Beyond the tyranny of ‘performed’ gender

Nabina Das is a Hyderabad-based poet who teaches creative writing.

Poets young and old from the North-East have, for a while now, been talking about gender fluidity and being trapped by pre-assigned roles

In her book Politics of the Female Body (2006), Ketu Katrak writes about the typically patriarchal claim that women are the “guardians of tradition”. Katrak says claims like these are aimed at controlling female sexuality and fertility. There’s a perception that Northeast India is more gender-sensitive than the rest of the country. While one may easily debate this, there certainly are poets and writers from the North-East who challenge stereotypes by writing about the female body — its wants and wantonness, its contextualisation as well as abstract valence, its position vis-à-vis the dominant gender, and its graceful and seamless transition to the un-gendered space.

Naga poet Monalisa Changkija’s long years in journalism and activism manifest in her direct, no-nonsense lines. She is the sole editor, publisher and proprietor of the newspaper Nagaland Page. There were violent protests in Nagaland recently against reservation of seats for women in the legislative assembly — even after the Supreme Court directed the State government to implement the decision. In the coverage of this and other urgent issues, Changkija’s voice has been unflinching. During a recent interview at Indian Cultural Forum, she said: “In Naga society, women are always expected to play the subservient role and inevitably women do so. The patriarchal ethos are dominant and embedded in women’s psyches. It is sad that ‘keeping the peace’ within the home and the tribe becomes more important and imperative than gender justice.”