Manipur Miasma: War Against Women

Jaswant Kaur Jaswant Kaur
31 Jul 2023
A civilised person would never touch a woman inappropriately without her consent. The incident happened in broad daylight and it dates back to May 4, 2023.

A video has gone viral. It shows two Kuki women being paraded naked in broad daylight, followed by a large leering group of men. They were then sexually assaulted in the adjoining fields. Can we even call them men or even human beings? They were worse than animals.

A civilised person would never touch a woman inappropriately without her consent. The incident happened in broad daylight and it dates back to May 4, 2023. 

Some sources claim that the Meitei men raped Kuki women in retaliation for another incident of sexual violence against a woman from the Meitei tribe. It was later on discovered that the photograph that went viral was not from Manipur. Regardless, does rape of a woman from one tribe give a license to men to rape women from that tribe? It is horrifying to even think of such a proposition.

Manipur has been consistently in the news for the past nearly three months. Reports of violence, riots, and vandalism stemming from a longstanding feud between the Meitei and Kuki communities have been making rounds. 

There are also reports that the whole pogrom was aimed at ethnic cleansing. Today, there is not a single Kuki in the Imphal city. If the clash was between Meiteis and Kukis, as the government says, why were churches belonging to Meiteis destroyed by the Meiteis themselves? 

The state had no Internet services all these months. Hence people from other parts of the country got news in bits and pieces. We certainly came to know how religious places were attacked and vandalised. However, no one would have imagined such a horrifying act.
Some even speculate that the state is on the verge of a civil war. A retired lieutenant general has compared the state to war-torn nations like Libya, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Syria, stating that Manipur is now stateless and that life and property can be destroyed by anyone at any time. 

Yet, we didn’t see a sign of law and order being restored. Our authorities were in deep slumber or were perhaps pretending to be so. It has been estimated that more than 60,000 people have been displaced and have been staying in make-shift (so-called) relief camps.

A few reports indicate that the incident happened on May 4 in Thoubal district and that a zero FIR was filed on May 18 in Kangpokpi district of Manipur. However, despite filing the FIR, which included charges of abduction, gang rape, and murder against unknown armed miscreants, no arrests were made until the video went viral. Till the time of writing, the police have arrested 14 people. But why was the administration silent for so long?
It has also been reported that although the video shows only two women, there was another woman who was also brutally gang-raped. These three women, along with two family members of the youngest victim, sought refuge in the forest when they witnessed a large group of 800 to 1000 people armed with sophisticated weapons looting and burning their homes. Initially, the police rescued them, but they were stopped by the mob on their way to the police station. The mob overpowered the police and literally abducted the women! There is also the allegation that the policemen threw the women to the wolves.
Those who were supposed to save them became witnesses to one of the most horrendous incidents in the country! What kind of law and order was this? Or, was there any law and order in place? A few victims have even claimed that they were forced to strip and were raped while the police watched as if some drama was happening. The youngest woman's father and brother, who attempted to save her, were murdered on the spot.
Soon after the video became viral, many more women came forward. Many of these are staying in the relief camps. This happened when the state is being ruled by the BJP. Incidentally, the Chief Minister is from the Meitei community, who had the responsibility to find a peaceful solution to this conflict and uphold the Constitution at all times. Clearly, he had no control over the situation. 

Home minister Amit Shah did visit Manipur but his efforts proved to be futile. It suggests that the government, be it at the Centre or in the state, had no muscle over the perpetrators of violence. Is that even possible? If yes, then why was the President's rule not imposed on Manipur? Many of our elected (so-called) representatives have now started opening up. This video suddenly awakened them? Suddenly, their concern for women and womanhood has come to the fore. 

The chief minister has admitted that many such incidents might have occurred during this period. The Supreme Court has taken note of the video and has instructed the government to take immediate action. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) has warned that if the government fails to act, the court will intervene. The CJI has described this incident as completely unacceptable, highlighting the exploitation of women as a tool for fuelling communal tension. The court has called it “the most serious form of constitutional abuse”. Parliament has also seen disruption over this incident.
Finally, the Prime Minister spoke up, of course, in a language that suits his demeanour. He has also directed all Chief Ministers to take appropriate measures to ensure women's safety. Meanwhile, the opposition proposed a no-confidence motion. The BJP-ruled government might have won in  Parliament but it has failed us, as a country. The government has failed our women. How can the man, who launched Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao with so much passion, even sleep, when his country’s women and daughters were being raped brutally under his nose?
History shows that women have always been at the receiving end during war, communal violence, political tensions, riots etc. It would take years for a victim to overcome the trauma, that too if she gets a safe environment or space, where she is able to regain her lost self-esteem and confidence. And it takes a lifetime to erase such incidents from one's memory. To add to this, the kind of stigma she is subjected to in our society, makes her life all the more difficult.
Our media too has not been sensitive enough. Many times, the images and crucial information of the rape victims are published, without thinking of the effect it will have on their life. This is not the end of it. In most of the cases, victims do not even have the courage to speak up and file a case against the perpetrator(s). Even if they muster courage and file a case, the kind of trauma they face during the entire process, makes their life a living hell. The conviction rate in such cases remains low.
While there are sporadic instances of legal justice, it often takes years and a lot of strength from the victims, to stay put. Many a time, the victims have been forced to move away from their homes due to fear and stigma. The process to get justice is taxing for such women. And if the accused are put behind bars by the lower court, they are free to file an appeal and get away from it.
For instance, in Bilkis Bano case, all the 11 convicts were prematurely released from jail last year by granting remission in their life-term punishment. The men walked free on the last Independence Day. Their relatives celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets. They were welcomed with flowers and garlands! That’s how convicts are treated in this country while rape victims await justice, throughout their life. Sometimes, even life is not enough for them to get justice. That’s why women often bear with violence silently. Our systems have failed these women!
Despite the fact that 14 people have been arrested in the Manipur case, will these women get justice? Will the police have enough evidence to support the case except for this video? What about women, who have been keeping silent? Will we be ever able to give them justice? For how long will women have to face violence? Is there any answer to these questions? Unfortunately, no. 

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