Manipur: Questions over police role after women paraded naked by mob in India

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Questions are being asked about the role of the police in the ghastly incident where two women were paraded naked by a mob of men in India’s Manipur state.

A video of the incident, which took place on 4 May, went viral on Wednesday and caused global outrage.

On Thursday, police opened a case of gang rape, arrested four men and said they would be making more arrests soon.

But many are asking why it took them so long to act – a police complaint had been lodged just days after the incident and many of the men are clearly identifiable in the footage.

Warning: This article contains details some readers may find distressing.

Also, a damning detail that has emerged from the written complaint – the BBC has seen a copy of it – filed by a relative of one of the women, is that the mob allegedly took the survivors from police custody. And two of the survivors have even accused the police of being present, but “not doing anything to help them”.

The police have not denied the accusations and some media reports have quoted unnamed police officials as saying that they were “outnumbered”.

Speaking anonymously to the BBC, a senior government official said the police had received more than 6,000 complaints since the start of the violence on 3 May and the delay in dealing with this case could be because of the “small size of Manipur police”. Also, he said if the government had received the video earlier, the accused would have been arrested sooner.

The BBC has sent questions to the Manipur police and also attempted to contact them over the phone. But they have not responded.

According to the complaint, the survivors, 21 and 42 years old, were travelling in a group of five which included an older woman and two men – the father and the brother of the young woman.

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The group was fleeing violent ethnic clashes that have roiled the north-eastern state bordering Myanmar for over two months now. Clashes between members of the majority Meitei and the Kuki tribal communities have resulted in their complete segregation. At least 130 people have died and 60,000 have been displaced. The survivors seen in the video are Kukis and were assaulted by men of the Meitei group.

Protest in Delhi on 20 July 2023 by members of the Indian Youth Congress against sexual assault of women in Manipur

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The attack on the women took place in the early days of the conflict when they were trying to escape after their village was attacked and burnt down by “a mob of about 800 to 1,000 men, many of them armed”.

In their complaint, they said they were rescued by the police but were “snatched by the violent mob” and forced to strip.

The complaint said that the men were killed and the 21-year-old “was brutally gang-raped in broad daylight”. The third woman, though not seen in the video, had also been forced to strip, it added.

The disturbing footage, showing the women weeping, wincing in pain and begging their attackers to show some mercy, was widely shared on social media on Wednesday.

Among those expressing anger were Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud who said the Supreme Court was “deeply disturbed over the video” and told the government that “we will take action if you don’t”. The parliament has also been disrupted for two days now with opposition lawmakers demanding a debate on the issue.

The outrage put the spotlight on the horrific crime and forced the government to swing into action.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi also finally broke his silence on the goings-on in Manipur. Describing the incident as one that had “shamed India”, he said “no guilty will be spared”. Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh also issued a statement about the first arrest and demanding capital punishment for those involved.

But critics of the government say the fact that the first arrests have been made only now, more than two months after the attack was reported to police, does not inspire confidence in the authorities.

Local Kuki tribal and women’s organisations have also alleged that several other women have been raped in the state and listed out many other heinous crimes against women. The BBC has not been able to independently verify these allegations.

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