Skeletons and Worms

Monalisa Changkija

The nation is shell-shocked at the grossest brutality perpetuated on two Kuki women at Manipur, as was revealed in a video that went viral a few days ago and everybody has spoken in one voice condemning such inhumanity heaped on them. It is hoped that the nation would remain shell-shocked because only then can justice be meted to the unfortunate women and so many others like them, who have suffered the worst crimes against women and human rights violations. Only then the perpetrators would be brought to justice; only then, Manipur would see some ray of hope in the thick smoke of fury it is engulfed in now. Manipur is so broken and bent out of shape now that unless the whole country stand together to demand that this State be made whole again, there is little the Centre and the State Government would do, as the past two months indicate. The said video clearly proves that both the Centre and the Manipur Government have lost the plot ~ probably even before May 3, 2023. The worst part of it all is that both these entities have apparently done nothing to find their way.

Women’s bodies have always been the battle-ground of wars and conflicts but apparently this aberration has taken a new form and dimension in Manipur wherein even women have reportedly perpetrated unspeakable crimes against women with impunity. This appears to be a form of attrition and criminalization of the concept of women’s empowerment. Women’s bodies have also been the battle-ground of not only political and economic but also social, cultural, racial and religious wars and conflicts. Manipur is now an example of these wars and conflicts being fought on women’s bodies and the Centre and State Government have done nothing in over two months to stop these blatant constitutional and human rights violations. So, for the Prime Minister, other Central Ministers and heads of some Central Government agencies to show so much indignation and speak of their anguish, shock, etc., comes across as hypocritical.

Reportedly, FIRs were filed about the May 4 incident within days, as also on other similar cases, as much as of complaints written to the National Commission for Women but we are hearing of that now only after the May 4 incident’s video went viral. This underlines the attempts to conceal crimes committed after violence erupted in Manipur on May 3. This also speaks about the Centre and State Government’s lack of commitment and disinterest to resolve the situation in Manipur, as much as their inability to do the same. It really doesn’t matter how many engines a government has, what matters is who is manning the engines and Manipur has underscored that too. Consequently, Kuki women have paid so dearly. Now, how would the Centre and the Manipur Government recompense Kuki women, who have been so reprehensibly violated? How would the Centre and the Manipur Government recompense the people whose lives and limbs have been lost and torn apart, families displaced and dispersed, livelihoods destroyed and life made “short, nasty and brutish”?

Manipur would not be healed if justice is not meted to the victim of violence and this justice must begin with holding accountable those under whose watch the violence was allowed. The nation is not just shell-shocked but also enraged that in one of the country’s most vulnerable regions fire was ignited and allowed to spread. This is the fury that must democratically rage across the nation to make Manipur whole. Worms are coming out of cans and skeletons are tumbling out of cupboards one by one as they are wont to because against the background of these worms and skeletons, we begin to understand why Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Manipur was so derided, why internet was shut down for so long, why a woman Advocate on a fact-finding mission to Manipur was charged with crimes against the State of Manipur, who the Supreme Court has thankfully protected with bail, why foreign delegation were disallowed and so many other whys that still need to be asked and answered. 

Reportedly, Manipur’s CM has stated that “hundreds of similar cases have taken place” while responding to the question whether he was aware of the May 18 FIR filed after two women were disrobed and paraded on May 4 and one of them was allegedly gang-raped. So, what was he doing all this while? According to media reports on July 21, National Commission for Women (NCW) Chairperson said she had reached out thrice in the last three months to authorities in Manipur over incidents of violence against women but no response was received from them. Why didn’t the NCW go to Manipur and demand answers? Why were the Manipur CM and his administration silent on these crimes against women? Bolting the stable after the horses have fled is bad enough but to make the bolting look as if the CM is in control and is an act of good governance is shameful and reprehensible. Also, what are we to understand as regards what is happening in Manipur when we hear repeatedly in the media that the Manipur Government is handling the situation guided by the Centre? When worms crawl out of cans and skeletons tumble out of cupboards, the plans of men and mice go awry ~ and it is likely that we will see how awry in the days to come.

It is also possible that Assam’s CM, and the NEDA Convener, may have actually believed media reports that the Manipur Government is handling the situation guided by the Centre. But wait, wasn’t he also one of them who said so? In fact, more than “a week or ten days” ago, Assam’s CM told Reporters that within “a week or ten days”, the situation will cool down/improve in Manipur. As we know, it didn’t. And it won’t if nothing is done to cool down/improve the situation in Manipur. In fact, much was done to conceal the ground reality. Manipur’s CM told the India Today news channel, “You have to see the ground reality”. The thing is how can anyone see the ground reality when silence and smoke-screens camouflage it? 

One of the reasons why the nation must remain shell-shocked and furious is because it is imperative to find out the game-plan and the plot hatched in and for Manipur and to what end? Such game-planes and plots could find their way to any State tomorrow. Can the country afford this? Besides, the country can also ill-afford to quietly acquiesce to the victims of crimes against women in Manipur being unfortunate ‘collateral damage’ because such acquiescence will potentially increase all women’s vulnerability in the country to be battle-fields of wars and conflicts caused by game-plans and devious schemes of men and mice. Is this acceptable to India, the world’s largest democracy, most-populated country and the 5th largest economy in the world?

By the way, FIR on the May 4 incident was filed on May 18, so arrests made only after the video went viral on July 19? The nation needs to know why.   

(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page. Published in the July 24, 2023 issue of Assam Tribune)