Thousands of people, mostly women, held a massive sit-in in India’s violence-wracked northeastern state of Manipur on Saturday demanding the immediate arrest of those involved in the harrowing mob assaults on two women who were paraded naked.
Religious and women organization leaders addressed nearly 15,000 protesters who also called for the sacking of Biren Singh, the top elected official in the state where more than 130 people have been killed since violence between two dominant ethnic groups erupted in early May. The protest was held in Churachandpur, a town 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Imphal, the state capital.
A video showing the assaults on women triggered massive outrage and was widely shared on social media late Wednesday despite the internet being largely blocked and journalists locked out of the remote state. The footage shows the two naked women surrounded by scores of young men who grope their genitals and drag them to a field.
Police said the assault occurred May 4, a day after the violence started. According to a police complaint filed on May 18, the two women were part of a family attacked by a mob that killed its two male members. The complaint alleges rape and murder by “unknown miscreants.”
The state government on Saturday announced the arrest of a fifth suspects. Rajiv Singh, the state’s director-general of police, said police were carrying out raids to arrest other suspects.
Manipur has been the scene of a near-civil war that was sparked when Christian Kukis protested a demand by the mostly Hindu Meiteis for a special status that would let them buy land in the hills populated by Kukis and other tribal groups, as well as a guaranteed share of government jobs.
Clashes have persisted despite the army’s presence in Manipur, a state of 3.2 million people tucked in the mountains on India’s border with Myanmar that is now divided into two ethnic zones. More than 60,000 people have fled to packed relief camps.
Nearly 400 men and women also held a protest in the Indian capital with the similar demands. They carried placards reading “We demand action against the perpetrators” and ”Resign, Biren Singh.”
In Manipur state, the protesters assembled at a “Wall of Remembrance” site in an open ground in Churachandpur, a stronghold of the Kuki tribe, where they kept dummy coffins of people of their minority community killed in the violence.
Ngaineikim, the chairperson of the Kuki Women Organization for Human Rights, accused Singh, who belongs to the majority Meiti community, of orchestrating atrocities then expressing sympathy with the victims.
Singh did not comment immediately but on Thursday said that an investigation was under way to ensure “strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment. Let it be known, there is absolutely no place for such heinous acts in our society.”