Jul 20, 2023, 2:49pm EDT
South Asia

A viral video of a sexual assault outrages India and the world

Narendra Modi

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The News

A now-viral video reportedly showing dozens of men parading and sexually assaulting two nude women in the Indian state of Manipur has sparked international outrage.

The video was reportedly shot on May 4, during violent ethnic conflict in the region that has killed at least 130 people and displaced more than 50,000. The government had blocked internet connection which is why the video only recently began circulating.

Public outcry over the incident forced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the video, marking the first time he has also publicly commented on the ethnic conflict in the state governed by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“This incident of Manipur which has come to light, for any civilized society, it’s a shameful incident,” Modi said on Thursday, describing the assault as an “insult” that “is of the entire nation.”

We’ve gathered reporting and analysis on how the video reflects the extent of ethnic violence in India and the failure to quell it.

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  • “Sexual terrorism is treated as the norm” in India, writes journalist Vidya Krishnan. She details how gang rape is used as a weapon particularly against lower castes and Muslims, and government institutions often excuse or protect men from the consequences of sexual violence. Attacks on women have only been increasing over the last decade: In 2021, a woman was estimated to be raped every 16 minutes in India, a 20% increase from the previous year. — The New York Times
  • The BJP has retained strong connections with Hindu groups accused of killing and ambushing Manipur’s Christian tribes. One of these groups, the Arambai Tenggol, has publicly said that Manipur’s sole representative to the Indian parliament’s upper house is their founder and leader. The founder of another group, the Meitei Leepun, has echoed the BJP’s ultra-nationalistic rhetoric. “Only with a strong Meitei population, a strong Hindu population, can India be a strong nation,” he said. — Scroll.in
  • Survivors of sexual violence in Manipur still risk being ostracized from their families and tribes, and it is suspected that dozens of other women have been violated since the conflict broke out. Members of these communities may perceive survivors as “defiled” and unfit for marriage. Moreover, patriarchy runs deep in many of these tribes, with men being the primary spokespeople to describe tragedies against them. — The Print
  • Internet shutdowns threaten India’s democracy, and this incident proves just that. The government imposed the connectivity blockade to prevent fake news from spreading, and it is important to acknowledge misinformation’s role in accelerating ethnic tensions. But the ban has left millions of other Indians unaware of just how out-of-hand the Manipur conflict has gotten, with the government having escaped accountability for its failure to quell violence. — The Wire
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Know More

At least one 21-year-old women shown in the video was confirmed to have been gang raped, according to a police complaint. Police on Thursday announced the arrest of a 32-year-old Meitei man who allegedly was one of the suspects seen in the video.

The two women in the video belong to the Kuki-Zo minority tribe, which is predominantly Christian. The majority population of Manipur are the Hindu Meitei people.

Conflict in Manipur began after the government proposed to extend reservation in government jobs and education to the Meitei people, changing the status-quo of preserving those benefits for the minority population.

It’s been reported that sexual violence against the Kuki-Zo began after fake news spread about Meitei women having been raped, leading to a retaliation against the tribes.

India’s National Commission on Women, the federal body responsible for protecting women’s rights, was made aware of the sexual assaults depicted in the video 38 days ago, but failed to respond to the allegations, News Laundry reports.