Thousands protest mob assault of women who were paraded naked in remote Indian border state

Thousands of people, mostly women, held a massive sit-in in India’s violence-wracked northeastern state of Manipur on Saturday to demand the immediate arrest of anyone who took part in the harrowing May assault of two women who were paraded around naked and molested by a mob in an attack that was caught on video, Associated Press reported.

The leaders of religious and women’s groups addressed the nearly 15,000 protesters, who also called for the firing of Biren Singh, the top elected official in the state where more than 130 people have been killed since violence between two dominant ethnic groups erupted in early May. The protest was held in Churachandpur, a town 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Imphal, the state capital.

Manipur has been the scene of a near-civil war that was sparked by Christian Kukis protesting against a demand by the mostly Hindu Meiteis for a special status that would let them buy land in the hills populated by Kukis and other tribal groups, as well as a guaranteed share of government jobs.

A video showing the women being assaulted triggered widespread outrage and has been widely shared on social media despite the government largely blocking the internet and keeping journalists out of the remote state. The footage shows the two naked women surrounded by scores of young men who grope their genitals and drag them to a field.

The women are from the Kuki-Zo community, according to the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, a tribal organization in Manipur. One of them told The Associated Press that the men who assaulted them were part of a Meitei mob that had earlier torched their village.

“They forced us to remove our clothes and said we will be killed if we don’t do as told. Then they made us walk naked. They abused us. They touched us everywhere … on our breasts, our genitals,” she said by phone from Manipur.

The woman said the duo was then led into a field where they were both sexually assaulted. The two women are now safe in a refugee camp.

Police said the assault occurred May 4, a day after the violence between the Kukis and Meiteis started. According to a police complaint filed on May 18, the mob attacked the family of the two women and killed its two male members. The complaint alleges rape and murder by “unknown miscreants.”

The emergence and widespread sharing of the video led India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to break his more than two months of public silence over the ethnic clashes in Manipur, saying Thursday that the attack on the women was unforgivable.

The Manipur state government on Saturday announced a fifth arrest in the attack. Rajiv Singh, the state’s director-general of police, said officers were carrying out raids to arrest other suspects.

The deadly clashes have persisted despite the army’s presence in Manipur, a state of 3.2 million people tucked in the mountains on India’s border with Myanmar that is now divided into two ethnic zones. More than 60,000 people have fled to packed relief camps.

Nearly 400 men and women also held a protest in the Indian capital with similar demands. They carried placards reading “We demand action against the perpetrators” and ”Resign, Biren Singh.”

In Manipur state, the protesters assembled at a “Wall of Remembrance” site in an open ground in Churachandpur, a stronghold of the Kuki tribe, where they kept dummy coffins of people from their minority community who have been killed in the violence.

Ngaineikim, the chairperson of the Kuki Women’s Organization for Human Rights, accused Singh, who belongs to the majority Meiti community, of orchestrating atrocities and then expressing sympathy for the victims.

Singh did not immediately comment on the calls to resign, but on Thursday, he said an investigation was underway to ensure “strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment. Let it be known, there is absolutely no place for such heinous acts in our society.”

 

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