Fierce feminist

She believes being nice to fellow human beings is the greatest virtue and has spent a lifetime marching ahead on this path. Backed by her research, the staunch feminist Monisha Behal has been helping the underprivileged women of the Northeast lead respectable lives, rising above their prevalent social realities of the wage gap, gender biases, governance rights and most importantly, sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Coming from a family of poets, writers, and activists, Behal would accompany her mother who was an active member of the Tezpur Mahila Samiti, a women’s cooperative, to campaigns the Samiti organised since the age of seven, and was always aware of the socio-political scenario of the region.

Though Behal started her research and reform work in the 1970s, working on issues such as caste oppression in Uttar Pradesh and empowering women weavers in Assam, the turning point her life came when she decided to work beyond the confines of Assam and co-founded the North-East Network (NEN) in 1995.

In the same year, Behal got a special opportunity through the MacArthur Fellowship and chose to work in Nagaland for the next three years. At the end of that, in 1998, she started a branch of NEN in Chizami, a village in Nagaland’s Phek district. After working there for a decade, Behal helped the weavers of the village form a co-operative under NEN’s Nagaland branch, to help them get better pay for their work. It worked well and the initiative nearly doubled their wages, meanwhile, also diversifying their product offerings.

The founding idea of NEN, she says, is, “We don’t have to fight men, we need to fight the concept of patriarchy.” The organisation has been active in the scene for 24 years now, working for various developmental goals such as ecologically responsible agricultural practices, improving women’s healthcare and gender responsible budgeting to name a few.

Behal’s constant efforts have yield results over the years, and presently, at 67, she is nowhere near to stopping her silent revolution in the northeast. She has always challenged gender roles and stood up every time someone tried to pin her down. Amidst these years of tireless work, she does confess to having missed out on her family life, but with a supportive husband sharing the responsibilities and backing her up, she says life has been beautiful and purposeful for her.

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