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Outlawed Manipur militant groups used sexual violence as weapon: Tribal women leaders

By Rishit Neogi 

Giving details of a report prepared by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) ‘Crimes against Kuki-Zo women by the Meiteis, May 3-July 6, 2023’, Dr Vasvi Kiro of the Indigenous Women’s India Network, and ex-member, Jharkhand State Women’s Commission, has blamed the “preplanned” violence against Kukis in Manipur on outlawed Meitei militant groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun.
Stating that this was being done under the guise of government surveys the shows various instances where the attackers were tacitly supported by state organs such as armed police. Women from Kuki and Zo communities were raped, gang-raped, paraded naked, murdered and mutilated by attackers, Dr Kiro said.
Also present at the media conference in Ranchi, women leaders Mamta Kujur (Adivasi Mahila Mahasangh and noted tribal activist from Chhattisgarh), Aloka Kujur (Mahila Utpidan Virodhi aur Vikas Samiti) and Purabi Pal (Shramjivi Mahila Samiti) demanded strict and immediate action from the government to end the Manipur violence. The panel outlined the nature of violence inflicted upon tribal women in the Manipur unrest.
Dr Vasvi Kiro specified that the nature of violence upon women in Manipur is political in nature. People are sharing videos of violence on women from various parts of India to claim that what is happening in Manipur is nothing new. But Dr. Kiro clarified that sporadic incidents are not the same as a planned attack on masses of women. Dr. Kiro blamed the current socio-economic condition in Manipur for the on-going tragedy.
While it is true that ethnic clashes have long existed between Meiteis and Kukis or between other groups, these have been aggravated due to growing corporate interests in mining in these regions. But no matter what the cultural, political or economic reasons might exist, women cannot be used as instruments of war. From kids, young and teenage girls to senior citizens, Meitei militants spared no one.
According to the ITLF report, UN recognises that “sexual violence is used as weapons of war, intentionally designed to inflict bodily harm on primarily, but not exclusively, female victims. These acts also serve to terrify and humiliate not only the individuals targeted but also their families and communities”. The report recalls the mass rape of 21 tribal women belonging to the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar- Mizo ethnic group by Meitei militants in Tipaimukh area of outer Manipur in 2005.
The report also mentions the role played by the Meitei women’s group Meira Paibis in the recent violence. It is a matter of great concern as Meira Paibis or Women Torch Bearers are known for their protests against atrocities committed by Indian armed forces in 2004.
The ITLF report mentions involvement of Meira Paibis in multiple incidents either insinuating mobs to rape and kill Kuki-Zo women or directly conducting attacks. Meria Paibis were involved in the incident where two Kuki-Zo women were paraded naked in Kanggui district on 4 May, the video of which was highly circulated on social media.
The report highlights the gruesome attacks on defenceless women and children that started on 3 May and continued unabated till July. The report points out the complicity or non-compliance of state actors in multiple instances. The report mentions cases where women have been fired upon by security forces.
In some places, like in the infamous video from Kanggui district, police are purported to have handed over the innocent people to bloodthirsty mobs. In some cases, security was denied to Kuki – Zo people. In another case, armed Meitei militants came in military trucks wearing IRB (Indian Reserve Battalion) uniforms to raid villages.
Many of the women who were attacked were employed in government services. Young students and working women were targeted. Women have been murdered along with their children on multiple occasions. On 4 June, a 7 year old child who had suffered a bullet injury in his head was being taken to the hospital for treatment.
The women leaders from indigenous communities criticised the central government for its complacency in handling the situation
The ambulance was allegedly burned by Meira Paibis, killing everyone inside. The child of a Kuki father and Meitei mother died along with his mother and another Metei woman who was accompanying them to the hospital.
On 6 July, a senior woman with mental disability was murdered by Meitei militants and her body lay on the road for hours. Many of the senior women who were murdered were branded as Kuki-Zo militants, snipers or suicide bombers by Meitei-centric regional media to justify their killings.
Through the press conference, indigenous women questioned the silence of tribal leaders such as President, Draupadi Murmu, Minister of Tribal Affairs, Arjun Munda and former Law Minister Kiren Rijiju. Terming the Manipur pogrom as a complete failure of state governance and administration, they demanded immediate resignation of CM Biren Singh.
The women leaders from indigenous communities also criticised the central government for its complacency in handling the situation. They also demanded the removal of head of National Women’s Commission for its failure to take cognizance of the issue when it happened. The women leaders demanded immediate restoration of peace in Manipur through collective efforts.
All the registered FIRs of violence must be investigated urgently and perpetrators should be arrested. Unreported crimes should be investigated as well. An independent judicial commission should probe the Manipur violence transparently. They also urged leaders from different state governments to demand accountability from central government to resolve the issue.
Sukhmani Lakra and Evangelista (Shramjivi Mahila Samiti), Laxmi Gope (Mahila Utpidan Virodhi aur Vikas Samiti) and activists Daisy Surin, Hema Kumari Munda and Aman Tirkey remained present at the press conference that was organised in Bihar Club, Ranchi. 
The leaders charted the next steps of action which include meeting Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, President Draupadi Murmu and other tribal leaders before the end of monsoon session of the Parliament to demand their intervention.

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