India: Further reports of sexual violence emerge in Manipur
Following the violent sexual assault of two tribal women in Manipur state, more cases of alleged rape and murder have been made public
Just days after a video emerged online allegedly showing two women from the local Kuki-Zo community who had been violently and sexually assaulted before being paraded naked through streets in India's northeastern Manipur state, additional accusations of sexual violence against women and murder have been made public.
A second incident involved two women in their 20s who were allegedly raped and killed in the state capital, Imphal, on May 5, one day after video footage was taken of the previous violent assault.
In yet another incident, a woman was allegedly stripped naked and set on fire in the district of Imphal East on May 6, just a day after the two women in their 20s were allegedly murdered.
Kuki women being targeted
All three assaults reportedly took place as deadly riots broke out between the Meitei and Kuki tribes over two months ago. The alleged attacks have only now garnered attention in the media and from authorities after a video of the first incident went viral on social media on Wednesday. The reports triggered major protests and encouraged families of other victims to come forward and detail their experiences with authorities.
"This incident is a shameful and inexcusable crime, and it happened on the second day of the outbreak of riots," Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Review of Arts and Politics, told DW, adding that there had been rumors and fake news about similar incidents.
Ethnic clashes erupted in May, a day prior to the first-known assault case, following a protest march organized by members of the minority Christian Kuki population. They had been angered by a court order calling on the government to consider granting the majority, mostly Hindu, Metei population the same tribal benefits enjoyed by the Kukis.
These would allow tribe members to purchase land in areas where the Kukis and other tribal groups reside and would guarantee them a share of government jobs. The Kukis say this would strengthen their already dominant position in the state.
"The situation in the state is going from bad to worse and unless meaningful dialogue is initiated, we will only see a further slide to civil strife," Babloo Loitongbam, a human rights activist, told DW.
'We will not remain silent'
In a complaint filed to police, one of the victim's fathers said the two women, who were assaulted in the second known case from May 5, worked as caretakers at a carwash in the state capital.
Local media reports differ as to whether the two women in their early 20s were at a rented house when a group of men entered their room and raped the pair before abducting and killing them, or whether the incident occurred at their workplace.
"I filed a complaint of rape and murder at the police station. Police have not informed me why they have not taken any action. They said they have preserved the bodies for investigation," one of the girl's fathers told local media at a recent press conference.
Local police officials have faced criticism after it emerged the attacks occurred on women belonging to the minority Kuki tribe.
"We will not remain silent unless justice is done, and all the rapists and perpetrators are arrested for these inhumane acts," a member of the Kuki-Zo unity forum told DW, requesting anonymity.
Manipur state officials announced Saturday a fifth arrest in relation to the May 4 attack on the two women who were filmed while being paraded naked in public after being sexually assaulted. Rajiv Singh, the state's director-general of police, said officers were carrying out raids to arrest additional suspects.
Tensions remain high in the state, where more than 130 people have been killed since the violence began in early May. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters, mostly women, have called for Biren Singh, Manipur's top elected official and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, to resign and for action to be taken against those responsible for the crimes.
"Whatever the historical social contradictions in Manipur between the Kukis and the Meiteis, the horror unfolding at present has been exacerbated by the present government and the state," political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta told DW.
Prime Minister Modi broke his more than two-month-long public silence over the ethnic clashes in the state on Thursday, telling reporters that mob assaults on the two women as they were paraded naked were unforgivable, but he did not refer directly to the larger violence in the region.
Tribes, including Kukis, account for about 40% of Manipur's population and live mostly in the state's hill districts, while Meiteis constitute about 53% of the population and reside mostly in the Imphal Valley.