Women Representation in Karbi Anglong
Dr. Bandita Teronpi
Dept. of Political science, Lumding College.
History has witness the brilliance of women in politics, time and again. After independence Indira Gandhi was a powerful symbol of women representation. Some rarely known names of women representation along the line are Masuma Begam (minister of Social welfare), Renuka Roy, Veteran Social worker, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur( Union Health Minister 1947), Vijayalakshmi Pandit (delegate to UN 1947) etc. Listing some most powerful female politicians in India are Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalita, Mayawati, Ambika Soni, Agatha Rengma, Supriya Sule etc. they are appreciated by many and criticized by many more, yet their contribution to development of the country can’t be overlooked.
But inequalities between the genders have always become a common notion in every societies of the world, but the only distinction seen is the degree of its difference. To the Karbi society in order to define political representation of Karbi women, it is quite important to draw out their social and political status and trace the historical genesis of women representation in social, cultural, economic and political affairs. Regarding the Karbi Anglong Autonomous council (KAAC), we observe a great alteration in the trends of executions or functioning from the very establishments. This District council set up for self-government of the tribes or decentralization was a result of the historical recommendation of the Gopinath Bordoloi Sub-Committee and the great Constituent Assembly Debate. To Karbi Anglong the sixth schedule was accepted on the ground of greater autonomy. After the establishment of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, in the course of time we observe the changing trends in its functioning and the importance of women representation till then.
The social status……
At this juncture, it is very necessary to study the status of women in Karbi society, its social specification in the Karbi history folklore and oral traditions. Karbi folklore is stuffed with iconic female figure. The Karbi society from ages followed patriarchal pattern of social structure. There are some who believe that though the Karbi women enjoy a higher status but are not equal to their counterparts (Terang 1993: Fernandes2002). It is observed that, there were no woman leadership in the traditional village council and other traditional set-up.
In folklore, a woman is a deity, a weaver, an innovator, a fighter, a law-maker, and also a victim of social discrimination. Rasinja, a female deity, is worshipped, together with two other male counterparts Hemphu and Mukrang, in the highest Karbi pantheon. Kasang Rongphi and Serdihun are legendary who are hailed as the reigning of deities of the age-old weaving tradition. Ha’imu is worshipped as the ‘weather goddess’ at the annual invocation of the ‘spirit of weather’, called ‘Botor Kekur’. A legendary woman fighter Rongpharpi Rongbe stands tall as the iconic rebel who challenged feudal oppression to lead her followers to freedom. Besides, a woman is also in the centre of intra-clan rivalries and social division. Folklore bares the images of women in Karbi society. The legend of Kajir Ronghangpi, another iconic figure, who is the reigning deity of the one-horned rhinoceros sanctuary in Assam called ‘Kaziranga’ is steeped in myths. Oral tradition speaks of Kajir as the celestial figure who brought down the one-horned rhino to earth. In Karbi tradition, rhino is considered a symbol of prosperity and good luck. The role played by the UCHEPI in CHOMANKAN festival provides some kind of high status of women in Karbi society. Prof. Rong Bong Terang in his paper entitled ‘women in Karbi society according to folk Tradition’ asserts that the Karbi society is basically a male dominated society and therefore her status is not equal to her male counterpart. Women, according to him, are treated as an instrument of labour only. Prof. Terang cities some folk songs to prove that women’s status is not equal to that of man.
Though the above view displays or makes one assume that the position of woman in Karbi society is low, but while observing the marriage system in community, we find that Karbis follow exogamy, Karbis are not allowed to marry in the same clan and the consent of the girl is a must. In fact, the women play an important role as it is the mothers of both the boy and the girl proposed for marriage that talks at first in a function observed as ‘Nengpi-Nengso Ka Chingki’. Here we can conceptualize the Karbi society in terms of matrilineal, where a woman takes the lead on family matters. Further, there is a good system of widow – remarriage and no change in dress or food habit for widows, child marriage, dowry system etc. Divorce is also quite rare.
Being an agriculturalist, a Karbi woman is not dependent on her husband’s income. They generate their family income by selling fresh organic vegetables, fire woods and also as a HORLANG (rice beer) maker, as weavers, in fact the Karbi Hand loom and textile is tremendously developing generating income and revenue collections. It can be also generalized that in every indigenous society we find more number of women entrepreneurs than to that of men and we find similar pattern in the Karbi society too.
But with the increase in education, more number of employed Karbi women is counted. In Diphu (headquater) almost 50 % of Karbi women are employed and in individual capacity in each office, the strength of women power is distinguished.
Administrative-political status – Sixth schedule and women
With regards to women empowerment, the vision of Rev. Nichols-Roy for the recommendation of sixth schedule was for the involvement of women in the electoral process and decision making. Women were never part of traditional or pre-political system or judiciary.
The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) was established in 1952. After the creation of Meghalaya in 1970s, karbi Anglong and Dima hasao decided to stay with the Assam govt. with the promise of greater Autonomy by Assam, but since it was a false words, an Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) was establish in 1980s which started the Autonomy movements in both the Hill districts of Assam. But what is important to highlight is the equal participation of women in all the movements in the district and the formation of a strong woman organization karbi nimso chingthur asong(KNCA) since 1986. The important movement in the history of the karbis are the roman script movement, the identity of culture movement resulting in the establishment of karbi cultural society the guardian members to organize the Karbi youth festival since 1974, the literary(language) movement resulting in the formation of Karbi Lamet Amei, the signing of MoU, MoS and so on. In all these movement since 1980s till the recent time woman are equally participating in the identity politics of the karbis. The first woman Member of Parliament (MP) from the community was Mrs. Bonily Khongman, the first woman graduate. There are a few notable woman figures in administration earlier but is increasing with the advance of time. The KAAC consist of 30 member of which 24 is elected and 4 to be nominated by the governor.
The Karbi Nimso Chingthur asong (KNCA)
The KNCA is one of the leading Women organizations in the district. It is established on 1st August 1986 at Dongkamukam. Initially it was a women organization of some 49 members constituted with the aim of protecting the rights of women, to minimize gender discrimination, violence and to create awareness among the women or other women related issues. They also sent their representative to various national and International forums. This women organization remain vocal about the social and women’s issues and launch demonstration both at the district, State and in New Delhi regarding the 33% reservation of seats for women along the line of demands with other women organizations in the Country.
Trending of women representations in KAAC
The KAAC and DHADC is the oldest District councils in India out of the three Autonomous Council of the Sixth Schedule of Assam, but after 75 years of decentralization of powers and District council set up we do not find any reservation of seats for woman in both the Hill districts. But, we find two seats reserved for woman in Bodoland Territorial council (BTC) and DHADC.
In the first Mikir Hills District Council held in 1952, not single Karbi women contested in the election. It was only after a huge gap of 37 years that one woman contested the District council election. It was in the year 1989, when for the first time Mrs. Patorpi Tissopi, a Karbi women contested in election. It was recorded that only 23 votes was gained by her. It was the first ever attempt to step into the political arena by the woman folk of the Karbis. Again, after a gap of 7 years in 1996, two women representatives remarkably stand in the District council elections namely; Smt. Kabon Engtipi and Smt. Merina Beypi. K. Engtipi , both from the regional party ASDC. Though from the secondary sources, it was founded that the tenure-ship of Kabon Engtipi as EM was short lived for some political reasons.
In 2001 Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council, at least five women candidates stood the elections. Again consecutively, in the 10th KAAC elections in 2007, altogether seven female candidates contested the elections, of which two won the elections. Between them was the then HAD minister’s wife Lt. Premola Beypi from Howraghat Constituency, from INC National Party and the other was the wife of then Member of Assam Legislative Assembly, Diphu LA, Smt. Kuntila Ronghangpi from Lumbajong constituency.
In 2012 in the 11th KAAC elections, at the initial years of the tenure, only two women represented the KAAC, Smt. Premola Beypi and Smt. Alice Engtipi, interestingly both from the same family. Later on, on the sudden demise of her husband Lt. Bhubon ch. Terang from 17th Socheng Dhenta Constituency; Smt. Kache Rongpipi became an Executive member of KAAC through a bi-election in 2014.
In the history of KAAC election though much tussle of powers is observed between the national and regional political parties, but there also seem much of such type between the Assam Government and the Autonomous Council, questioning the Autonomy of the District Councils under the Sixth Schedule and which has directly or indirectly affected the women representation in the council highlighting mostly of thinly representations. So, earlier up to 2016, there were a total of three women Executive members (EM) to the KAAC, but in the same year 2016 in the month of June when the then strength or house of KAAC executive Members made a total defection to BJP from Congress, only one woman EM could withhold her status and position. The other two women members were eliminated from EM ship as they belong to the family of the then HAD Minister and MLA of the opposition political party.
Most recently in 2017 the 12th Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council election was held and in this year a great turnover was observed of high women participation. Approximately, a total of eleven (11) karbi women candidates contested the election from National, Regional and as Independent candidates, amongst then only two won the elections. Another prominent observation at the recent KAAC elections 2017 is that though quite a high numbers of woman members applied for party tickets from the BJP Party, but only two women in persons were allotted party tickets which is very less compared to the present active women participations in the district and when the call globally is that to empower women or answering the questions of equality of women.
Though in the recent MoU signed in 2021, there is a mention of two seats reserved for women out of 50 seats, and a demand of 4 have been reported, but this less number do not employ to the women active participation and representation in the Hill district.
From the above findings or records it can be made clear that a very few women members became the Executive Members of KAAC since the very beginning of the functioning of the District Council. If we recall the political history of Karbi Anglong and realize the present time we do witness that there are more women members taking active parts in political participation which is often demonstrated through party meetings, rallies, campaigns or voting etc. which signifies Karbi woman having great or noteworthy part in politics of Karbi Anglong. It is also a social indication that Karbi women are more political aware than their counter parts, but representing their gender strength in Party was never a matter that could determine the political enthusiasm of the Karbi woman. But comparison with the Panchayati Raj and also PESA, the reservation is still less. But a question arises in the conclusion that as to why with such huge woman participation in politics of Karbi Anglong or in the trends of identity politics, there is a sense of lack of identity and endeavors political representation of a Karbi woman in politics. Are they politically marginalized within its own marginality or politics of difference? Or Are their voices never to be heard, as such?
1. Snaitang O.L); “Rev.J.J.M. Nichols-Roy and National Integration”, published by EI Sawkmie Group of Publication, Wolley Press, Shillong, 2009.pp 40-41.
2. Chodhury Mousumi, “Unveiling women’s voice in representation A study on Karbi women in Assam’s Karbi Anglong District”, International Journal of Advanced Research, 2006, Vol.4, 11st Feb. 2020, www. Journalijar.com
3. Chonzik B. Paul and Killingpi Marilyn, “Transition, Continuity and Change in the hill Karbi Society of Assam”, Journal of International Academic Research for Multidisciplinary, 2014, Vol.2.