Context: During the recent visit of the Home Minister to Manipur as violence raged in the state, he met with the Meira Paibis as part of his meetings with various civil society groups.
About Meira Paibis
- They are known as women torch bearers because of the flaming torches that they hold aloft while marching in the streets, often at night.
- 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.
- They 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.
Social role of Meira Paibis
- Origin: It was formed in 1977. One of the largest grassroots movements in the world.
- Focus: 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, they 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.
Major actions were undertaken by them
- Against AFSPA: 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).
- Over demands for ILP: 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.
Manipur crisis: They have been reported to play a role in the current Manipur crisis as well. The armed forces recently apprehended 12 Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (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.