The Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says crimes against women in the country have gone up from 1.5 million cases in 2001 to 3.5 million cases in 2014. The culture of ‘elopement’ in the conflict-hit state of Manipur constitutes a specific feature of such violence in Northeast India. Some of the affected women recently appeared before an Independent People’s Tribunal and deposed on their experience of sexual violence in the state

Young Manipuri women elope with men on marriage promises and are then ditched or murdered after being raped.

Peace rally in Imphal demanding appropriate action against those involved in crime against women

Things were different in the traditional Manipuri society. ‘Elopement’ by young women and men was then an accepted practice with the implicit understanding that marriage would follow. When a girl was reported to have ‘eloped’ with a boy, it was followed by the boy’s parents approaching the girl’s parents with a marriage proposal.

But in recent times, elopement has taken a criminal turn with boys using it as a ploy to sexually abuse women. Some minor girls are subjected to rape, murder and other serious crimes under the Indian Penal Code.

This has become a major social issue in Manipur. But neither the state police nor other administrative institutions such as the ministry of social justice and empowerment or the ministry for the development of women and children has shown the will for sustained action to deal with these crimes.

Many cases came up before the Independent People’s Tribunal (IPT) some of which are mentioned below.

A 15-year old girl from Imphal police station area was recently kidnapped by an 18-year old man. The girl’s parents lodged a police complaint naming the accused but the police failed to register a First Information Report (FIR).

The Independent People’s Tribunal listens to Manipuri women who were kidnapped and raped by locals

The parents of the girl approached higher police authorities and got an FIR registered but no action followed. The parents then approached the NGO, Women Action for Development (WAD), which was unable to produce positive response from the authorities.

In 2014, a diabetic young girl of Bishnupur town was kidnapped, wrongfully confined and raped by the relative of a powerful member of the state legislative assembly. The local police had registered a case but did not act further because of political pressure.

In May 2015, a 25-year old woman of Thoubal district left home and did not return. Her family thought she eloped with someone. They waited for information but did not receive any. Her body was later found near a canal. She was murdered by her lover.

In 2010, two men kidnapped a young girl and her mother from West Imphal district, raped and killed them. The police had registered a case of murder. But the chief minister of the state, who looked into the case, said the crime was committed by members of an insurgent group. A spokesman of the group denied the charge.

In 2014, a young woman of Thoubal district was kidnapped and killed by a youth. The family of the accused tried to prove with the help of police that he was a juvenile to protect him from prosecution for murder.

Several such cases came up before the IPT. There were also cases coming under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, which were ignored by the police. In addition, there were cases of violence and crimes against women under the Indian Penal Code. In all these cases, the state police were either indifferent or complicit.

The IPT found that gender sensitization of the Manipur police is a dire necessity and initiated discussions with the women police personnel of the state.

Insurgencies too have taken a toll on the lives of women in Manipur, a former princely state with a complex mix of over 30 ethnicities.

A multiplicity of ethnic groups competing for development and dignity in a rapidly changing socio-economic and political scenario and perceived neglect by the central government have led to the emergence of multiple insurgencies in the state.

Manipuri women and children have fallen victims to extra-judicial executions by the state machinery.

Violence against women in the conflict-torn North-eastern states of Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura has not received the attention it deserves. Manipur is especially unsafe for women who are fighting a grim battle for security and survival.

Induction of more women police officers is essential to bring about changes

Neena Ningombam, secretary of the head of the Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM), says 31 women and 98 children were killed by the security forces between 1979 and 2012.

In November 2009, a fact-finding team investigated the extra-judicial killings by security forces of a pregnant young woman and her friend in Imphal in Manipur. Rape, molestation and torture of women and children, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and executions, housebreaking, and looting, are part of everyday life in Manipur.

In 2009, IPT looked into the case of Irom Sharmila who has been on hunger strike from November 2000 seeking removal of a draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts, from Manipur.

In 2004, Thangjam Manorama, a young woman, was brutally raped and killed by Assam Rifles, a central security force. A group of naked women demonstrated in front of the AR headquarters in Imphal demanding they be raped too.

Induction of more women police officers into the police organization is essential to bring about changes. Women now barely constitute 6.5% of the civil police including armed police in India.

The writer is a former Director General of Police in North-east India and author of ‘Political Violence and the Police in India’, Sage, 2007 and ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in North-east India’, Routledge, 2016 

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