It has taken a 26-second video somewhere in Senapati district of a ravaged Manipur, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his 77-day long, insensitive and unexplained silence. The Prime Minister has finally made a statement on Manipur.

Suddenly, he is of the considered opinion that it has shamed 140 crore Indians! “My heart is also full of pain and anger,” he said, “What has happened to these daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven.”

Five members of a village, including two women, were escaping another of those organised mob-assaults on ten villages by armed gangs of marauders and looters on the hill-villages inhabited by the tribal community of Kukis.

The date was May 4, 2023. They were chased and captured by the notorious gang-members of Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, an underground group of Meiteis, who have been openly flaunting their muscle and gun power, while the Manipur government has perennially chosen to look the other way.

One of the victims in the video told the ‘Guardian’ of London that she had been traumatised by the events that took place. “Me and another girl were taken away,” she said adding, “They encircled us and told us to remove all our clothes. I tried to plead with them to leave us alone but they warned us that we would get killed like our neighbours if we don’t obey them.

“I did what they told me to do, they were ready to kill us otherwise. They then paraded us. Men were touching my breasts and all over my body. We were taken to a nearby field. I do not want to get into the details but after that I was let go.”

The five Kuki villagers were caught in the jungle. One escaped. The two men, father and brother of the young woman, were killed in cold-blood, bludgeoned to death, apparently, a routine method being widely used as revenge-actions. The father and brother were trying to protect the young woman, save her from the hands of these blood-thirsty men.

According to a report by the Calcutta-based ‘Telegraph’, a police vehicle was parked a few metres away from where this grotesque public spectacle was enacted. The cops reportedly chose to leave when the assault began, yet again proving the widespread allegation that the Manipur government, led by Chief Minister Biren Singh, who is a Meitei, is brazenly partisan and biassed, and working against the Kuki community in his own state.

Biren Singh had told the India Today news channel that there may be “100 such FIRs. Don’t have to hear allegations. You have to see the ground reality. Hundreds of similar cases have taken place. That is why the Internet has been shut.”

Biren Singh alluded that the media was focussing on one case when there were many such. However, he did not clarify why there was no action taken for nearly 70 days since the May 18 FIR filed after the women were assaulted in various ways on May 4.

He claimed that the media was reacting “For one case, you all... but I condemn it. This is a crime against humanity. We have arrested one person and we will also apprehend the others involved as per the law of the land.” Singh’s interview clip also went viral overnight.

The Telegraph on Thursday reported that the 19-year-old girl who was assaulted in Manipur narrated the horrific details after Chief Minister N. Biren Singh’s remarks on their being “hundreds of similar cases”. The teenager said she was also assaulted on May 4 by “a mob belonging to the Meitei community.”

She told the newspaper that whatever the CM has claimed was “meaningless to me as I have been waiting for justice for 65 days after lodging an FIR, in which I had described how I was abused and assaulted by around 150 armed men and women who had raided our institute around 4pm on May 4.”

The survivor stated that she had “lodged the first “zero FIR” (which can be registered with any police station irrespective of the place of occurrence) at Uttam Nagar police station in Delhi after I was released from AIIMS(the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the national capital), where I had been taken for treatment after I spent a few days at a hospital in Imphal. I returned to Manipur and again lodged another zero FIR, at Churachandpur police station on May 30.”

According to the survivor she has not been contacted yet to record her statement.

Meanwhile, it was only after the horrific video went viral on wednesday and thursday that arrests were made. So far, according to news reports, four people have been arrested. According to a report in NDTV, one of the alleged perpetrators, identified as Huirem Heradas Singh (32), was arrested from Thoubal district. “In the video, the man, dressed in a green T-shirt, was seen dragging one of the women,” stated the news report.

The arrests came amid widespread condemnation of the police, in view of the huge gap between the crime and the surfacing of the video. Very little headway was made in the 70-plus days since the case was filed.

As reported, the basic issue that has led to so much violence, continues to boil. At least 10 of the 11 BJP MLAs have been appealing for a separation from the Meitei-dominated State apparatus, and seeking a separate administration.

Taking a cue, the police and the security forces seem to follow the same line. Scores of Christian churches belonging to the Kukis have been burnt and destroyed, thousands have been compelled to take shelter in refugee camps, their homes and villages have been ravaged and burnt by organised mobs, and several of them have been killed.

As of now, more than 150 people have been murdered across the state, including in the Imphal Valley and the hills inhabited by the Kuki community.

The brutalised women then fled to a Kuki-area where they received first-aid. One of their relatives reportedly lodged a complaint with the police on May 13, a First Information Report( an FIR. The police, thereby, verified the version of the women-survivors and documented it.

Significantly, the ‘Telegraph’ report said, “The officer-in-charge of the Saikul police station got his transfer order two days after he got the FIR registered... He had begun the process of investigation and spoken to one of the two women over the phone. Before his transfer, he even transferred the FIR to the police station concerned, where the incident took place. But, nothing has happened after that.”

So, why was the police officer transferred merely two days after the FIR was registered and when he had begun the investigation? Surely, there is more to the transfer, especially when the order came from above? Who gave the order, and why? Why did the concerned police station not act with urgency and instantly, taking a cue from the testimony of the women and the police officer’s action?

Was the Chief Minister aware of this gruesome assault on two women citizens, enacted by a mob, with a video shot as well? Was he, or was he not? Did he at all learn about the FIR and the earnestness of the police officer concerned, who was promptly transferred for reasons so transparently obvious?

Why was he transferred? Did the chief minister have a hand in the transfer? Did he inform the Union home minister of the assault? Did the home minister care to take any action?

Now, rhetorically, and with no apparent conviction, and after weeks have passed by, the CM is seeking the death penalty for the perpetrators, one of whom has been arrested! Was he not aware of the total impunity being given to the underground gangs of armed marauders, killers (and rapists?), with alleged, tacit protection of the State-apparatus?

In a scathing social media post, top lawyer, Rebecca Mammen John, has written: “These silly gimmicks must stop, identify them, arrest them, prosecute them if you have the will, but you don’t. This incident is of May 4. Go visit these families, but, how can you? Try and restore law and order, but why would you? Capital punishment, my foot!”

The 26-second video only proves that this could be just one horror-story among many similar horror-stories now being buried by the dominant-narrative, even while the Centre, and the prime minister, has compulsively looked the other way. So how many more women have met this ghastly fate as the two women in the jungles of Manipur?

Vungzagin Valte, a Kuki Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, a close advisor to the Chief Minister, had been similarly attacked by this organised gang soon after the conflict began in May, following a court judgement declaring Meiteis as Scheduled Tribe. He has been physically disabled for weeks.

While most of the mainline media has shied away from entering the conflict zones, and reportage has been shallow or reasonably prejudiced in the local media, civil society groups had in mid-June this year asked for urgent and immediate intervention of the Prime Minister and the government to stop the mayhem, especially that “perpetuated by armed groups like the Armabai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, accompanied by genocidal hate-speech and supremacist displays of impunity”.

The civil society groups had then warned that there are also reports about “frenzied mobs chanting ‘rape her, torture her’ while attacking women – that urgently need to be verified”. They had then demanded a court-monitored tribunal to “establish facts and prepare the ground for justice and healing of the gaping wounds that separate the communities of Manipur…”

They had also demanded that a fast-track should be immediately set-up for all cases of sexual violence by state and non-state actors, as recommended by the Verma Commission, that ‘personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas should be tried under ordinary criminal law’”.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has once again reflected a pronounced prejudice in his belated statement, playing dubious politics in the face of a ghastly crime against women citizens, which has created a national outrage. He has said: “I request all Chief Ministers to strengthen law and order in their states… Particularly for the protection of our mothers and sisters, they should take the harshest actions, no matter where the incident occurs, whether in Rajasthan, or Chhattisgarh, or Manipur.”

Now, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are Congress-ruled states. There have been no such violent incidents in these states in the recent past, especially against women. Chhattisgarh has been reasonably peaceful compared to what it was during the BJP-regime, with the Maoists then going on a rampage in targeted underground attacks on security forces and politicians, getting killed in turn, scores of adivasis put in prison on flimsy charges, and, earlier, thousands displaced from their remote tribal habitats in the forests, in the sinister divide-and-rule programme hatched under the Salwa Judum.

So why has Prime Minister Modi forgotten, and so deliberately, states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, ruled by his own party? So, how come the gang-rapists and murderers, who raped Bilquis Bano and killed her family and child during the Gujarat-genocide of 2002, were released from prison, and garlanded, while one of them was felicitated in a BJP-held function?

And, come to think of it, most of the meticulously-planned mob-lynchings were enacted during the BJP regime in Jharkhand, under the then, chief minister, Raghubir Das.

In response, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh has said that the PM’s unconvincing response, after an "incomprehensible and unforgivable silence", is nothing but a ploy to “divert attention”. He said, "The PM tried to divert attention from the colossal governance failures and the humanitarian tragedy in Manipur by equating crimes against women in other states, especially those governed by the Opposition, while ignoring atrocities on women in states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat."

In a Twitter post, Ramesh said, "He has made no appeal for peace, nor asked for the Chief Minister of Manipur to step down. While he has commented on this one video that has surfaced, this is only one example of the hundreds of incidents of barbaric violence in the state of Manipur… This is too little too late. Mere words won't do anymore. Actions must speak louder."

Ramesh added that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah just cannot escape accountability. "The chief minister of Manipur should step down immediately. ‘INDIA’ (the new Opposition alliance), will continue to demand answers — to ensure a path towards peace and reconciliation in Manipur."

Swati Maliwal, chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, said she will visit the relatives of the survivors in Manipur. "The fact that such an incident could occur, and the perpetrators remain at large for over two-and-a-half months, is a grave reflection of the urgent need for action and justice in the state," she said.

Meanwhile, a concerned Supreme Court has taken cognisance of this atrocity. “We are very deeply disturbed by the videos which have emerged yesterday about the way those two women were paraded in Manipur," said the bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) D. Y. Chandrachud , and also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra.

"I think it is time that the government really steps in and takes action because this is simply unacceptable," Chief Justice Chandrachud said, adding, "We will give a little time to the government to act, otherwise, we will take action if nothing is happening on the ground." Using women as an instrument to perpetrate violence in an area of communal strife is "deeply disturbing" and this is "simply unacceptable".

Earlier, women’s rights group, the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), led by Annie Raja, among others, had sought urgent intervention of the Union home minister for the disposal of “several decaying dead bodies reported to be lying unidentified and unclaimed in several mortuaries in Manipur”.

Nisha Siddhu, National Secretary, NFIW, had sought the constitution of a medical board headed by an independent forensic expert to conduct post-mortems on such dead bodies, many of whom remain “unidentified”, and are “lying in the morgues”. This should be immediately done before “before pieces of evidence are destroyed”.

They demanded “safe passage of the families of the deceased to Manipur, enabling them to claim the bodies of their loved ones and perform the necessary and dignified last rites… “It is of significant importance that the bereaved families have the opportunity to bid farewell to their loved ones swiftly and safely, and arranged by the State.”