|Draupadi: A symbol of empowerment?|
Ms Ongmu’s job of heading the state bureaucracy much easier.
a) First, dowry in not prevalent in Sikkim, a state which was annexed to India as late as 1975. Instead, in some parts of the state, there is a system of bride price. According to the tradition, which is also prevalent among a few tribes in other North-East states, the prospective groom needs to spend a year or two in the would-be in-laws’ house giving them services and making them satisfied that he would turn out to be a good husband. And what’s if he fails to make them happy? It’s simple. The marriage gets cancelled.
b) Sanchita Ghatak, an ASI officer who undertook an extensive study on Lachenpa women living in North Sikkim, writes how the mother of a bride gets what’s called “milk price”. At the time of her daughter’s marriage, the mother gets this milk price comprising one Khada (scarf), a pot of Chang (local drink) and other commodities. The reason? “Mothers gives milk in childhood, so when daughter goes to her in-laws house, her in-laws pay this milk price,” Ghatak writes.
c) Polyandry marriages are still being practiced in parts of the state though the actual number is getting reduced thanks to modernization. Polyandry is a practice of having more than one husband at one time. The epic Mahabharatha narrates the first striking example of polyandry where Draupadi is married to five Pandava brothers. “Women place the very important role in this polyandrous society. In a family, wife stays few month in the higher altitude with one husband in their pastoral work. Again she comes down in lower altitude and stays with other husband in their agricultural work. Here everybody has dual house-one in higher altitude and other in the middle or lower altitude,” writes Ghatak adding that in her last visit to North Sikkim in 2002-03, she personally noticed only three to four polyandry cases.
d) Women do play a key role in contributing the family economically. They run small businesses by converting the front-room of their house as tea stall or grocery or stationary shop. They also earn through poultry farming, piggery and rearing of cows etc.
Yet, Rinchen Ongmu’s appointment as chief secretary to the state is significant because politically, Sikkim’s womenfolk are far behind their men. This is despite their status in the society is strikingly high.
A 1979 batch IAS, Ongmu began her career as a collector in South Sikkim before serving in many departments including rural development, social justice, urban development, food and civil supplies etc. Before taking over as the head of the state’s bureaucracy, she was an additional chief secretary level officer in-charge of the home department. Ongmu can speak English and Nepalese well.
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