India is being rocked by a video that was circulated on social media on Thursday, in which two naked women are seen being paraded down the street while being assaulted in the violence-stricken state of Manipur, before what townspeople on the videos say was a gang rape.
The video forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break a long silence - some would say too long - regarding the deadly clashes that broke out in May in the provincial state, and in a parliamentary session in New Delhi Thursday morning Modi said that it has "brought shame on India."
According to Indian police, the video in question was filmed on May 4, a day after severe ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur in which at least 130 people were killed and another 60,000 were displaced from their homes. The violence erupted following the outrage of about 30 tribes living in Manipur over the decision to grant the members of the Meitei ethnic group, mostly Hindus, a status that would guarantee them government jobs and a place in colleges at the expense of other groups.
According to the reports, the members of the Kuki tribe, which enjoy such benefits, suffered the worst violence, and the Meitai set fire to their villages and wreaked havoc on them.
According to reports, members of the Bnei Menashe community, who consider themselves descendants of one of the tribes of Israel, were also victimized in the riots in Manipur, and community member Yoel Beita, a father of four, was murdered. Four more members of the Bnei Menashe were injured, and Samuel Suantak, also a member of the community, called on Israel in an interview with Ynet to hurry up and bring the Bnei Menashe community to Israel.
The two women seen in the video that went viral are reported to be a mother and daughter from the Kuki community, and the incident took place after men burned down a village and murdered its residents. In the video, a group of men can be seen dragging them and groping them – and then throwing them in a field. In the background, some people are heard saying that the two women were gang raped. The two women are seen in the video crying and begging their attackers to stop.
"The law will take its strongest steps, with all its might. What happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven," Modi said in Parliament on Thursday. "I assure you that the country and the law will not give up on the accused, we will use our full power. There will never be forgiveness for what happened to the girls of Manipur."
Modi had not previously made any public remarks about the trouble in a state ruled by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a fact that was highlighted by his Parliamentary opposition.
Just as Modi concluded his statement, Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh tweeted that state police have made the first arrest in the case.
"A thorough investigation is currently underway and we will ensure strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment," said Singh, who has been accused by rights groups and some of his own BJP lawmakers of failing to tackle the violence.
Manipur police said they have opened a case of gang rape and arrested a man, adding that others will be held soon.
India's highest court said it was deeply disturbed by the images and asked the government to inform the court of the steps taken to apprehend the perpetrators and ensure such incidents were not repeated.
"In a constitutional democracy it is unacceptable," said Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud.
The shocking video from Manipur brings back to the public discourse in India the issue of sexual assaults against women in the country. Since the 2012 rape case on a bus in New Delhi, in which a group of men sexually abused a 23-year-old student in front of her partner when the two were returning on the bus from spending time in the city, the laws against sexual assaults were tightened, but there are horrifying reports of sexual abuse of women and girls every day.
According to government data, every 15 minutes on average a rape occurs somewhere in India. It is estimated that, in practice the phenomenon is even more widespread, because many of the sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities at all.