Meira Paibis – The Core IAS

Meira Paibis

Who are the Meira Paibis of Manipur?

Civil society action in Manipur has long had a significant presence of activist women. The most visible organised face of such actions have been the Meira Paibis or “women torch bearers”, so called because of the flaming torches that they hold aloft while marching in the streets, often at night.

The Meira Paibis, also known as Imas or Mothers of Manipur, are Meitei women who come from all sections of society in the Imphal valley, are widely respected, and represent a powerful moral force. The Meira Paibis are loosely organised, usually led by groups of senior women, but have no rigid hierarchy or structure, or any overt political leanings.

They may become more visible during certain times, but their presence and importance in Manipuri civil society are permanent and palpable, and their role as society’s conscience keepers is widely acknowledged.

What social role do the Meira Paibis play?

The Meira Paibi was formed in 1977. One of the largest grassroots movements in the world, its initial focus of fighting alcoholism and drug abuse has now expanded to countering human rights violations and the development of society at large.

Over the decades, the Meira Paibis have led numerous social and political movements in the state, including some powerful protests against alleged atrocities by Indian security forces, leveraging their strong position in society in the interest of the causes they have espoused.

What are some of the major actions undertaken by these women?

The Meira Paibi women were the active support base of Irom Sharmila, the activist who remained on a hunger strike in the state from 2000 to 2016 to protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the armed forces immunity against action in “disturbed” areas. Protesters such as Sharmila have long criticised the Act as a vehicle for overreach by the state.

In 2015, the state saw tensions over demands for the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system to be introduced there, requiring outsiders to obtain a permit to enter. Protesters contended that this was necessary in order to protect local interests, culture, and commercial opportunities available to them. The Meira Paibis played an active role to ensure bandhs and shutdown calls in the markets.

The Meira Paibis have been reported to play a role in the current crisis as well. The armed forces recently apprehended 12 KYKL cadres with arms, ammunition and war-like stores during an operation in Itham village in Imphal East, but were forced to release the men, reportedly after pressure from women activists who confronted the security personnel.