Manipur: India’s Supreme Court hears plea by women in viral assault video

Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and other leaders of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) visit Moirang College Relief Camp where displaced people of Churachandpur affected by the ongoing ethnic violence are staying, at Bishnupur district in India's north-eastern Manipur state on July 29 ,2023 .
Image caption,Opposition MPs visited Manipur over the weekend

India’s Supreme Court has questioned the federal government on “systemic” and “unabated” violence in the north-eastern state of Manipur while hearing a petition filed by two women who were seen in a video that sparked outrage.

The viral video showed the women being paraded naked and molested by a mob.

They were assaulted in early May, when violence began in Manipur, but it only made headlines this month.

Their petition asks for a fair trial and protection of their identities.

The court is also hearing a petition from the federal government, which has asked the Supreme Court to move the trial in the case outside the state and conclude it in six months.

Violence in the scenic state of Manipur between members of the majority Meitei and minority Kuki tribal communities have left at least 130 dead and displaced tens of thousands over the past three months.

The women in the video were Kukis, while the men surrounding them were from the Meitei group. According to a police complaint filed days after the incident, one of the women was also gang raped.

Police have arrested seven people so far in connection with the case, but the first arrest only took place on 20 July, a day after the video went viral.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented the women, told the top court on Monday that the “police collaborated with the perpetrators of violence”.

The case is now being investigated by India’s federal police agency.

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that the assault was not “an isolated instance”.

“Here we are dealing with systemic violence which the Indian Penal Code recognises as a special offence,” he said.

He has asked the state government why it took two weeks for the police to register a complaint in the case. The court also asked the government to provide details of the 6,000 police cases registered since the conflict began, how many of these involved sexual violence and what action had been taken about it.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday.

Opposition leaders have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of not doing enough to address the crisis in Manipur. Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also in power in the state.

Mr Modi only publicly commented on the crisis in Manipur after the video became public. He said the incident had shamed the country and that the guilty wouldn’t be spared. He hasn’t visited the state yet.

Opposition leaders have moved a no-trust motion against Mr Modi’s government which they say will force him to speak on the ethnic clashes in parliament.

Over the weekend , a 21-member delegation of opposition MPs visited Manipur to assess the situation. A memorandum submitted by them to the state governor flags the “complete breakdown of law and order” in Manipur and the “pathetic” condition of the relief camps.

The delegation alleged that the federal and state government had failed to protect the lives of people from both communities. They have also criticised Mr Modi’s “brazen indifference” on the issue.

Anurag Thakur, a federal minister from the BJP, criticised the visit, calling it “political tourism”. He claimed that his government was ready to discuss the Manipur issue from “day one” of the ongoing parliament session and accused the opposition of “running away” from it.

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