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Indian Government Finally Responds to Violence in Manipur

Video of Sexual Assault Leads Prime Minister Modi to Break Silence

A demonstration against sexual violence targeting women and ongoing ethnic violence in India's northeastern state of Manipur, in Imphal, July 21, 2023. © 2023 AFP via Getty Images

For more than two months, India’s Manipur state has been wracked by ethnic violence between Kuki tribal groups and the majority Meitei community. More than 100 lives have been lost and tens of thousands displaced.

But it was only after a video emerged this week from May 4 showing a Meitei mob stripping and parading two Kuki women that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to react.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the incident a “disgrace for the entire country.” The BJP’s chief minister in Manipur state, N. Biren Singh, announced arrests, defending the delay in responding to the police complaint in May by claiming, bizarrely, that “hundreds of similar cases have taken place” and explaining “[t]hat is why the Internet has been shut.”

Internet bans are not a solution to inadequate law enforcement and cause further harm by restricting access to credible information, with rumors inciting retaliatory attacks.

The government failed to act in this case despite police having witnessed the violence. After a large Meitei mob attacked the village in Kangpokpi district, two men and three women – including the two women filmed in the May 4 video – found themselves trapped. The complaint filed with the police said officers had rescued the five who were then "snatched by the violent mob." The mob killed the men and then sexually assaulted the women, one of whom reported being gang-raped.

Civil society activists have alleged that Chief Minister Singh has fueled divisiveness in Manipur with political patronage to violent groups named in this case in the Hindu-majority Meitei community. He has accused the Christian-majority Kuki tribal group of being involved in drug trafficking and providing sanctuary to refugees from Myanmar.  

The government ordered that the video be removed to protect the privacy of survivors and prevent incitement to violence, even as the Supreme Court called for action against this “grossest of human rights violations.”

It should not have taken video evidence for Indian authorities to acknowledge the horrific abuses occurring in Manipur. But the government had earlier chosen defiant denials over action. It responded to a recent European Parliament  resolution condemning the violence in Manipur by saying it was “unacceptable” and reflecting “a colonial mindset.”

The women in the video – and everyone facing violence in Manipur – are entitled to a government that urgently acts to protect them.

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