PECHI LEIKAI — Gender trumped tribe for a group of furious Indian mothers who torched the homes of two men from their own community who were accused of abusing women in a video that sparked outrage.
At least 120 people have been killed during months of ethnic conflict between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mainly Christian Kuki in India’s troubled northeastern state of Manipur.
The women from the Meitei community decided to show their anger after the humiliating video surfaced on Wednesday, which reportedly shows two Kuki women being forced to strip naked and then jeered at and harassed by Meitei men in May.
Police arrested four suspects on Thursday but, on the same day, a powerful group of Meitei women known as the “Meira Paibis”, or the Mothers of Manipur, set out to burn the homes of two of the accused.
“We condemn the violence against the women and that is why we want capital punishment,” Sumati, who gave only her first name, told AFP.
“That is why we destroyed his house.”
India is generally traditionalist, conservative and patriarchal but the Meitei have a history of women’s activism, with women having a more prominent role in society than elsewhere.
Tens of thousands of people have fled to government-run camps since the violence erupted in May but the video clip has shone a spotlight on the conflict.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the video clip emerged that the incident had “shamed India”.
Manipur’s state government is led by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and has said it is investigating the “heinous” incident.
“Both communities are condemning this event,” said Suchitra Rajkumari, 42, a local activist. “At least in one point they are agreeing.”
The Meira Paibis smashed down the walls of the homes of two of the accused before stuffing bales of hay inside and setting them on fire.
Thangjam Lata Devi, the mother of one of the accused, was told she had given birth to a “spoilt” son. Her home was also torched.
“If they decide to exile you, then that’s it,” she said.
The Meira Paibis said the homes were burned to send a message.
“We condemn what happened to the women,” said Sumati, who helped set fire to one of the houses.
“The accused and their family will not be able to live in their village. That is why we destroyed the house.”
The Kuki oppose Meitei demands for reserved public job quotas and college admissions as a form of affirmative action, stoking fears that they might also be allowed to acquire land in areas currently reserved for tribal groups.
Human Rights Watch alleges the policies “promote Hindu majoritarianism”.
‘Brutal’ and ‘terrible’
The United States said on Sunday it was deeply concerned by reports of viral videos showing two women paraded naked in Manipur state.
A US State Department spokesperson called the incident “brutal” and “terrible” and said the United States conveyed its sympathies to the victims.
The United States encouraged a peaceful and inclusive resolution to the Manipur violence and urged authorities to respond to humanitarian needs while protecting all groups, homes and places of worship, the State Department spokesperson said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday condemned the assault as “shameful” and promised tough action.
Manipur’s state government is led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and has said it is investigating the “heinous” incident.
“Both communities are condemning this event,” said Suchitra Rajkumari, 42, a local activist. “At least in one point they are agreeing.” The Meira Paibis smashed down the walls of the homes of two of the accused before stuffing bales of hay inside and setting them on fire. — Agencies
Cover photo: Women from the Meira Paibis group of the Meitei community in India’s Manipur state gather in front of the partially burned house of a man accused of abusing two Kuki women after a video of the incident emerged. — AFP