A day after the video of two Kuki women being paraded naked by an armed mob went viral on Wednesday, scattered voices of condemnation emerged from Manipur.
Several politicians, civil society activists and legislators in Manipur spoke out against the horrific violence. Some called for the resignation of chief minister N Biren Singh, who has remained at the helm despite ethnic clashes between Kukis and Meiteis continuing in Manipur since May 3.
Others, however, claimed the outrage was one-sided.
Imphal Times, an evening English daily, carried a front-page collage of about a dozen images of Meiteis killed during the ethnic clashes. It was accompanied by an editorial that said: “Avoid being fooled by emotions of a single event and Modi’s selective response.” On Thursday, speaking outside Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Manipur incident was “shameful for any civilised society”.
“After 75 days of eerie silence, Mr Modi finally spoke, but to the dismay of many, he addressed only one incident – the purported video showing two women parading naked,” the editorial said. “Mr Modi’s selective response raises questions about his motives. Many see his statements as an attempt to play the gender card and manipulate emotions to divert attention from the core issue – the urgent need for peace and stability in Manipur.”
‘Biren should resign’
The women were paraded and sexually assaulted on May 4, a day after the ethnic violence between the majority Meitei and Kuki communities erupted. Since then, around 150 people have been killed in clashes and over 70,000 displaced.
Chief minister Biren Singh called the incident “a crime against humanity”.
“A thorough investigation is currently underway and we will ensure strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment,” he tweeted. “Let it be known, there is absolutely no place for such heinous acts in our society.”
Member of Parliament from Outer Manipur, R Lorho S Pfoze, called for Biren Singh’s ouster from his post.
“The state machinery has failed and he [N Biren Singh] should take responsibility,” the Naga leader told the Press Trust of India. “He should morally resign or he should be sacked, otherwise the issue will continue.”
Manipuri human rights activist Binalakshmi Nepram also sought the resignation of “those in charge” and asked them to take moral responsibility for the violence.
“Govt of #India & #Manipur be both held accountable for every death that has occurred #ManipurViolence, for every sexual assault & attack on women’s bodies happening since 3 May,” Nepram tweeted. “This is unacceptable.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Rajkumar Imo Singh, who is the son-in-law of N Biren Singh, was one of the first MLAs from the Meitei community to comment. He urged the Manipur Police to identify the people in the video. “Arrest them immediately and give capital punishment so that no person dares to repeat this heinous crime again,” he tweeted. “Let us not spare any of these people involved.”
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity or COCOMI, a prominent Imphal Valley-based civil society organisation, condemned the “barbaric” and “uncivilised act of violence” on the women. But it also alleged that “various national media houses [were] trying to justify the entire crisis of Chin-Kuki Narco-Terrorist aggression by one video clip”.
“The action is committed by a few sick criminal perpetrators,” the committee said in a statement. “The entire Meitei society is in deep shame and anguish over the video clip…COCOMI firmly believes that all those involved in the barbaric act will not be spared by the Meitei community … and befitting punishment will surely be given to everyone involved in the crime.”
The civil society organisation also dismissed claims that one of the women in the video was gangraped. “We strongly condemn the false and exaggerated reporting, and misleading the world against Meitei society,” it said.
Meitei public intellectuals also weighed in on the matter. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, A Bimol Akoijam, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, drew a parallel between Partition and the current violence. “The colossal violence of the Partition was possible because of the collapse of moral compass under pressure from the frenzy generated by the separatist and exclusivist agendas of communal politics...” he wrote. “History repeats! #ManipurViolence.”
Responding to his post, feminist and Left activist Kavita Krishnan asked: “Who exactly do you say has a separatist and exclusivist agenda, and is therefore to blame for your oblique and opaque reference to barbarism, by which you probably mean the stripping, parading and rape of Kuki women by Meitei mobs?”
She added: “By ‘separatist’ do you mean the Kukis’ demand for separate statehood? And who do you say are “exclusivist”, and why? Isn’t the state government of Manipur and specifically the CM, as well as Meitei supremacist armed groups that are responsible for the stripping and parading incident?”
How the newspapers reported it
The two most-read English dailies in Manipur – the Sangai Express and People’s Chronicle – published the story on the viral video based on the press statement issued by Manipur Police late Wednesday night.
Ukhrul Times, an online news daily from the state, has also reported the story. The Imphal Free Press did not carry the story online or in its print edition.
Imphal Times did not report the news in its Wednesday edition. On Thursday, it published the editorial criticising Modi’s “selective response”.
“Imphal Times smells a conspiracy to the way that the core issue of the ongoing violence has been shrewdly diverted by the viral video that was uploaded just a day before the Parliament monsoon session,” the newspaper said.
It is not the first instance that Imphal-based media has been accused of avoiding reporting on violence against the Kukis. The story of a mob burning alive a seven-year-old child and his mother was not published in the Imphal-based newspapers.
Nagas react: ‘Unspeakable evil’
Nagas in Manipur have also reacted sharply to the viral video and asked the Manipur government to identify the perpetrators and subject them to the severest punishment.
Ten Naga MLAs from Manipur, in a statement, said “such heinous and beastly crime against our people is unacceptable”.
Naga legislator Dinganglung Gangmei, who is a senior BJP leader and chairman of the Hill Area Committee, said such a “monstrous act of barbarism” must be brought to justice.
“Shaken and disgusted beyond measures to see the video of violence against the helpless women of our State Manipur. My head hung in shame, my conscience completely broken,” he tweeted.
The Tangkhul Women’s League, Delhi, a civil society group which represents interest of Tangkhul Naga women, a major Naga tribe in Manipur, described the incident as an “unmistakable symbol of human cruelty, grotesqueness and degradation of the women”.
The Working Group for Naga Rights in Manipur, a Naga human rights group, said that it is appalled by the “unspeakable evil of the unhinged Meitei mob”.
“The incumbent dispensation cannot take cover behind ‘conflict’ and turn a blind eye to this barbaric act. Humanity demands a prompt and fitting answer to this mob-created horror,” the group said in a statement.