibilities to who women are and how they determine their future.