A viral video of two tribal women paraded naked by Meitei men in Manipur’s Thoubal district has shocked India and the world. The incident is a grim reflection of the ongoing ethno-religious conflict between the majority Meitei and minority Naga-Kuki tribals, turning the state into a battlefield over land and influence. The Indian government is facing criticism for neglecting the situation, leading to a breakdown of law and order, and intensifying human rights violations in Manipur.
Background: Manipur Violence
The conflict in Manipur revolves around the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960. The Meitei community, constituting 57% of the population of Manipur with a Hindu majority, dominates the state apparatuses and Manipur’s Imphal Valley. In contrast, the Naga and Kuki tribes inhabit the hills that surround the valley, comprising 43% of the population of Manipur and 90% of the area. These tribes, largely Christians, enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribes (ST) – a protected class in Indian law. The 1960 Act forbids the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals, while also putting restrictions on the migration of Meitei and other groups into the hill districts, which is the core issue fueling the conflict.
To safeguard its identity and culture, the Meitei group had applied for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in 2012. In April 2023, the Manipur High Court ordered the state administration to consider their demand. This led to fear among the tribal Naga-Kuki communities about potential land loss, igniting the conflict.
Human Rights Violations: Plight of the Women
In just three months since the civil unrest began on May 3, 2023, Manipur has suffered immense devastation – over 50,000 people have been displaced and 160 lives lost. The use of looted weapons from the police and state armory as a defense mechanism to preserve identity is deeply troubling. It is appalling to observe communities from the same state having a shared history absolutely lacking in empathy towards one another, and specifically towards women.
The video of the women who were forced to march naked on the streets was followed by a brutal gang rape by a mob. This compelled the government to break its long-kept silence on the issues in Manipur. Several people were arrested following investigations. The assaults and harassment against women amidst the ongoing conflict are uncountable: women are being charred, treated like objects, mob-lynched and sexually assaulted, in a complete mockery of their human rights.
Women and children suffer the most from exploitation and abuse in the heartbreaking theatre of conflict. Their vulnerability is enhanced by the centuries-old patriarchy, but the administration’s shortcomings throw an even darker shadow. The events in Manipur have compelled the administration to break the long-kept silence on the horrors suffered by women. Army deployment and politician visits to Manipur brought hope for a resolution, but it is slipping away. The Supreme Court’s verdict on lethargic police investigations reveals a complete breakdown of law, state, and machinery. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)’s directive and international concern from the EU and US amplify the global outcry for action to protect women’s rights. However, this has been reciprocated by a plea for noninterference in India’s internal matters. Although a peace committee has been set up by the government, many contend it to be futile and incapable of finding an equitable solution to the conflict.
Conclusion and Suggestions
“Manipur burns, government fiddles”. The largest obstacle, though, is still figuring out how to deal with the conflict’s many facets, including its complex geo-political, ethno-religious and economic dimensions. A more comprehensive strategy is required to deal with the situation effectively, one that involves round-table discussions with affected parties to unravel the deep-rooted issues, hear the arguments of all parties, and deal with main cause of the conflict. Ultimately, a serious and concerted effort is required to pave the way for both short-term peace and long-term reconciliation.
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