Manipur is echoing across India, particularly when it comes to events around the rights of marginalised women. The developments in Manipur are multi-layered. There are elements of ethnic strife, communal overtones, sexual violence, role of militias and drug cartels along with tribal rights.

Two major events held recently demonstrate how the developments in Manipur have become a central point in the conscience of the people as they continue to fight for the rights of women, particularly those coming from the margins.

The first one was called ‘Draupadi Se Draupadi Tak’ (from the Draupadi of Mahabharata to the President Draupadi Murmu) that was held at Dalit Shakti Kendra in Ahmedabad on August 10. This was a women-led convention that drew attention to the issue of sexual violence with Manipur at its core.

According to the organisers ‘Draupadi’ of the past was fortunate to have no one other than Lord Krishna by her side to protect her modesty. “Today, in Manipur, when three tribal women were forced to strip and paraded naked on the roads in the day light and in the public gaze by a frenzied mob that continued to molest them before gang raping the youngest in an open field.

“There was no Lord Krishna, no Prime Minister of India and even the National Commission of Women (NCW) was not present there to help them. Unfortunately, we did not hear a voice of protest from our honourable President of India too.

“The mob had killed the father and brother of a woman who attempted to protect the victim. To add to the indignity of the nation, the Police reportedly had helplessly been mute spectators when the crowd took away the three women from their custody,” said a note circulated by the organisers.

It further said, “How has the situation of women changed between the era of the Draupadi of the past and the Draupadi of the democratic nation governed by the law? Has the sexual violence on the women decreased irrespective of the best and multiple legislations?

“The segregated data on the atrocities on both the dalits and tribals in India have been available only from 1974 and 1989 respectively. As per reports between 1974 and 2021 a total of 58,606 incidents of rape on dalit women were registered whereas between 1989 and 2021, a total of 21,318 incidents of rape were registered on the tribal women.

“This is an incomplete picture as in the initial years, not all the states had reported such crimes besides during two years period the Government did not publish such segregated data and not all the rape cases are reported to the police.”

Talking in context of the ‘most popularised term development’ since 2014, the organizers and participants of the event raised the question of the incidents of sexual violence increasing during this period.

They claimed, “India has reported a total of 31,967 incidents of rape on dalit and tribal women between 2014 and 2021 which amounts for 40 % of the total cases as reported above in the past 46 years. Do we hear even a little protest in the country against the increasing sexual violence on the dalit and tribal women compared to the mammoth protest against the reservation?”

Dalit and tribal rights activist Martin Macwan told The Citizen, “The literacy gap between men and women among these communities that was 9.2 % in 1901 stood at 16.6% in 2011.

“Ideally this should have decreased. There is a lot of talk around the uniform civil code while the issue of women’s reservation in the Parliament has been pending for the last so many years.”

A sari was displayed at the event, through which the precarious condition of dalits and tribals was depicted through images and figures.

“This sari and its replicas were sent to 120 persons including the President of India, three women governors of states, the chairperson of NCW, women leaders of national political parties, vocal women journalists, women artists and sports persons who too have voiced their concerns.

“These saris have been sent with a request to wear them on the occasion of flag hoisting on August 15, 2023 on the occasion of 76th Independence Day of India,” Macwan disclosed.

The second event was the annual convention held on August 12 at Mahal Kalan in Punjab to mark the memory of Kiranjit Kaur, a school student who was raped and murdered in 1997. The incident had witnessed a massive outrage and a people’s movement that led to the punishment for those responsible for the act.

An annual convention is organised by Kiranjit Kaur Action Committee where women, farmers and people from other walks of life gather to discuss various issues.

“This year the developments in Manipur and also in Nuh in Haryana were at the core of the event that was attended by more than 3000 people. The emphasis was on generating awareness about what has been happening in these places and who are the forces behind these happenings,” said Narayan Dutt who is one of the organisers of the event and was instrumental in the movement of 1997.

Kiranjit Kaur is seen as a symbol of women’s liberation. There were resolutions passed on tackling the growing oppression of women, attempts by the right wing to push the country into a fratricidal war, repression of dalits and targeting the marginalised sections by bulldozing their homes.

The speakers from various organisations rued that even today 37% of the people’s representatives on various legislative bodies including the Parliament have criminal backgrounds. It was pointed out that in such circumstances oppression of women is bound to increase.

They spoke out against the plundering and selling of the country’s resources by those in power and underlined that the movement of Mahal Kalan is an inspiration for the people to fight for securing their rights.

“There is a lot of concern over how violence was triggered in Nuh. It was decided that local level committees should be formed at village and other levels at every place to counter the designs of the forces who want to divide people for their political gains,” Dutt explained.

This event at Mahal Kalan had followed a massive show of strength held by Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) in Mohali on August 5 which was led by women from across the rural domain of Punjab.

In his address farmers’ leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan had reportedly said, “Punjab’s farmers take it as their duty to raise their voice on the crisis in Manipur where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) double engine government has perpetrated repressive violence by favouring one community or remaining silent. As usual, women have been the main targets in this violence.”

Right from the day reports started pouring in from Manipur on the ghastly occurrences over there Punjab has witnessed the people speaking out against the happenings. There have been corner meetings, distribution of pamphlets and condemnation of the government’s failure in containing the violence across the state.