‘We were treated like animals’: Manipur village chief recounts ordeal
On May 3, as ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur’s Churachandpur town, Vaiphei knew that the violence would reach their homes sooner than later.
On May 4, as the small Kuki village of B Phainom in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district came under attack, the police were unresponsive on the phone, offered little protection, and even after a brutal sexual assault that later sparked a nationwide outcry, the victims and other residents were forced to take shelter in the jungles and treated like animals, said village chief Thangboi Vaiphei on Thursday.
Vaiphei, whose complaint later led to the registration of the first information report (FIR) in the case where a mob stripped naked and paraded in public three women from the village — said the thousand-strong group of Meitei community members plundered the village, forcing most of the residents, including the women and their two male relatives, to flee. But even after the barbaric crime, their ordeal didn’t end.
Valphei said the victims were forced to take shelter in the jungles again. “Who will get a doctor there? We live a tough life. The village was our home and we were treated like animals,” he added.
On May 3, as ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur’s Churachandpur town, Vaiphei knew that the violence would reach their homes sooner than later. They were a Kuki settlement in an area dominated by Meiteis — the two warring groups in the state.
But the next day, as they came under attack from a mob that vandalised their homes, Vaiphei made frantic calls to the local police station, to no avail.
“When the first incidents of violence took place in Churachandpur on May 3, we informed the local police station and officers came. But on May 4, when we called them, they said they would not be able to come because the police station needed to be saved,” said 65-year old Vaiphei, who served in the Indian Army’s infantry and retired as a junior commissioned officer (JCO) of the Assam Regiment in 2007, told HT.
As the mob plundered the village, the three women and others fled into the jungles.
“On seeing the church and houses being set on fire, the women fled the village with other residents and took shelter in the jungles on the hills,” said Vaiphei.
His complaint — first registered as a “zero FIR” on May 18 but forwarded to the appropriate police station only on June 21 — said the family was finally rescued by a police team from the Nongpok Samai police station 2km away.
But the mob waylaid them and “snatched” them from police custody — though in statements to some media outlets, one of the women later said they were handed over by the police to the mob — killed a man, before assaulting the women and parading them naked. One of the women was later gang raped, the FIR said, adding that the mob also killed her 19-year-old brother for trying to intervene. “The brother of the younger victim was butchered to death. Nobody came to the rescue of the older women,” Vaiphei said.
The video of the assault — showing the men hooting and applauding as they groped and assaulted the women — went viral on Wednesday, triggering a nationwide outcry and sparking condemnation across party lines, led by the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court. But back in Manipur, the victims of the crime continue to struggle with getting on with their lives, even afraid that they were in danger.
“The victims have been socially stigmatised. My relative is afraid that she will now be killed because the video has gone viral,” said a relative of one of the victims.