By Guest Writer Prabhu Gupta

The small Indian state of Manipur has been engulfed in intense civil conflict due to ethnic tensions. The primary Meitei population, along with the smaller Kuki minority, are engaged in a struggle for control and territorial dominance, leading to violent clashes. Recently, a video went viral showing two naked women being paraded naked, molested, and raped by a mob in the violence-inflicted areas resulting in a huge uproar from both within and outside the nation.

Factual Backdrop and issues leading to the crisis

The northeastern Indian state of Manipur, situated to the east of Bangladesh and sharing a border with Myanmar, has a population of approximately 3.3 million people. The majority population belongs to the Meiteis, while around 43% belong to the Kuki and Naga tribes, which make up the predominant minority groups.

In Manipur a situation of ongoing violence began in May, resulting in the death of at least 130 people and injuries to 400 more. The conflict also forced over 60,000 individuals from their homes. The authorities—including the army, paramilitary forces, and police—are striving to suppress the violence, which has seen incidents such as the looting of police armouries, the destruction of places of worship such as churches and temples, and the devastation of villages.

The tensions escalated when the Kuki community started protesting against the Meitei community’s demand for official tribal status. The Kukis, under the belief that granting such status would further empower the Meiteis’ already significant influence in government and society, potentially allowing them to acquire land or settle in predominantly Kuki areas.

However, there are numerous underlying factors contributing to the conflict. The Kukis assert that the Meitei-led government’s campaign against drugs is a cover to uproot their communities. Unlawful migration from Myanmar has added to the strain, increasing competition for land due to population growth. Additionally, unemployment has pushed young individuals towards various militias.

The Plight of Women during Conflict

After the airing of the video in question, the administration was finally compelled to abandon its prolonged silence concerning the troubles in Manipur. Subsequent to investigations, numerous individuals were apprehended. The incidents of violence and mistreatment against women in the midst of the ongoing conflict are numerous and difficult to quantify: women face horrendous acts of aggression including being burned, objectified, lynched by mobs, and subjected to sexual assault; all of which flagrantly disregard their fundamental human rights.

Human history is marred with instances of wartime sexual violence in conflicts of all sizes. Be it the infamous Rape of Nanking, the World Wars, the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, or the Manipur violence, the practice of using women’s bodies as battlefields continues even today with the Manipur incident being the latest example. What is even more horrifying is the inaction of the country’s administration regarding the issue.

The fact that the initial arrest occurred over two months after the attack was reported to the police undermines confidence in the authorities. This is even more concerning considering that many of the men involved are clearly identifiable in the video footage. However, only the public outcry that ensued after the video came to light       directed attention to the heinous crime. It also raised concerns about the state’s failure to provide support to the survivors, ultimately compelling Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister of India and the leader of the ruling party, to address the issue of ethnic violence that is causing division in Manipur. In order to restore a degree of trust in Manipur, particularly among the minority Kuki community, there is now significant pressure on the authorities to promptly take action against the perpetrators and ensure justice for the women affected. People throughout the country believe that such events should not be occurring in modern India or anywhere in the modern world.

Discussion, Analysis, and Conclusion

The survivors of the incident are being labelled as “daughters,” which conveys a perception of them as individuals under the authority of the patriarchal structure where, in this context, the state represents that patriarch. This same “paternalistic” attitude has been evident in statements made by various politicians since the incident occurred. For instance, Vinod Sharma, a spokesperson for Bihar’s BJP, resigned from the party, stating that the incident had “defamed India.” Similarly, Chief Minister Biren Singh declared statewide protests because the viral video had “tarnished the state’s image.” This approach raises concerns as it implies that the violation of women’s bodies should only gain national significance when it is linked to the tarnishing of a nation’s reputation.

It appears that there’s a prevalent perception that women are deserving of respect solely based on their conventional roles as mothers, sisters, and daughters. Without invoking these familial connections, there seems to be skepticism regarding the recognition of their intrinsic value. For those genuinely committed to preserving the “dignity” of the survivors, it’s crucial to transcend the stigmatization and stereotypes often associated with victims, which paint them as vulnerable and powerless. Instead, there should be a belief in their capacity to regain agency, recover, and reconstruct their lives at their own pace and according to their own preferences.

A holistic approach requires recognizing the deep-rooted problems that contribute to the vulnerability of women in this conflict-ridden environment. These discussions would serve as a platform for hearing the voices and experiences of women who have been subjected to various forms of violence and discrimination. By listening to their perspectives, understanding their unique challenges, and acknowledging their agency, it becomes possible to formulate meaningful solutions having long lasting consequences. This endeavor demands a concerted effort to address not only the immediate concerns of safety and protection for women but also the underlying causes that perpetuate gender-based violence and inequality. Just as the Manipur conflict’s resolution necessitates a comprehensive approach, the issues faced by women require a multifaceted strategy that encompasses legal reforms, social awareness campaigns, and initiatives that empower women economically and socially. An effort needs to be undertaken in order to change the narrative and prevent any such incidents from happening ever again.

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