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Manipur: Amidst Horrific Violence, the State Resorts to Deflections

The matter is not just about the violence done to two women. It is about violence against thousands of Kuki people.

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The MPs of the Bhartiya Janata Party staged a dharna near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside the parliament demanding the resignation of Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan over the cases of violence against women in Rajasthan. This is part of the attempt to shift the debate toward violence against women across India. The media has come to the aid of the BJP leaders by showing statistics of violence against women in India, especially in the opposition-ruled states.

This is being done when the opposition parties are firm on their demand for a statement by the Prime Minster on the situation in Manipur followed by a substantial discussion. They want the accountability of the union government but it is running away from facing the question.

Apart from it, the Home Minister now says that the government is ready for a debate on Manipur but the opposition is running away from it. The fact is that it is very cleverly hiding from the public that it wants this debate under rule 176 which would allow a very short discussion of only 45 -60 minutes with only 5-6 MPs whereas the opposition is demanding a discussion under rule 267 which would make a longer discussion possible involving more members. Does Manipur not deserve a full discussion?

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The PM's False Equivalence

We can understand the meaning of the Prime Minister's statement if we pay attention to the reaction of the state government of Manipur, the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, and the media after that. To calm the wave of anger that broke out in the country after the video of Kuki women being openly sexually assaulted, the Prime Minister expressed his anger in about 30 seconds in his long statement given outside the parliament before the commencement of the monsoon session. He, in a statesman-like manner, asked the Chief Ministers of all the states to protect women. Manipur came last in his address in which he carefully mentioned Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh first as states where violence against women takes place.

By doing so, he tried to create a false equivalence between individual cases of violence against women and the violence in Manipur, which is majoritarian, organised, and directed against the minority Kuki community. The women in the video were violated and assaulted because they belonged to the Kuki community. But the PM wanted to cover it, he cunningly and viciously turned the whole discussion in a different direction.

And then the BJP went to the town saying that now that the Prime Minister has spoken very strongly on the violence in Manipur, there is no point in questioning the government about Manipur. It was argued that after this statement, the opposition should give up its insistence that the violence in Manipur should be discussed in Parliament, and that the government was not bound to answer the questions of the opposition as the Prime Minister has cleared the government's stand.

After his statement, four persons seen in the video have been arrested. Even the house of one of the accused has been burnt by the women of the village. The Chief Minister of Manipur, Biren Singh, has expressed his intention to ask for capital punishment for the accused. The government wants the matter to end here, and that insistence to talk about it is only an ugly ploy to politicize it. And we find the media going back to normalcy after the initial eruption of moral outrage. Television viewers tell us that Manipur is no longer the main news now.

There was a hint in the statement of the PM, and it was taken by the BJP leaders and the media. BJP leaders started asking why this video was being aired at this point. Some leaders allege that the opposition already knew about this video. According to them, there is definitely a conspiracy behind it: look at the timing; it was aired on the eve of the monsoon session of the parliament so the opposition should use this pretext to make Manipur an issue in Parliament and not allow the government to do the necessary work.

But we know that the opposition had already made it clear that it wanted a discussion first on Manipur. After all, what can be a bigger and more important issue than Manipur, a state burning in the fire of violence for 3 months, and both the state and federal governments look helpless in front of it? The opposition didn't need this video for this demand. Yet BJP leaders are saying why the video was released some 3 months after the violence: there must be a conspiracy!

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Constants Attempts at Deflection

Apart from this, the debate has now shifted towards violence against women in other states. Efforts are being made to explain that this matter is not only of Manipur. BJP leaders are asking why people are not talking about Bengal, Rajasthan; why only Manipur violence is being talked about. A minister says that the debate on violence against women in Bengal, Rajasthan is very important because the real issue is violence against women. Some intellectuals are saying that rape or sexual violence is not such an extraordinary thing. It keeps happening all the time. One is reminded of a 21-year-old statement of BJP's ally George Fernandes. In 2002, after the sexual violence against Muslim women in Gujarat, he said that such things keep happening, and one should not make it an issue.

Twitter has been told not to allow such content to circulate. The Chief Minister of Manipur regrets that this video has tarnished the image of a state like Manipur where people consider women as mothers. This means that the entire fault is this video going viral. The concern is about the image of Manipur. Manipur should not be defamed, India's respect should remain intact in the eyes of the world.

Do you remember PM Modi's statement after the video of Tabrez Ansari being lynched by a mob in Jharkhand a few years back? He was forced to react after the video of the ghastly lynching went viral. But he gave a clever statement: “I am pained, and those responsible will get stringent punishment, but it is wrong on the part of the Opposition to call Jharkhand a hub of lynching as that is akin to insulting all the people in the state.”

The matter is not just about this heinous violence done to two women. It is about violence against thousands of Kuki people. Not only these two, many other Kuki women have also faced sexual violence. More than 125 Kukis have been killed. In this violence, the state has been against the Kuki people. Violent Meitei gangs have been allowed to loot weapons. The violated women also told the press that it would be wrong to say that the mob snatched them from the police; in fact, the police left them with the mob.

This violence cannot be explained away by citing the historical Kuki-Meitei divide. It needs to be clearly stated that the violence that we see today is fuelled by the state.

The Chief Minister, BJP leaders, and the media are still blaming the 'drug mafia,' smuggling, and outsiders for the violence. There is still a reluctance to say, and that too in the intellectual community, that this is, in fact, violence perpetrated on the Kuki minority by the Meitei majoritarian BJP government.

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Ideology of Lies and Violence

The violence not only strengthens the Meitei majoritarianism but at the same time serves to create a scare of outsiders in the minds of the people of other parts of the country. The BJP wants to tell its constituents through this violence that identifying and controlling external elements or outsiders has its own cost and they should be prepared to bear with it.

The supporters of the BJP are trying to justify this violence. According to them, Kuki people are attacking the police or others by using women as shields. Then those women will also have to bear the consequences!

We also see the Chief Minister of Assam is trying to incite violence in Assam exactly the way the CM of Manipur has done. He has been calling the Bengali Muslims outsiders who must be driven away. He is preparing the ground for mass violence against them. We are watching in silence. In other parts of the country, the Prime Minister, BJP, and RSS have made historical outsiders or infiltrators their targets. People know who they are. Hindi cinema and media have joined this vicious anti-outsider campaign.

The Supreme Court also understood the seriousness of the situation only after the video came to its notice, whereas the issue had already been placed before it in the first week of May. But the court then was more concerned about decorum. It refrained from intervening. Now it is expressing its anguish. What then is the difference between an ordinary person on the street and the learned justices?

Why are we forced to face this hypocrisy, lies, fraud, and shamelessness? Because we gave power to the ideology of lies and violence. Now we can get rid of violence only by ousting this government that champions the ideology of hate and violence and division. Only then will we be able to get some moral relief?

(The writer teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand__. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Manipur violence 

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