Troubling questions on a wrenching video

New Delhi: Adjectives cannot convey the horror of what’s happened in Manipur. It’s beyond description. Instead, it’s been seared into our conscience like the dreadful Nirbhaya rape a decade ago. But the May 4th rapes are only one deplorable instance. From two different sources we know there are perhaps five more.

For days to come our attention will be riveted on the gruesome details. Indeed, I fear there is worse to follow. However, today let me focus on some of the questions raised by the official response to the May 4th incident. They’re also disturbing.

The younger of the two women has told the Indian Express: “The police were there with the mob which was attacking our village.” Does that mean our supposed protectors stood by and watched like spectators? She adds: “We were given to them (the mob) by the police.” Does this mean, even if outnumbered, the police weakly surrendered? They certainly did not defend the women at the cost of their own safety and lives. But isn’t that what we would have expected?

After handing over the women, how come the police did not summon additional forces? Should that not have been the obvious and immediate response? Not only did that not happen, the women were left to walk seven kilometers to the nearest hospital. At least, at this point, the police could have been man enough to reappear and help?

Now, the first FIR was registered on 18th May. The second on 21st June. But the police say they couldn’t act because they did not have evidence and couldn’t identify the perpetrators. Really? Could they not identify the men they handed the women to? Did they forget their faces? The younger woman has told the Express she recognized some members of the mob, including a friend of her brother’s. Was that not sufficient? The truth is even till today the police have not recorded the women’s statements.

Let’s move on. Chief Minister Biren Singh claims he took “suo moto” cognizance of this case when he saw the video. Suo moto? The FIR was first filed two months ago.

The Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) has revealed she informed Manipur’s Chief Secretary (CS) and Director General of Police (DGP) of this incident on 19th June. Did no one tell the Chief Minister? And what about the CS and DGP? Why did they not act?

One more point. For two months the authorities claim they couldn’t act because they couldn’t identify the perpetrators. In the next 24 hours they arrested four. Is that a response at the speed of summer lightening or yet another question that needs an answer?

Finally, let’s come to the NCW. On 12th June it received a letter from the North American Manipur Tribal Association and two Manipuri women activists which said: “On May 4th, two women from B. Phainom village of Kangpokpi district of Manipur were disrobed, paraded naked, beaten, and then encircled by a marauding Meitei mob and raped in public. The state police commandoes remained mere spectators … the two survivors are housed at a Churachandpur district relief camp.” I’d say that’s pretty specific and detailed.

However, Rekha Sharma, the NCW Chairperson, says she couldn’t act because the information was “generic … and not just one specific incident”. She also claims the Commission couldn’t send a delegation because of the situation in Manipur. Yet Rahul Gandhi was able to visit. Also women social activists led by Annie Raja. But not the intrepid Commission.

However, give her her due, Sharma did write to the CS and DGP. They did nothing and she didn’t bother. Does this mean she did the bare minimum required or is even that disputable?

Let me end with one of the comments politicians make when they little realize it might boomerang. In 2017, when Congress was in power, the Prime Minister tweeted: “Those who cannot ensure peace in the state have no right to govern Manipur.” I wouldn’t quarrel with that.

( The views expresed by the author in this article are his personal )



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