Kangpokpi, Manipur – A viral video from the Indian state of Manipur, showing dozens of men parading and assaulting two women who have been stripped naked, has triggered outrage in the country.
The 26-second video shows the group of men – some appearing to be as young as 15 – groping and sexually attacking the women belonging to the ethnic Kuki-Zo tribe, and escorting them towards an empty field.
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At least one of the women, aged 21, was gang raped, according to the first information report (FIR) filed by the survivors. The police complaint says the other woman was 42.
The incident happened on May 4, a day after deadly ethnic riots broke out between the mainly Hindu Meitei and predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo tribes in the remote state in India’s northeast, governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Meiteis, who constitute more than half of Manipur’s 3.5 million population, mainly live in capital Imphal and the prosperous valley around it, while the Kuki-Zo and Naga tribes live in the surrounding hill districts.
At least 130 people – most of them Kuki-Zo – have been killed and more than 50,000 displaced since clashes between the two communities broke out over a proposal to extend reservation in government jobs and education to the Meiteis.
Video viral two months after assault
The video emerged after more than two months due to an internet ban in Manipur since May 3 – a move that has been widely criticised by rights activists in India.
Breaking his two-month silence on the Manipur violence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the incident had filled his heart with grief and anger.
“Any civil society should be ashamed by it,” he said ahead of a parliament session where the opposition members demanded a statement from Modi on Manipur.
Also on Thursday, India’s Supreme Court said it was deeply disturbed by the viral video and asked the state and federal governments to inform the top court of the steps taken to catch the perpetrators.
“In a constitutional democracy, it is unacceptable,” Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said.
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Sachidananda Soibam, the superintendent of police in Manipur’s Thoubal district where the FIR over the May 4 incident was registered, told Al Jazeera they received the viral video only on Wednesday.
“Thanks to the video, we are trying to identify the miscreants,” he said.
On Thursday, police arrested a 32-year-old Meitei man, identified as Khuirem Herodas, as one of the suspects behind the assault on the two women.
“A thorough investigation is currently underway and we will ensure strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment,” the state’s chief minister N Biren Singh, who is a Meitei, tweeted after the arrest.
Survivor’s family says police were with mob
But Kuki-Zo families in Manipur say these words and actions are too late and accused the authorities – both in the state and at the centre – of indifference towards their plight.
The families of the two survivors told Al Jazeera they filed a complaint over the May 4 incident with the police on May 18. But it took them more than a month to transfer the case to the police station under whose jurisdiction the crime happened.
Even after that, no action was taken, said the residents. They said the authorities acted only after the video went viral on Wednesday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, the family of the sexual assault survivors said police officers were with a Meitei mob when it attacked their B Phainom village in Kangpokpi district, about 40km (25 miles) from the state capital, Imphal.
“My husband was killed by the mob. We pleaded with the police to rescue us,” said the mother of the 21-year-old survivor.
She said the police initially escorted her along with her daughter and 19-year-old son, but on seeing the mob, dropped them back to where the body of her husband lay on the ground.
It was there that her 21-year-old daughter was surrounded by the mob and sexually assaulted. When her brother tried to stop them, he was also killed, said their mother.
The family and other residents of the village eventually managed to escape to the Kuki-Zo-dominated district of Churachandpur, 86km (53 miles) from B Phainom.
“How can the police say they aren’t aware of what happened when they were present while we were assaulted? The bodies of my father and brother were taken by them to the government morgue in Imphal,” the survivor told Al Jazeera.
“We don’t trust the chief minister. But I want justice for my daughter. For my dead husband and son,” said her mother.
‘We have been dehumanised’
In another incident that happened a day after the two women were paraded and attacked, two other Kuki-Zo women from Kangpokpi’s Khopibung village were locked up in a room in Imphal and sexuallly assault by at least six men, according to the FIR registered by their families.
They were found dead in the room hours later.
The mother of one of the deceased told Al Jazeera last month that despite multiple attempts, the police have not acted on their FIR.
“Our requests for the body of our daughter have also not been acknowledged. Nobody has contacted us from the police,” she had said, adding that her village was also burned down by a Meitei mob in June.
Sources in the police administration told Al Jazeera there has been a “complete breakdown in legal processes” since the violence began on May 3.
A police officer based in one of Manipur’s hill districts where the Kuki-Zo mainly live, on condition of anonymity, said they have not been able to get the police authorities from Imphal to cooperate on any of the complaints registered by the victims who were killed in the valley or have fled from there.
Hanglalmuan Vaiphei, a 21-year-old college student arrested for a social media post criticising the state chief minister on April 30, was allegedly killed while in police custody.
His family said they were informed of his death on May 5. They said the police told them their son was beaten to death by a Meitei mob while being taken to prison from court.
The family said they registered a case of custodial killing early in May, but have not received any calls from the police. Their son’s body is yet to be returned to them, they added.
“We have been talking about such incidents from the time the violence started. Nobody listened to us. The Manipur state turned its back on our community much before May 3,” Kimmoui Lhouvum, a social activist from Kangpokpi, told Al Jazeera.
“Justice no longer exists for us. We have been dehumanised to an extent where there is no going back.”