How rape became a tool for ethnic cleansing in Manipur
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Manipur has been in a turmoil since May 4. The people of Manipur have not only been deprived of seasonal blossoms and fruits but have also endured a distressing disparity of violence, leading to severe violations of their fundamental human rights.

One particularly shocking incident that came to light was a viral video depicting two Kuki-Zomi tribal women being subjected to heinous acts of violence, including rape and assault by a mob, shedding light on the grave situation in the region.

Defamation has been employed as a powerful weapon against the Kuki-Zomi community, with majoritarian instigators controlling the mainstream media and spreading false narratives to demonise and silence the Kuki-Zomi people. Tragically, this has led to innocent lives being lost and their reputations tarnished beyond repair.

A poignant example of this defamation is the case of a 75-year-old woman from Kangpokpi Domkhohoi who was shot dead by militants while praying in her village church. The Imphal-based media branded her as a sniper and an instigator responsible for the alleged deaths of several militants. Her identity as a member of the Kuki-Zomi tribe seemingly justified her death in the eyes of the media, depriving her of the right to life and dignity that every individual should be entitled to.

Another heart-wrenching incident involved a mentally challenged woman named Donngaihching, residing in the Imphal Valley, who posed no threat or harm to anyone. She was ruthlessly shot dead in broad daylight on a public road, her lifeless body exposed to the monsoon rain. The media falsely portrayed her as a suicide bomber, alleging that she carried explosives and planned to target a school many children attended. They twisted her story to suggest that she sought revenge for the violence inflicted upon her community due to the ongoing conflict in the state. However, the truth was far from this fabricated narrative. Despite the evidence, her perpetrators remain at large, with no attention paid by the Manipur Government to seek justice for her tragic murder.

These two women, victims of violence and unjustified killings, had their human rights gravely violated by the valley-based media. Their right to reputation, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, was callously disregarded, as they were unjustly branded as militants inciting violence. By maligning the identity and intrigue of these tribal women, attempts are made to silence their stories and sufferings.

In the case of Donngaihching, even after her death, the fundamental right to decent burial(under Article 21) is a far cry which further violates the many precedents of fundamental rights under the Right to Life.

Even in death, they deserve a fair and accurate portrayal, free from the false narratives that have plagued them. Their birth and identity as Kuki-Zomi tribals should never be considered a justification for such extreme injustice. The question arises: can every woman belonging to the Kuki-Zomi community be a potential victim of such heinous acts if the conflicts between Meiteis and Kuki-Zomi persist?

The portrayal of both women is rooted in the derogatory statements made by the Chief Minister of Manipur, who branded and referred to the Kuki-Zomi community as illegal immigrants and poppy cultivators. Such an absurd portrayal of a community by the Chief Minister itself has instigated the environment of communal hatred of the Kuki-Zomi tribal minorities under his regime.

Such labelling is profoundly hurtful and insulting to the community, especially since the Kuki-Zo people take pride in their conscientious work and their contributions to society. These unfair and disrespectful remarks perpetuate negative stereotypes and add to the challenges faced by the community in asserting their rightful place in society. These discriminatory stereotypes are a malicious attempt in discrediting the Kuki-Zo Indian tribal citizens.

Rape as a tool for Kuki-Zomi subjugation

Rape has been a power weapon throughout history, a ruthless tactic employed to instil fear, exert dominance, and subjugate communities. The use of rape against tribal people in Manipur is a cruel and calculated strategy to demoralise and disempower the communities. By specifically targeting women, the aim is to erode the very essence of tribal identity, culture, and social cohesion. The wounds inflicted by these brutal acts will resonate through generations, perpetuating a vicious cycle of trauma and marginalisation.

The weaponization of rape and violence against tribal communities serves multiple sinister purposes. This incidence of rape and sexual violence did not occur in isolation. It is fueled and carried out on the pretext of their tribal identity and ethnic hatred.  

First and foremost, it instils terror within the tribal population, silencing any potential dissent or resistance against oppressive actions. By violating the bodies and souls of tribal men, women, and children, the aim is to assert their dominance and maintain control over these marginalised communities.

Moreover, rape and violence are tools for cultural erasure and assimilation. Tribal women are strategically targeted to disrupt the very fabric of their communities, tearing apart their traditional values and diluting their cultural identity. The deliberate victimisation of women stems from the recognition that their suffering has profound ripple effects on the entire community, causing immense pain and fracturing the social bonds that hold these societies together.

What is baffling is the impunity the perpetrators enjoy for their heinous sexual crimes, with no one apprehended even months after FIRs. The implicit reality is that the Manipur government and the state police are centred around majoritarian interests. The outrageous demand by he Meira Paibis to show the footage of the rape as proof further vilifies the Kuki-Zomi women and their traumatic experiences. 

A disturbing manifestation of this tactic is forcing women to walk/parade naked, stripped of their dignity, as a display of power and domination. Subjecting these women to a chilling symbol of their stripped elegance, a horrifying reminder of the depths of degradation they have endured. Seeing their vulnerable and traumatised bodies serves as a haunting testament to the extreme injustice perpetrated against them.

Using rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing against the Kuki-Zomi tribals is an appalling breach of human rights and a tragic indication of the prevailing power imbalances in Manipur. The fact that the issue in Manipur only gained attention after the leak of a viral video depicting the suffering of women highlights the evident disparity faced by the people of Manipur and the neglect the state has endured, despite being constitutionally part of the country.

It raises serious concerns about whether the Manipur ethnic crisis will continue to manifest primarily as violence against women.

The disturbing accounts of tribal women being attacked, and thrashed by their own women kin, Meira Paibis, have shown how deeply entrenched is the communal hatred against the Kuki-Zomi tribals that even women have no sympathy left for their womankind. Niang, a 29-year-old Kuki-Zomi tribal woman and a survivor of ethnic violence, gave a chilling account of how the Meira Paibis granted the men the right to rape her. But her husband and mother-in-law were lynched to death by the mobs who cheered the killings. 

As a member of the Kuki-Zomi community, it is agonising and sorrowful for those residing outside our state while our children endure unimaginable violence back home. As I lay in bed each day, my anxious thoughts would keep me awake. While I tried my best to concentrate on my studies, I would often find myself questioning the point of my studying when I am constantly on the verge of losing my home, land and my identity.

I hope for a safer future for my community and pray for government intervention, but instead, my cell phone brings unwelcome and distressing news. Our days have now turned into months and with each passing day, this anticipation is getting worse.

In our tribal community, we have always held a deep respect for women, valuing their equality and treating them with utmost regard in all gender-related matters, regardless of age. The Meitei women who have married Kuki-Zomi tribal men are sheltered by the tribal society, but sadly, disturbing cases of rape and killings of the Kuki-Zomi women married to Meitei men are reported.

This emphasises the need to comprehend the grounds on which such sexual violence is being carried out.

Addressing this heinous issue requires urgent and concerted efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, provide support and healing for the survivors, and work towards building a society where all communities can coexist with dignity as good neighbours. Only through such collective action can the cycle of violence and cultural erasure be broken, paving the way for a more equitable and harmonious future in Manipur.

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The plight of the Kuki-Zomi tribals in Manipur calls for urgent attention from the national and international communities. The perpetuation of false narratives through media manipulation perpetuates violence and violates the most basic principles of human rights. The situation in Manipur underscores the need for comprehensive efforts to address the root causes of the conflict and establish mechanisms for justice and accountability.

Only through a collective commitment to peace, justice, and mutual respect can the cycle of violence and defamation be broken, allowing all communities to coexist harmoniously as neighbours and thrive in a secure and equitable society. The time has come for the nation to acknowledge the suffering of the Kuki-Zomi tribals and work towards a future where their human rights are upheld, and their dignity is preserved.

Also Read | Manipur: Violence reaches Ukhrul, 3 killed

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