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E-Pao! Opinion - Now, it's babel tongues wagging

Now, it's babel tongues wagging

By:- Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *



If there is someone who closely follows the manner in which the Tipaimukh mass rape case played out through the media in Manipur in the last few days, he will, like I am, inevitably be overwhelmed with a sense of déjà vu. Manipur is no stranger to a situation like this, right?

A crime of the gravest type is being perpetrated, there is hue and cry and in the end, nothing happens and everybody is left scratching their heads. Elizabeth Lungnila, remember?

Evidently, no one cares about Justice (Rtd) SP Rajkhowa and his inquiry commission. Last Monday, March 27, 2006 the Threatened Indigenous People's Society (TIPS) decided that it will not go ahead with its plan to set up an 'independent' fact finding team to investigate the mass rape allegations.

The organization cited the stiff opposition and boycott call from tribal organizations, notably ATSUM and KSO, for their decision. With that, they subtly rub the smear in: why else should the hill-based organizations be so stubbornly against the proposed 'fact-finding' mission, if they have not had something to hide?

In Manipur's petty, cynical and all-encompassing hill-versus-plain politics, this may well be called TIPS's (and whoever else they represent) Sonia Gandhi moment. With their back against the wall and no aces left to play, they seemed to have turned the tables on their opponents, at least for propaganda purposes.

I have a feeling they will repeat this subtle counter-charge again and again as the case come into national focus. It will not win them the case, of course, but it may just give them enough room to stay in the fight. After all, this case is not going away, at least for the present. A public rally to condemn the outrage is being planned, as I write, in Delhi and other cities on April 4, 2006.

Of course, there are no credible reasons for TIPS, of all organizations, to go down there and conduct their 'independent' investigations, whatever that mean. The motive for such an exercise, after all these times and after so many similar exercises, has been always suspect.

More than 10 different organizations and governmental agencies had been to the scene since the news broke. Even if, for the sake of argument, you concede that the Zo-based organizations may be biased, consciously or unconsciously, in favour of the alleged victims, the same cannot be said for organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRA) and Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR).

In the light of this, what is TIPS to say, "Well, now that all of you are finished, let us conduct an 'independent' investigation of what you found"?

It is true that there is a long delay between the time the acts were allegedly perpetrated and the time the stories appear in the English newspapers. And the number-count of the victims, indeed, changes as more details emerge.

According to informed sources, the delay is purely due to the fact that the victims simply dare not to speak out until the militants are gone and that, even as they spoke up, it take quite sometime for the stories to reach Churachandpur or Imphal. The second question is a stupid and cynical one.

Victims who dare not do so before, due to stigma attached to it or sheer terror, speak up as time pass when they realize that that is perhaps, the only way to hit back at those who violate them. It is something that happens under similar circumstances all the time, all over the world.

There is one major lacuna, though. The alleged perpetrators of the crime, have denied the accusations. The two are outlawed, armed organizations. The human rights organizations and Government agencies that have so far visited the scene to investigate the case, have thus, no authority and power to summon the accused in this crime and cross-examine them.

Their case has, thus, to depend entirely on testimonies of the victims and those who witness the incidents and whatever material evidence that can be obtained from the ground. So, in a strictly legal sense, the two organisations can always denied the charge and rubbish whatever evidence placed against them, and may even claimed that they are being denied their rights to natural justice!!

As it is, the case has all the signs of degenerating into a meaningless round of accusations and counter-accusations and that too, between the Meiteis and tribals. In an online poll conducted by Kangla Online, 56 per cent of the respondents, as on April 1, 10:30 am, said that they did not believe the accusation against the two non-tribal UGs. The number of votes cast is more than 36,049.

I am aware just how easily these polls can be manipulated and abused, but the figures says something. That many public meetings in the Imphal valley still happily endorsed the plebiscite call by the UNLF, the accused in the case, also says something.

That while all hill-based organizations unequivocally 'condemned' the inhuman conduct of non-tribal UG groups, most valley-based organizations raised doubts or simply keep silent about it, conveys its own message. This gruesome crime is about to be sucked into this cynical game.

Personally, I am convinced, having read whatever is written so far about the case, that there is indeed a mass rape case and that it was indeed perpetrated by the cadres of the two non-tribal UG group. In my view, the two outfits are denying the charge because they just have no other choice. But I am also aware that my opinion will be looked upon with suspicion by many, because of the simple reason that I am from the hills.

The only way to defeat those who try to dilute and confuse and give a spin to the issue is to establish the facts. And show them.

What needs to be done now towards that end is for organizations like Human Rights Alert (HRA), Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Human Rights and Law Network (HRLN) and Hmar Inpui, Churachandpur to publish the results of their investigations in the area without further delay. Whatever else evidence there is, including medical papers and victim's testimonies, should also be made public.

We may not be able to book and punish the culprits under the law, but we can at least expose them and shame them. We should do that. Think of the 21 innocent girls who are condemned to live with the stigma throughout their lives. Maybe, for those busybodies in Imphal and Churachandpur, this kind of drama is second nature.

But for the victims, every time we cast aspersions on them and their story, it is January 16 terror refreshed.


Thangkhanlal Ngaihte wrote this article for The Sangai Express.
This article was webcasted on April 12th, 2006


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