Inexcusable Inaction: Manipur's Horrific Video Exposes Sexual Violence, Govt Failure
Rape and revenge rape have become tools used to dishonour and diminish targeted communities, especially during ethnic conflicts.
Tension is escalating in Manipur following the emergence of a disturbing video on July 19, which shows two women from the Kuki community being paraded naked and sexually assaulted by a mob of men. The incident reportedly took place on May 4. The video has sparked outrage and condemnation from various quarters, finally leading to Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaking his deafening silence on Manipur.
But such words ring hollow when the incident had occurred under the watch of a Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘double-engine’ government. The Manipur government has out and out failed to maintain law and order in the state since violence broke out on May 3. Even with Army intervention, gun battles continue in the state, with people losing faith in the administration in totality.
The violence and unrest in Manipur's hills have persisted for an extended period, raising serious questions about the state's handling of the situation and whether the violence has been allowed to persist with the intention of displacing the tribal communities from the region.
The savage incident of the two women being paraded naked, that was only recently shared on social media through a video by one of the perpetrators, took place in Kangkopi district on the second day of the Manipur conflict - May 4.
According to a report by the Scroll, a zero FIR was filed at Saikul, Kangkopi district, on May 18, based on complaints from the women's relatives. One of the women seen in the video was gang-raped, while both were subjected to severe assault and molestation.
The video, which recently went viral on social media, revealed the horrifying incident to the larger population of the country. However, it also added to the victims' plight by exposing their identities and subjecting them to further humiliation.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF) has expressed its condemnation, describing the incident as "sickening." Opposition parties slammed the ruling BJP, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, the Prime Minister, and Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, asking for accountability.
The reaction is apt, as when the incident first came to light, a zero FIR was registered in Kangkopi district, but the authorities' response was initially sluggish, revealing a complete dereliction of duty.
Added to the police and administrative inaction post the incident, the original complaint revealed that the women were fleeing in a small group from a Meitei mob attacking their village when they were “rescued” by a team from the Nongpok Sekmai police station. However, they were stopped by the mob and taken forcibly from the custody of the police team near Toubu, the complaint says. The father and brother of the rape survivor were beaten to death by the mob. The subsequent gangrape of one of the women added to the already grave nature of the violence.
However, with mounting political pressure and public outrage post the video’s emergence, the case has caught the attention of important quarters. The Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, expressed deep concern about the videos and directed both the Union and state governments to take prompt action against such heinous acts.
The Manipur Police swung to action, registering a case of abduction, gang rape, and murder against the perpetrators. Some of the miscreants shown in the video have been identified, but they are currently evading arrest, according to police sources cited by NDTV.
Too Little, Too Late
After PM Modi accepted that Manipur is suffering from violence and could not turn a blind eye anymore, Chief Minister N Biren Singh announced the arrest of one accused, 32-year-old Heradas, from Thoubal district. This was 77 days too late and 999 people too less as the original complaint of the May 18 FIR estimated a thousand-strong mob of Meitei men who allegedly perpetrated the crimes.
The central questions that arise are:
1) What was the police doing for one and half months since a serious complaint was registered in an already conflict-ridden situation?
2) Why did it take the video to go viral for the police to finally make an arrest?
This also brings under suspicion the state administration’s intention to genuinely put a stop to the violence that has killed over 140 people and displaced around 50,000. The sudden condemnation of the incident from BJP leaders and ministers, both at the Centre and in the state, appear to be PR management attempts in view of what has transpired so far.
The police’s failures also show how difficult and unsafe it would be for displaced tribal people to return to their villages.
NewsClick had already reported on June 1 that Manipur’s ethnic violence has led to a disturbing trend of using women as easy targets during violent episodes, with fake news about brutalities against women being circulated to justify actual instances of sexual violence. Perpetrators from the Meitei community have propagated false information about Kuki-Zo communities to portray them as rapists, leading to targeted violence against Kuki-Zo women.
Rape and revenge rape have become tools used to dishonour and diminish targeted communities, especially during ethnic conflicts. Given the patriarchal nature of our society, women also always face sexual violence in such situations, be it the 2002 Gujarat riots or the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur.
Even today, Gujarat riot victim Bilkis Bano is fighting for justice. Bilkis was gang-raped while pregnant and her three-year-old daughter was killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, during the Gujarat riots. However, all 11 convicts in the case were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15 last year.
As the investigation continues, the eyes of the nation remain fixed on Manipur, awaiting decisive action to ensure justice for the victims and an end to the ongoing ethnic conflict. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for stronger measures to protect vulnerable communities and uphold human rights across the country instead of passing the buck for political gain.
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