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E-Pao! Opinion - Rape or No Rape: The Victim is Manipur

Rape or No Rape: The Victim is Manipur

By: Vikram Nongmaithem *



As the International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8, 2006 all over world, the Joint Women's Organization comprising of different women's organizations of Manipur organized a protest rally in Churachandpur against the alleged rape of 21 women in Tipaimukh sub-division by an underground group of Manipur .

As the Commission of Inquiry under Justice S.P.Rajkhowa is about to start its inquiry at present about the molestation of M. Naobi Chanu by state police commandos and the alleged mass rape by underground cadres in Tipaimukh area around the middle of Jan. 2006 it would be too early to conclude anything specific about both the cases.

Rather, I would like to present here some points regarding crimes against women in the strife torn state of Manipur. Nowadays, it is almost becoming fashionable among school children to talk about such dirty incidents in the schools and our newspapers columns are full of such kind of crimes everyday.

Is it the sign of a morally perverted and sexually starved society where rape and molestation are used as weapons for showing off sexual male chauvinism in a society presented with full of contradictions of a mistaken modernity reverting back to an animalism of the worst kind?

In the two incidents happened recently, the nature of the crime common to both the cases was that armed personnel ( shall we say "combatants" ) are making victims of helpless and innocent women using molestation and rape as means of seeking indirect revenge against their men folk. Rape as lust crime is hated enough but the more alarming thing is that the crime had been committed and used as a weapon of war attribution.

In the Naobi Chanu case the crime was committed by a band of uniformed and active police force ( state- actors) whereas in the second case of mass rape in Tipaimukh , the alleged rapists are underground ( non- state actors ) fighting for Self-Determination. Thus, the two juxtaposing forces are seemingly indulging in the same kind of methods and tactics of operation against an innocent, helpless third party ( non- combatants or civilians).

Again, mass rapes, a newly emerging phenomenon of the last 5/6 decades in Manipur is also symptomatic of deeply fractured conflict situations as it happened in Rwanda, Kosovo and Nepal etc. Such cases have also allegedly occurred in the communal bloodbath among the Nagas and the Kukis.

The State Governments' responses to such crimes have been too slow and inactive even when strong political pressure is applied. Despite the low level of development of the state , the response of the civil society groups against such crimes have been quite active. Thanks to the large presence of the media and its activities the people on the whole have started some sort of dialogue resulting in the constitution of the Rajkhowa Commission of Inquiry.

The alleged rape by undergrounds in CCpur Dist. can be cited as an exceptional case in Manipur's history because the crime doers were allegedly the cadres of valley based groups, the UNLF and the KCP and the victims belong to a hill area . It may be broadly viewed on two grounds: the hill people's changing attitude towards the valley based militants and the militant groups' changing nature of interaction with the common people specially belonging to other ethnic groups.

In the present case civil societies in both the hills and the valley have to be very careful not to attach any communal tinge to the issue as it may widen the already cracking extent of polarization between the hills and the valley.

Many people still find it difficult to believe the alleged mass rape was actually committed by the UNLF and the KCP cadres because it raises many intriguing questions. Since valley based militants in the past have awarded harsh punishments including capital punishments to molesters and rapists in certain cases.

Or is the allegation a tool for an indirect propaganda warfare to drive away valley based militants from their bases in the hills? Again, no woman would come out to say that she has been raped unless done so. Or is there a conflict arising between methods and the ideologies of the undergrounds? Such a mentality of disillusionment against many militants activities is creeping into the minds of the common people and the intellectuals.

As Patricia Mukhim puts it: " What's unfortunate is that our social revolutionaries excel in monologue. Theirs is the language of threat and intimidation. They have created a situation where questioning their modus operandi is equivalent to challenging their very existence. Militants do not take kindly to any kind of open defiance.

There must be a reason for this. If a revolutionary group is operating on the basis of premises of justice, truth and honesty, why would it fear social auditing? But, perhaps the social revolutionaries of Manipur are not really what they claimed to be. They have taken the form of exterminators who can take away at lives at will" (The Telegraph, Guwahati, Tuesday 21st March,2006).

As the latest media reports suggest, the mass rape had indeed taken place. The problem is who the culprits are. Some people had even gone to the extent of suggesting that it might have been co-operative sex since the allegations surface more than one month and a half after the alleged date of rape and that too, not directly from the victims themselves. Some have suggested DNA finger printing of the foetuses and alleged rapists to be able to close the case conclusively.

Another important fact is that there are reportedly 800 villagers displaced by the conflict in Tipaimukh area and are now taking shelter in Mizoram afraid to return. If the Govt. of Manipur fails to take the right steps and relocate the victims will they ever call " Manipur Our Home" again?

In the Manipur of the past, a person who dishonoured a woman would be given exemplary punishments known as 'Khongoinaba' (including parading naked before the public). Traditional punitive laws seem to more effective than the modern laws in cases like molestation, rape and other crimes against women because the king had to follow his own dictates.

Emancipation of women was never a chapter in Manipuri history because they enjoyed a lot of rights. The inequality between a man and a woman was more for efficiency of the society than oppression unlike in the case of Greater India after the 21st century. But in the present scenario of Manipur, women face the worst of conflict directly in terms of threat to life, sexual harassments, rape and restrictions upon livelihood means.

From the very outset the UNLF have been stating that it is open to an impartial probe on the case and even welcomes the Commission of Inquiry and says that it would punish its cadres accordingly if found guilty.

The most important thing is what the outcome of any probe will result in the social bonding and cohesion among the different ethnic groups in Manipur.

It is worthwhile here to remember Machiavelli who stated, " Men more readily forget the death of a father than the loss of patrimony ( including dishonour to one's wife and extortion of his money).

It is only to be hoped that let no rumour mills make the problem become more dangerous and difficult to solve .


Vikram Nongmaithem, a Research scholar, Pol. Science, at MU writes regularly to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at lamyanba@rediffmail.com
This article was webcasted on April 22nd, 2006

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