In the northeastern state of Manipur, India, a shocking video has emerged on social media, showing two women from the minority Kuki tribe being forcibly stripped, paraded naked, publicly molested and allegedly gang-raped by a mob of men from the majority Meitei community. The incident took place on May 4, 2023, amid the ongoing ethnic violence in the state that has claimed over 100 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.
The graphic video, which has been circulated on social media depicts the terrified victims surrounded by a crowd of fully clothed men, many brandishing long canes or sticks as weapons. The women were dragged to a paddy field, where they were sexually assaulted by some of the men, while others cheered and filmed the crime.
The video sparked outrage and condemnation from across the country, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the situation in Manipur for the first time on July 20.
However, many have questioned the delayed response and action by the authorities, as the case was filed almost 70 days ago and the arrests were made only after the video went viral. The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a group representing the Kuki tribe, issued a statement on July 19, accusing the state government of concealing the heinous crimes committed against the Kuki community and using rape as a weapon by Meitei mobs.
According to the ITLF, the incident on May 4 occurred after the women’s village was burnt down and two men were beaten to death by a Meitei mob. The ITLF also claimed that this was not an isolated case, but one of many similar attacks on Kuki women by Meitei men since violence erupted in Manipur in early May.
The violence was triggered by a rally held by thousands of students, mostly from the Kuki tribe, on May 3 in Imphal, the state capital, against the demand by some Meitei groups for special tribal status. The tribal status would enable the Meitei to buy land and access more opportunities for government jobs. The Kuki tribe, which already enjoys tribal status along with other ethnic groups in Manipur, opposed this demand, fearing it would erode their rights and identity.
The rally turned violent when some protesters clashed with police and set fire to vehicles and buildings. The next day, several villages inhabited by Kuki people were attacked and torched by Meitei mobs, resulting in deaths and injuries. Since then, the state has witnessed sporadic incidents of arson, looting, lynching and sexual violence along ethnic lines.
The state government has imposed curfew and deployed security forces to restore law and order, but has failed to prevent further escalation of violence or bring justice to the victims. The opposition Congress party has slammed Modi’s handling of the issue and demanded a discussion in Parliament. Human rights groups have also urged for an independent inquiry and accountability for the perpetrators.
The situation in Manipur reflects the deep-rooted ethnic tensions and conflicts that have plagued India’s northeastern region for decades. The region is home to more than 200 ethnic groups with diverse cultures, languages and religions. Many of these groups have grievances over land rights, political representation, development and identity. Some have also waged armed insurgencies against the Indian state or rival communities.
The video of the two women being abused in Manipur has exposed not only the brutality and impunity of sexual violence against women in India, but also the fragility and complexity of ethnic relations in the northeast. It has also raised questions about the role and responsibility of the state and society in addressing these issues and ensuring peace and justice for all.