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Timely and Collective Action Could Have Helped Avert Most Atrocities in Manipur

As a nation, we should ask ourselves if the political class is making us numb to issues of 'national importance'.

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Even as the video of two Kuki-Zo rape survivors being paraded naked by a Meitei mob in Manipur has shocked and deeply touched the conscience of the nation, there are deeper questions that need to be asked.

The survivors filed a zero FIR on 18 May when the incident happened on 4 May – but the police station concerned registered the case only on 21 May. Only after the video became viral did the Chief Minister of Manipur promise action on 19 July.

One of the women is a 21-year-old BA student and the other is a 40-year-old married woman. The two women somehow survived though the father and brother of the younger survivor in the video were killed on the same day.

The fact that the incident occurred in a Kuki village in Kangpokpi district speaks volumes about the nature of this ongoing Meitei-Kuki conflict.
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Many More Disturbing Incidents Yet To Come to Light 

There have been other instances of rape which have gone unreported in the press. On the night of 3 May, two Kuki-Zo women who worked in a carwash service in Konung Mamang, Imphal, were dragged out of their room by radical Meiteis who went hunting door to door for Kukis. They were allegedly kept in a room, raped, and killed, and their bodies still lie in a morgue in Imphal.

There is a long list of women who became survivors of the ongoing violence. The horrific sight of the charred remains of a Kuki widow has been making rounds on social media. A septuagenarian woman who was killed inside a church while saying her morning prayers was later erroneously labelled as a 'Kuki sniper’. A mentally challenged woman was also not spared in Imphal.

In another horrifying case, a Kuki man, David Thiek, was beheaded and his head was hung on a pole. The image of David’s remorseless killer holding his severed head was circulated in social media, but surprisingly no action is reportedly taken yet.

Shockingly, in a talk show, a Meitei professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University justified the claims of the Meiteis for an ST status by defending the beheading or the "head-hunting” as proof of Meiteis' tribalness. Another leaked video shows Meitei women insensitively asking a mob to 'finish off’ two Kuki nursing students. They were beaten mercilessly and thinking that they were dead, they were left at a road side. When the police came, they found them still beathing and took them to a hospital and later recovered.

While the state government continuously claims that a semblance of normalcy has returned in Manipur, the situation on the ground is quite different.

Not just the tribals but even the life of the ordinary Meitei people in Imphal valley has become very difficult, not to forget the shortages of food and medicines both in the hill and valley. Even the farmers are unable to cultivate their crops.

Much of Bloodshed Could Have Been Avoided

Alarm bells should have rung in the corridors of power when the Indian Army was forced to release 12 dreaded members of Meitei insurgent groups who were reportedly responsible for the killing of 18 Indian Army personnel of the Dogra regiment in Manipur in 2015. The Hindustan Times reported that a local MLA helped negotiate the release.

The mainland Indian press didn’t consider it worthy enough for adequate coverage, which would have been a different case had the situation been in Kashmir or Punjab.

The fact that Chief Minister N Biren Singh blamed the “Illegal immigrants”, “poppy planters”, and “narco-terrorists” for the violence, instead of trying to douse the flame, was unfortunate. No wonder the Kuki-Zo assert that he is only the Chief Minister of the Meiteis!

What has led to such abnormal, inhumane acts of atrocity towards fellow human beings is difficult to gauge. However, at least the prolongation of the violence could have been averted had the nation risen up collectively. Very few people were even aware of the situation on the ground as they were busy with the election season.

As a nation, perhaps we should start asking ourselves if too much public ‘space’ is already captured by the political class making us numb to other issues of 'national importance’. Initially, very few journalists also ventured inside Manipur to find out the enormity of the situation with most relying majorly on Imphal-based media houses which often replicated the majoritarian narrative.

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No Country for (Tribal) Women?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally broke his silence and called for the strictest punishment for the culprits. The Manipur police have reported that the four culprits have been caught. The question is, can we blame only four people when a mob was parading and harassing those two helpless women? Can the rest of them be considered innocent and given a free pass or will the Manipur Police continue to hunt for other offenders?

Ironically, a nation that has a tribal woman as its President, still witnesses tribal women being subjected to rape and torture in the margins. It’s another matter that no words of condemnation have been received from the Honourable President’s end.
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The Governor of Manipur, Anusuiya Uikey, herself is a tribal. It is only a matter of time once the ban on the internet in Manipur is lifted, the nation will witness more such sickening videos.

However, no matter how important it might be to deliver justice to this particular rape case, far more important is to bring the conflict to an end. Undoubtedly, the people of Manipur have suffered for far too long.

The Central government in Delhi cannot allow one of its states to burn for almost three months and still hope to be a peacemaker and a guide to the world. It’s high time the nation collectively comes together, irrespective of party affiliations, religion, caste, and creed, and singularly focuses on bringing permanent peace to Manipur.

If Manipur continues to burn, it will not only tarnish our country’s image but also will also darken our collective conscience, smear our hearts with the blood stains of the innocents, and may become a pattern to more abysses of dastardly violence elsewhere in the country in the future.

(Dr David Hanneng, currently a Tata Samvaad fellow, and social activist based in Nagaland, now engaged as an Independent Researcher on issues that effects the Northeast. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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