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Hastinapur to Manipur: Maan and mann haran from Draupadi to the betis of Bharat

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*

It is now more than 90 days that the heinous crime against two Manipuri women took place that we came to know only a fortnight ago when the internet ban was lifted for a few days. And the horrors of Manipur are back to square after 90 days with massive clashes reported across the state. But this time women are also on the ground unfortunately tagged by the media and the system as violent vigilantes. I object to this designation to the women who have been known as feminist icons of Manipur, the Emas or ‘mothers of Manipur’.
As the system and society especially the media, the ministers, the security and the judiciary have to comprehend as under what circumstances the women must have taken the course of hitting the ground. Let us be true to the facts? Did the women start the riot? Did the system do enough to stop the riot and the atrocities against the women by the community, the police and the security forces.
The May 4 incident has shaken the conscience of many in the country. Being a woman, there is a constant feeling of disgust imagining the situation and difficult to get over it. It is not that those 2 women were mistreated, it feels all women in the country are stripped, molested, and raped. Since the time the info of the incident is out, several questions are hovering about patriarchy, community, unity, morality, governance, intelligence, politics, violence, and more. It is definitely bringing anxiety and angst about the men, ministers, system and the society.
It is a constant reminder that women in this country are unsafe in her own house, family, community, village, town, city, society and country. It is also a constant reminder that men in this country are brutal, barbaric, and importantly powerful men are selfish to suppress the poor vulnerable and women through the systematic process of governance, force, justice, law and order.
Just when as women we are trying to comprehend how to resist this brutal act, my friend from Manipur updates me on the 90th day of the incident that, I quote, “Fresh violence going to start all over again. Today is going to be the beginning again.” When I called her immediately to listen to her grievances, there was a constant noise of gun firing and ambulance in the background of the call.
She updated that the security forces and the police may undergo mass ‘shoot at sight’ as the order is in place and since the women are at the forefront a large women casualty is feared. Hearing this itself gives shivers, so thinking that they are living this day in and out for the past 90 days really puts a question on the way the country is being governed and importantly, the way men treat the women.
A sad part is that we, the people of the country, came to know about the May 04 incident because of social media, not the mainstream media. And like friends updating the sad state of affairs whenever they could. The saddest part is that the intelligence, the local police, the local government kept mum about it all the time.
Worst is that after the video is out, the government is more busy sanctioning Twitter for allowing it to be posted instead of inspection and action on the matter. They are more concerned about the image of the state and the country than the state of the women and the justice system. This is exactly what happens in every domestic violence when the family is more focussed on hiding the mistreatment to women than working on reducing the mistreatment in order to save their face ‘as respected’ in the society.
Let us stay reminded that we are still talking about one leaked video. The #ManipurViolence against the women is unprecedented with the riots going on for over 90 days now. In the time of internet ban by the state government, if only one viral video has leaked and shocked and shattered the soul of the country.
It gives shivers to imagine what must have been happening with the women there in the last 90 plus days. It is scary to imagine how many videos are waiting in the pipeline to be brought to the public eye before even the government, the police and the judiciary take cognizance of the same. There must be atrocities continuing against the women, the question is whether more videos will surface or they will be suppressed? Well, when the incidents are not suppressed, the government will do its best to suppress the videos.
So, are we as society institutionalising the molestation, rape and public shaming of women in the country? From the ancient to the modern gang rape culture, it looks we are doing so and rather we have reached an advanced stage with the advent of the communication technology and the rise of the men-led autocracy and capitalism.

Modern gang rape culture

India was never on track regarding the treating its women from the Ramayana-Mahabharata times to today despite the fact that women are given the status of goddesses. The manifold horrors against women dignity that are unfolding in Manipur riots is a multiplication of what keeps happening in isolation regularly across the country and even in many houses till date.
Remembering the incidences from 1979 Phoolan Devi Gang Rape to 2012 Nirbhaya Rape Case known to be the among the most horrific cases of crime against women in the history of Independent India as they have had lasting impact on the country.
Despite the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 passed in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case to increase punishments against atrocities on women, we do not see much change on the ground. This is because the rape culture in the country is somewhat celebrated by the patriarchy since antiquity as can be seen frequenting across the country.
For example, the 2013 Shakti Mills gang rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist by 5 men including a juvenile, the 2017 Unnao gang rape case of a 19 years old woman by men including a sitting MLA in his house, the 2018 Kathua gang rape case of a minor 8 years old Muslim girl by 6 men and a juvenile in a temple, the 2020 Hathras gang rape cum murder of a 19 years old Dalit woman by 4 upper caste Hindu men.
This is when only few cases of gang rape see the light of the judiciary. Many cases still go unreported in the country because our cultural-political-judicial systems are defaming the victim more than the accused. Patriarchy is so deep rooted that it is normalised by all including women, family and friends. So, in case of rape-molestation the women/victims are more on the receiving end for her ‘lost’ dignity and are subject to more ill-treatment by the society.
The cases are not mere cases, they are lives of innocent girls/women and their families that are devastated by the few men resulting in maligning the manhood of the society. Such occurrences are unfortunate and unacceptable and it is important to understand more crucial aspects under which circumstances such heinous crimes take place and what is the justice system after the crime reported. Rapes induced by caste, class, communalism, animosity, and others have a different pattern than those induced during riots.
Remembering the 2002 Gujarat Riot induced gang rape of 21 years old pregnant Bilkis Bano alongside 14 members of her family were murdered. Equally ironic to the crime is the 20 years long judicial process to arrive to a judgement. But then, the High Court of Gujarat and the Government of Gujarat covered up the judgement with premature remission of the 11 convicted men. And if this wasn’t enough, the day they were released, they were publicly garlanded by their political patrons and the women.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice K M Joseph did question the Gujarat government over its decision to prematurely release the convicted men stating that, “The question is whether the government applied its mind and what material formed the basis of its decision to grant remission. Today it is this lady, tomorrow it can be you or me. There must be objective standards. If you do not show your reasons for grant of remission, then we will draw our own conclusions.”
Advocate Rebecca John rightfully echoes the concern of every woman who is aware of the matter that the release of the convicts in Bilkis Bano case sends a disturbing message to the women of the society. This also sends encouraging message to the men of the society that they can get away with anything. 
For example, the number of times Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, convicted of rape and murder, is out on parole and enjoying the public life clearly shows that men and the machinery of judiciary and judgement are patriarchal.
Imagining what happened in the Bilkis Bano case convicts and how the convicted men enjoy parolled life, it is concerning that, a: the case investigation and judicial processes may take ages; and then b: after years of judicial process, if there is any judgement, the convicted men may enjoy parolled lives. So, thinking that may discourage many to even speak up, seek justice, apart from the existing social taboo against the women instead of the convicted men.

Paying for the historical glorification of Draupadi Vastraharan

The Drapuadi 'Cheer Haran' or 'Vastraharan' has set the example of glorifying the gang rape in the country. It seems we will be unable to get over it in the coming years. The Mahabharata, among the greatest war and tragedy of Bharatvarsha, seems did not give us enough lessons. Among the few reasons of raging the war, the Drapuadi Vastraharan was crucial one.
Draupadi, the daughter of the king Drupada, the wife of the Pandavas, the daughter-in-law of the Kurus, and the queen of Indraprastha was dragged by her hair to the courtroom of Hastinapur. She pleaded and thrashed, but Dusshasana didn’t budge. After humiliating and hurling hideous remarks towards Draupadi, Duryodhana ordered Dusshasana to disrobe her publicly in front of the entire court of Hastinapur.
Some aspects from the Vastraharan of Draupadi have clear analogy to draw on the atrocities on women in Manipur (and in India). Firstly, the gangrape of Draupadi was instigated by Yudhishthira, a part husband of Draupadi. He did not ask Drapuadi and her other 4 husband before putting her at stake in the game named Dyut Krida which he eventually lost the game to his cousin brother, Duryodhana. Yudhishthira, known as Dharmaraja (one who’s righteous), was he really was righteous?
Secondly, while the gangrape of Draupadi was ongoing, everybody in the palace hall including her 5 husbands alias Pandavas, the blind king and the father of the Kauravas namely Dhritrashtra, the great grandfather Bhishma Pitamaha, watched it live with mum and dumb face. As a king, he had all the authority and power to prevent his sons from committing the heinous crime.
As a great grandfather, he too had all the authority and power to prevent the publicly performed criminal act. Then, ofcourse the 4 other husbands should have raged war there itself. For their silence and watch, shouldn’t they all be considered convict as per the law of the land? They remind of the many incidences on women that take place in the public realm in India even till date while the onlookers gaze to the mishappening pretending to be helpless.
Thirdly, while the gangrape was ongoing, Draupadi herself did not resist or act despite being considered a powerful woman. While Draupadi’s character is questioned for having been a polyandrous wife, it is also true that she was the only mythological heroine who stood up for herself, who was fiery, who spoke for herself, and who went against her 5 husbands when necessary.
She was a great strong woman, and it was a shame that neither the Kauravas nor the Pandavas understood her value. But then, why did she choose to start praying to Krishna to save her instead of pulling out a sword and beheading the sinners? If she had done the latter, the state of women would have been different today.
Then alas! did Krishna do anything better to Draupadi’s prayers and bitter to the rapists’ crimes? No! While the gangrape of Draupadi was ongoing, Krishna chose to protect Draupadi with providing her an endless draping but not punish Duryodhana and Dusshasana for the heinous crime. So, what is the point of planning a war and revenge later? How is he even God, if he could not or did not stop the rape from happening?
Anyway, Dusshasana endlessly pulled at the blood-stained cloth of Draupadi, but it seemed never-ending. The entire Draupadi gang rape stopped after hours of his trying to undress her, when he collapsed in sheer exhaustion. Important to note that it is only after he collapsed, the blind king Dhritrashtra ordered to stop the game immediately, but not while the rape was ongoing.
Over these years, all these historical errors should have been questioned and changed instead of glorifying the whole event in the mythology and story books as the message to the society is then clear that men will continue to misbehave and it is only if the women are lucky, they may get justice later but not get back her dignity that is actually snatched by the system and the society.
The classic and ironic example is the long judicial procedures of years to get justice during which the women is usually paying all the price while the convict men are often out on parole. Had we questioned the wrongs in our history and tried to correct them instead of glorifying them, we would have brought some reforms in the rape culture of the country.

Cut to Manipur

In the #manipurviolence, it is not a task to say which side is Pandavas and which side is Kauravas. In this genocidal pogrom of Manipur by the men of all colours, class, creed, caste, the women are at the core to be sacrificed and used as shield for all the mismanagement. In this regard, Manipur is just repeating what we know from history across the world during riots, wars, suppressions, etc.
What is evident is the invisible hand of the Delhi politics alias Shakuni Mama for the land and resource grabbing by the Mumbai-Gujarat based Capitalists apart from the ethnic cleansing approach towards the Hindu Rashtra agenda like a repeat of Gujarat riots with just new place and people.
So, who are these Manipuri women who are assaulted? Mothers, sisters, daughters, daughters-in-laws, some in pregnancy, some in menstruation, some in menopause, some minor, some adult, some old, some physically challenged, some differently abled and more. 
Husband of one of the women paraded naked in #Manipur is a retired Subedar of Assam Regiment who made a sorry statement saying that, he fought in Sri Lanka and in Kargil to protect his citizens but could not protect his wife from the same citizens who are his fellow villagers.
Who are these Manipuri men who dared to assault? Fathers, brothers, sons, sons-in-laws, neighbours, but importantly outraged, angered, from the insecurity and the system mismanagement besides being victims of the planned hate politics.
While Manipur is known for women leadership and much of the hope is bestowed upon them to bring peace, it is also disturbing to see how women are also taking the violent path out of helplessness and aggression. It is also sad to learn that at some places even women have supported their men to molest-rape women of other community. 
This is uncalled for, unfortunate and unacceptable. Further, with the women-led mobs also now on the ground, it is getting challenging for the security forces to tackle them. There is a strange situation on the ground between the locals and between locals and the security forces.
It reminds of the Manorama Devi case in 2004, when the 12 Meira Paibis or ‘torchbearers’, the Emas or ‘mothers of Manipur’ protested going naked in front of the Assam Rifles’ headquarters holding banners that said: ‘Indian Army Rape Us’. An example of a typical woman rioter reads like this, she is ready for a long day ahead.
For the last three months, apert from her multiple roles of wife to her husband, mother to her children, teacher to her students, her major role is now a ‘protector of her community’. An anecdote, “Yes, it is tiring, but I am ready to sacrifice my time. I want to be here.” 
It is no exaggeration to argue that she has little choice however, since the system and the security forces are again men-led, they are demeaning the women human-shields instead of reflecting upon as why did this situation arise for women to end up on the battlefield.

Cut to rape governance and justice

Although riot is a total people failure or a societal failure. But the way, the #manipurviolence against women unfolded, the state and centre have definitely failed in governing the riot and the riot induced mistreatment of the women across the state.
It is saddening and sickening to see the government at the state, the centre, the judiciary are all buying time to execute justice and peace process and safety of women, children and seniors. The Home Minister travelled for only few days ironically only to fuel the unrest further; the Minister of Women and Child Development screamed in the Parliament comparing Manipur to violence against women in other states (which must be indeed condemned), the Minister for Tribal Affairs is yet to utter a line; the National Commission for Women went in with business as usual after filing the case to the police without any follow-up until the recent quiet visit to the assaulted women; the CBI enquiry started only recently after the pressure from the Supreme Court and is yet to make any arrests; the Supreme Court is just asking the state and the centre and is yet to form its committee; the Prime Minister and the President of India are yet to address the nation and the parliament on this grave matter apart from their few seconds speech and few tweets; and of course the Chief Minister of Manipur is clueless with his Home department totally failed when he points out the riot to be pre-planned.
To add here, the Governor and the state BJP chief are also women who are yet to do their best to restore peace. To further add, where is the National Human Rights Commission which is unfortunately headed by a man?
This aggregate efforts of the double-engine government at the state and the centre seems to have failed miserably in understanding the north-east, in realising the consequences of raging a divide-n-rule politics, in providing independence and instructions to the security forces, and more. When one looks at all this, it obviously means that women security and safety is the last thing in the minds of the state and the centre.
But ironically, there is more arrogance evident in the state and the central machinery instead of the humility and apologetic. For example, after knowing the criminal assault against the women, all the system machinery is more upset as why published in Twitter that tarnished the image of the state and the country instead of being upset about the intelligence failure and the failure of the Home Ministry at the state and the centre besides the failure of the humanity.
For example, the way the Minster for Women and Child Development screamed in the Parliament comparing Manipur with Rajasthan and West Bengal assault of women, it is clear that the scream was to hide behind the failure. Else the Minister must realise that the mishaps in those states are also her responsibility and that those are individual crimes unlike the #manipurviolence as riot. She needs to be reminded that she is responsible for the entire country not only for double-engine states.
For example, the Chief Minister embarrassingly mentions that there may be many such cases and yet not expediting the punishment to the convicts including the police. The police particularly need to be held accountable as they were present at the site and supported the crime and later delayed the FIR registration and investigation. On moral grounds ideally the Chief Minister must have resigned by now but looking at the ground conditions, the state cannot be left leaderless.
For example, there has to be also strong message to be sent to security forces to not abuse women, as much of the women are now agitating because of the mishandling by the police and the security forces. Now that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is fully revoked in Manipur in March 2023 giving sweeping powers of arrest to the security forces in the North-East, does it mean that more tension is likely to stay between the local communities and the security forces?
For example, when the Supreme Court observed that there is an "absolute breakdown of law-and-order machinery" in the Manipur, why is Supreme Court still giving time to the state and the centre? Isn’t 90 days enough time? What is it stopping it to take a Suo Moto cognizance of the matter even after 90 days?
When the SC had already alarmed the High Court of Manipur on staying the judgement that raged this entire riot, it should have stepped in anticipating the repercussions. Such delay from the apex court brings distrust and loss of hope of the judicial system.
For example, no debate took place in the parliament except few seconds from the ruling party ministers. The opposition parties also did not succeed to persuade the speakers of the houses to ensure debate on Manipur. Well, the opposition also failed to stop the Forest Bill, the Jan Vishwas Bill, the Biodiversity Bill, the right to Data Protection Bill, and more. The INDIA MPs scathing letter to President Murmu, did express concern over people 'living in a state of permanent fear and insecurity'.
Worst among all is the no statement yet from the President who is a woman and from a tribal background and from the Prime Minister who also hails from a backward class. What signal do we get from their silence? arrogance? ignorance? indifferent to the matter as can be witnessed from their other regular engagements including foreign trips and G20s. They are travelling all-over except Manipur. 
Why? There cannot be anything urgent in the country at this moment than the #manipurvilence. What is stopping the President to step in and impose the President’s Rule in the state? If not now than when? What is stopping the Prime Minister to speak about Manipur in the Parliament and in the Mann ki Baat? Do that please!
There is anyway no hope left from mainstream media to do justice to the society by doing right and righteous news. They are busy in love stories, cricket, films, small distractions all over. The social media info is getting trickier with every passing day as the data authentication is a serious issue with the fake news and watsapp university.

Where is the rape culture heading to?

From the conversation with my friend, it felt like that things will become worse than the 90 days so far and more women may suffer the brutality. Since, now several women have aggressively jumped into the battlefield of the riot mainly against the security forces brutality in order to protect their, men, family, house and the community.
The poison of hatred and violence is now injected way too deep into the society in a planned manner by the men be it for resources and/or religion. Apart from the physical abuse, assault, displacement, and massacre, the entire episode has actually destroyed the hope and trust of the over 3 generations of Manipuris.
The incident has also shaken the country and put a serious question on the safety and security of women. Unfortunately, women are bound to be at the receiving end of this. We as women stand at the same juncture of Mahabharata today where we are utilised by men in different ways at their convenient use.
From the intelligence side, discussing the use of women as human shield itself is disgusting. Since the war-like violence are first raged by the men and now when women have jumped into the battlefield to safeguard their family, assets and community, the further brutal strategy of the government, intelligence and security forces, all led by men will result in double damage to the women. 
So, women are pushed to this massacre both ways from vulnerability of stripping, molesting and raping to the valour of suing them as human shields to be shot by the bullets if required.
With around 60,000 people displaced and living in relief camps in dire conditions, especially women and children, it is high time that at least the Prime Minister and the President must take full charge of the state of affairs against the women apart of writing a public apology to all those women who are assaulted on behalf of the future convicts. Both must set their public statement and press release including statement of safety and security of all the women in the country with a promise that further stringent rules will be made to ensure that.
With the riot instigated in Mewati Haryana this week, it feels that the #manipurviolence is spreading like a forest fire in the preparation of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. If we go in this program (pogrom) and pace, it is unfortunate that pronouncing that genocide and blood bath are on their way in the run for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. So, is the country ready for another civil war in less than a century? So, are we ready to undergo another Gujarat Riot Model?
No!
To stop this from happening, all the opposition parties must stage mega protests and rallies to oppose the mismanagement. Most importantly, the citizens at large from all walks of life from across the country must stage protests against what happened and what is happening even after 90 days and run campaigns in support of the Manipuri women and peace in Manipur.
It is also an appeal to all the women to take the Manipur incident more seriously than they are taking as tomorrow it may be me or you. Stand for the other women if you wish other women to stand for you. Least is, we all flood the President and all the concerned ministers with letters/messages expressing our concerns over Manipur, women and peace.
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor, and political observer. More info on her learning and sharing are at, www.mansee.in and www.wforw.in. Click here for her articles on women

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