The viral video of two Kuki women being paraded naked and sexually assaulted by a mob of Meitei men in Manipur has drawn the attention of the whole world to the complete collapse of the rule of law in Manipur. The incident had happened in the presence of the local police on the 4th of May, the day after violence erupted in the state. The FIR about the incident was filed on 18 May, and a complaint was mailed to the National Commission for Women by two women activists and the North American Manipur Tribal Association on 12 June. Yet it was only after the video had become viral and the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the crime that the BJP-led ‘double engine’ governments acknowledged the incident and some arrests are being reported.
It took this video and the Supreme Court warning for Narendra Modi to utter the M word for the first time after 79 days of uninterrupted violence in Manipur that has already claimed more than 150 lives and led to the displacement of more than fifty thousand people, destruction and desecration of more than two hundred churches and large-scale loot of arms and weapons from police stations. Modi’s talk of pain and anguish over the Manipur video was however only part of a generalised call for women’s safety and dignity as he unscrupulously clubbed the Manipur incident with instances of attacks on women in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, two poll-bound Congress-ruled states. Clearly, the whole attempt is to trivialise the incident and remove it from the context where the predominantly Christian Kuki hill tribe is at the receiving end of a state-sponsored campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Facts, even those obliquely admitted by the Manipur CM, completely debunk Modi’s calculated shedding of crocodile tears. CM N Birendra Singh has admitted to more than one hundred cases of attacks on women, while adding that internet has been shut down precisely to stop such events from coming to light! The Manipur Governor has said that she had never seen such kind and scale of violence and she has kept the Union Government informed. Close to 6,000 FIRs have been filed between 4 May and 28 June, the first eight weeks of the violence. It is now known that within one hour of the horrific incident caught in the viral video clip, there was another incident in the Meitei-dominated Konung Manag area of Imphal where two Kuki sisters, aged 21 and 24, were gang-raped and killed. The victims’ father, a pastor, had filed an FIR on 16 May, and yet till date there has been no action against the perpetrators.
Instead of taking responsibility for the complete collapse of governance and taking any measures, even issuing an appeal, for restoration of peace in Manipur, the government is busy threatening Twitter for the posting of the video clip. BJP leaders are questioning the timing of the release of the viral video just on the eve of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Some mischievous news agencies even tried to give the whole thing an anti-Muslim twist by falsely presenting the arrest of a Muslim man in another case in Manipur as the arrest of the main accused in the viral video case of naked parading and sexual assault. It was reportedly the circulation of fake news, a case of rape which happened in Delhi and was propagated on social media as an attack on Meitei women in Manipur, which is believed to have triggered the horrific May 4 assaults on Kuki women. One can easily see the sinister design behind the fake news that tried to find a Muslim perpetrator behind the attacks on Kuki women.
Why has the Modi government allowed Manipur to burn continuously for the last three months? Some analysts believe that the government actually wants to bring about a demographic shift in the state so that the Kuki community can be stripped of its land rights over the hilly forest areas of Manipur so the rare earth minerals lying underneath can be handed over to mining companies and Manipur turned into a laboratory of corporate plunder. The growing portrayal of Kukis as infiltrators from Myanmar by the Manipur government seems designed to create a permanent state of ethnic rift and polarisation that would transform Manipur, like Assam, into another laboratory of aggressive majoritarianism. The Sangh-BJP politics of divide and rule and anti-minority hate campaigns and the promotion of the culture of mob violence that has turned India into a republic of hate and fear has pushed Manipur with its historical fault-lines and complexities into a veritable tinderbox. Before the BJP came to power in Manipur in 2017, Narendra Modi had famously accused the Congress of having forfeited the right to govern precisely because of its alleged failure to enforce peace in Manipur. Today the time has come for Modi to apply the same principle to its own ‘double engine’ governments and secure the resignation of the Manipur CM and Union Home Minister.
From Gujarat in 2002 to Khairlanji in 2006, Kandhamal in 2008 and now Manipur in 2023, women's bodies have always become the site of targeted majoritarian violence echoing Savarkar’s justification of rape as a legitimate political tool in his book Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History. The case of Bilkis Bano also tells us how protracted and difficult the battle for justice is in such cases. If Bilkis Bano had through a long and courageous struggle succeeded in getting the perpetrators of rape and murder convicted, the Modi government reversed the course by releasing them from jail on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence to a hero’s welcome accorded by the Sangh brigade. It can hardly be missed that on the same day that this video became public, Brij Bhushan was granted bail in the wrestlers’ sexual harassment case, and Ram Rahim, a double rape and murder convict, was granted parole for the seventh time.
It was the women of Manipur who had bravely protested against the brutal rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama and drawn the attention of the whole world to the reality of state repression in Manipur. The horrific reality of violence against Kuki women should become the turning point to trigger a mass outrage to end the current reign of institutionalised insecurity in Manipur and pave the way to restoration of peace on the basis of truth and reconciliation, justice and rule of law. However much the Modi regime may try and trivialise the reign of state-sponsored violence in Manipur, the state holds a mirror to the complete collapse of governance and growing crisis of humanity in Modi's India. Gujarat 2002 had led to the exit of the Vajpayee regime in 2004, let Manipur 2023 arouse India to end the disastrous Modi rule in 2024.