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NCW 'fails to take cognisance' of torture, rape, molestation, lynching of Manipur women

Rekha Sharma
Counterview Desk 
Releasing an open letter to the National Commission of Women (NCW) signed by about 400 activists, several women’s organisations (Unity in Compassion, National Federation of Indian Women, Indian Christian Women's Movement, All India Mahila Samskritik Sanghatan and Young Women's Christian Association) have taken strong exception to NCW for being unresponsive to their effort to meet its chairperson, Rekha Sharma, despite several pleas to discuss violence against women in Manipur.
The NCW attitude has “forced us to conclude that they either do not care or want to peddle their own narratives without listening or discussing the issue with civil society”, the women’s groups said, noting, this is the main reason why they are releasing the letter.
They regretted, the statements from NCW on Manipur “have been disappointing”, as it seems “more concerned about one case in West Bengal, rather than investigate horrors that women in Manipur are being forced to endure”, which include “women being paraded naked to mutilation of their bodies to torturous deaths.”

Excerpts:

We are deeply anguished by the targeted violence and ethnic cleansing unfolding in Manipur since May 2023. Over the last two months and still continuing, ethnic Kuki-Zo communities have been subjected to horrific incidents of violence, along with looting and vandalism, documented cases of rape, and gross violations of human and women’s rights on an unprecedented scale. Sadly, the violence is continuing as we submit this memorandum.
One such disturbing and shocking incident occurred on May 4, 2023, a day after clashes erupted between the Meitei and Kuki communities. Five Kuki – Zo residents of village B. Phainom, Kangpokpi, Manipur were captured from police custody by a violent mob as they were fleeing with their families from the attack by Meitei militants.
The three captured women were forced to strip naked, paraded through the streets, where they were molested. Subsequently, one of the three women was brutally gang-raped. The parade and assault was violating their dignity, autonomy, and fundamental human rights. The women managed to escape with the help of some locals who were known to them.
The entire incident was recorded on video, allegedly by the assailants to show off their power and sadistic masculinity, has gone viral on social media, creating an international outrage. In the video, the ruthless mob could be seen attacking the private parts of the two women while they were paraded like criminals in the streets.
Based on the complaint, a zero FIR was registered at the Saikul police station in Kangpokpi district on May 18, according to the police, against unknown miscreants, numbering around 800 – 1000 with the charges of rape, murder, and other offenses. However, no arrests were made, nor was any investigation done till it was taken cognizance off by the Supreme Court (20 July).
Media reports are repeatedly highlighting the brazen impunity with which mobs are being allowed to operate. The police, administration, government have failed to protect people and have failed to take any action against the perpetrators.

Some more similar instances are listed below:

  1. Before the outbreak of violence in Konung Mamang Imphal, both women used to work at a car wash. On May 3, 2023, radical Meitei groups began conducting house-to-house searches to find Kuki-Zo individuals residing in the vicinity. The co-workers shared that once the radicals recognized the two of them, they forcibly took them inside a room and locked them where they underwent humiliation, torture, sexual assault, and were then killed.
  2. On May 4, 2023, at Nightingale Nursing Institute in Porompat, Imphal. The neighbours and a mob forcibly frisked the two girls and removed them from the institute. They were violently dragged by their hair along the roadside and then mercilessly beaten by the mob knocking their teeth out. The thrashing caused them to lose consciousness, leading the mob to presume they were dead and depart from the scene. Subsequently, the hostel owner took them to JNIMS ICU, and later they were transferred to the Army hospital for further treatment.
  3. A widow and mother of two children went through a terrible ordeal of torture and beatings on May 6, 2023, ultimately leading to her death. On May 7, 2023, with the assistance of the Gorkha Regiment and the Police, her body was recovered. Shockingly, during the process of retrieval, it was discovered that the radical mobs killed her and subsequently set the body on fire to destroy evidence.
  4. K was kidnapped from Checkon, Imphal on May 15 and taken to a compact Meitei settlement along the Wangkhei Ayang Palli Road, where a mob of men and women subjected her to a brutal assault. They kicked her in the stomach and hit her eyes with the butt of a gun. When she resisted their sexual advances, they threatened her with dire consequences. A medical examination later at a hospital in Kohima confirmed the assault and rape she endured.
  5. A young boy and his family had taken shelter at the Assam Rifles camp in Assam since May 3, 2023. During a firing incident at the camp on June 4, 2023, the boy was hit in the head by a bullet, and another bullet struck his mother's hand. Due to the critical condition of their injuries, they were being taken to Imphal in an ambulance for further treatment and the boy’s aunt accompanied them. The ambulance was accompanied by Assam Rifles personnel and a police convoy. However, their journey was halted by a group called the 'Meira Paibis’, consisting of about 2000 people who attacked the ambulance and set it on fire, resulting in the three individuals being charred to death inside the ambulance. A school teacher reported that the bodies were charred to the extent that only some bones could be found in the ashes.
  6. A woman in her 50s from the Maring Naga community, was brutally beheaded. Her body was later taken to the morgue.
These incidents occurred in the context of communal violence, which further highlights the vulnerability of women during such conflicts. The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and steps must be taken to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
As reports of torture, rape, molestation and lynchings surface, the world watches in horror at the absence of any reaction from the National Commission for Women. The barbaric video of girls being paraded has evoked the reaction of pain from the Prime Minister; the Supreme Court took suo moto notice and wants the Central and State government to investigate and penalize; the Chief Minister, acknowledged knowing about 100s of such incidences, and used it to justify the shutting down of internet in the state! We would like to reiterate that closing communication is only going to give impunity to the mobs to perpetrate more atrocities. Just because we do not see the crime does not mean that it has not happened.
NCW does not have powers to penalize or arrest, but has mandate to investigate, prepare report and direct police to file chargesheet
In light of this, we urge the National Commission for Women to take immediate action and ensure the security of women in Manipur, and that the culprits of these ghastly crimes are arrested.
NCW does not have the powers to penalize or arrest, but it does have the mandate to investigate, prepare a report and direct the police to file chargesheets. We want the NCW to do its job of making a report and ensuring that the government not only takes legal action against culprits, but also provide succour to the affected women. We call on the National Commission for Women:
  • To organize a Fact-Finding Visit team and send them to Manipur to assess the situation on the ground, gather data and insights, and engage with stakeholders to ensure an immediate end to the ongoing brutality. There are enough women lawyers, activists, academics and human rights defenders who will be able to collaborate and offer help in the fact finding.
  • The NCW also needs to take a stand against the criminalizing of fact finding by civil society. The FIR against an all women team that went to Manipur, is clearly an attempt to suppress democracy and not allow women from across the country to empathize with those suffering. 
  • NCW needs to issue summons to obtain a report regarding the actions taken by the police in response to the heinous crimes and any related documents to ascertain the facts, identify the perpetrators, and ensure that they are held accountable for their actions. We would like to point out again, that the women were taken from police custody. There are numerous cases where the police and armed forces are either facilitating mobs or look the other way as criminals satisfy their sadism. NCW needs to look into all the cases regarding women and compile a report. They need to summon the authorities and file status reports in case the latter are uncooperative.

Collaboration with State Authorities:

To engage with the State police to monitor the progress of the ongoing investigation and thereafter the legal proceedings to ensure a fair and speedy trial for the victims.
To contact the chief secretary of the State to obtain information on the compensation provided to the victims of the assault, violence, looting, etc..

Litigation Assistance and Support:

Take proactive steps to provide support to the survivors of these horrifying incidents, including legal aid along with medical and psychological assistance. Victims and survivors of social-political violence need physical and mental healthcare, and the NCW needs to draw a policy document that will allow them to access it.

Public Statement:

  • Release a public statement strongly condemning the horrifying incidents of violation of women's rights in the state of Manipur and urging the State to take concrete actions to address the situation.
  • Seek accountability from the political leadership of the state. With its mandate, we hope that NCW will be able to pressurize the government into stopping the violence that is continuing since May 3.
We look forward to your immediate attention and action on this on this critical issue.

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