(ANALYSIS) On Sept. 4, 2023, United Nations experts published a statement of concern about the situation in the northeast state of Manipur in India. As they indicated, they are concerned about the alleged acts of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, home destruction, forced displacement, torture and ill treatment perpetrated in Manipur.
The alleged crimes are not new, as the conflict erupted in May 2023 with what the U.N. experts described as a “community conflict between the predominantly Hindu Meitei and the predominantly Christian Kuki ethnic communities.” As they added, “By mid-August 2023, an estimated 160 persons had reportedly been killed, mostly from the Kuki ethnic community, and over 300 injured. The conflict also reportedly resulted in tens of thousands of people from the communities being displaced, thousands of homes and hundreds of churches being burnt down, as well the destruction of farmland, loss of crops and loss of livelihood.”
Among the litany of violations in the state, the U.N. experts emphasized the “reports and images of gender-based violence targeting hundreds of women and girls of all ages, and predominantly of the Kuki ethnic minority. The alleged violence includes gang rape, parading women naked in the street, severe beatings causing death, and burning them alive or dead.”
Similar concerns have recently been raised by the International Bar Association in relation to a case of two women. As the IBA stated, “a brutal and prolonged attack against two women in Manipur, India, which was filmed and later circulated online, has highlighted the targeting of women amid ethnic conflict in the region. The incident has led to calls for national and international authorities to take further action.”
The IBA cited Rupa Khetarpal, an associate professor of teaching at Rutgers School of Social Work in New Jersey and an expert in global gender-based violence who explained that “in India, during partition and other regional conflicts driven by political and economic agendas, sexual violence against women and girls has been a weaponized mechanism to shame, control and obliterate the existence of specific communities.”
The wave of violence in Manipur was preceded by widespread hate speech, both online and offline. This hate speech is said to have been used to justify the atrocities committed against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, on account of their ethnicity and religious beliefs. Furthermore, as the U.N. experts identified, there are reports of counter-terrorism measures being abused to legitimize acts of violence and repression against ethnic and religious minorities. Such targeting of ethnic and religious groups cannot be ignored any more.
While some information about the situation is being brought to light, recent weeks have also witnessed a concerning trend of blocking information from the region or targeting those who speak out.
On Sept. 2, 2023, the situation in Manipur was covered by the Editors Guild of India. Its “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Media’s Reportage of the Ethnic Violence in Manipur” found that, among others, “during the ethnic violence, journalists of Manipur wrote one-sided reports. … The internet ban made matters worse. Communication blockade by the government had a deleterious effect on journalism as it directly impacted the ability of journalists to communicate with each other, their editors and their sources.” Such internet and communication blockages are often used to stifle the free flow of information, including about the atrocities that could alert others or information that could guide survivors to safety.
Only a few days after the report was published, Al-Jazeera reported that the police in India’s Manipur have filed two cases against members of the EGI, “accusing them of trying to incite more unrest in the northeastern state, where deadly ethnic violence has simmered since May.”
The U.N. experts are calling upon the government of India to take robust and timely action to investigate acts of violence and hold perpetrators to account, “including public officials who may have aided and abetted the incitement of racial and religious hatred and violence.” They further called upon the government to step up relief efforts for those affected. However, considering the lack of any adequate response until now, it is unlikely the government of India will act upon these calls.
This piece was republished from Forbes with permission.