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Bengal wrongs don’t make Manipur right – by Deepika Bhan

New Delhi, July 23, 2023- There can be no worse horror. What two women in Manipur underwent is shocking and unnerving. The entire episode raises serious questions on the fragility of the dignity of women in our country. And there seems to be no end to such cases.

Similar cases have occurred in the past, some have come to light and many may have gone unreported.

In August 2010, an Adivasi teen was paraded naked and molested across three villages in West Bengal. The incident would have gone unnoticed, but for one of the several MMSes that the men recorded on their mobile phones and these reached the media three months later, which made the police act.

The video was grotesque, showing the teen struggling to shake groping hands off her, desperately trying to seek a cover and after some time walking like a log of wood with a face that haunts sane minds.

That teen’s story became headlines then. The police made some arrests and voices were raised about women’s safety and dignity.

Thirteen years later, a similar horrifying incident occurred in Manipur, the only difference being that the number of women was two. Again, the case came to light nearly four months after it took place. One of the several videos reached the media and occupied the headlines.

Soon, the chest beating began and political leaders made statements, most of which were stingingly aimed at each other. The Opposition made a direct attack on the Prime Minister, questioning his silence and seeking his statement in Parliament.

Both Houses of Parliament have witnessed commotion on the first two days of the Monsoon Session. On social media, campaigns for justice for the two Manipuri women are being run and the Opposition is trying its best to corner the Centre and state governments.

As the political uproar over the Manipur women’s case grew, the BJP came out with similar cases taking place in West Bengal.

BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya tweeted some similar horror videos from West Bengal. On July 8, the day of the panchayat poll in West Bengal, a “Gram Sabha female candidate [was] beaten, stripped naked and paraded in Howrah’s Panchla, a stone’s throw away from Nabanno, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sits”.

In her complaint the woman has accused “Hemanta Roy, TMC candidate from the same Gram Sabha, along with other criminals and 40-50 other men of hitting her on chest, tearing her saree and pulled off her inner wear, before parading her naked.”

Malviya also tweeted another case: “Two tribal women were stripped naked, tortured and beaten mercilessly while the police remained mute spectators in the Pakua Hat area of Bamangola Police Station, Malda, in West Bengal. The horrific incident took place on the morning of July 19. The women belonged to socially marginalised community.” In this case the perpetrators were women and the men were only making videos.

While women mourn the death of their dignity, the politicians and their parties are engaged in scoring brownie points. But the trauma that the women underwent will haunt them and their families for life. They will be in pain forever and nothing can compensate for that. One of them also lost her father and brother.

What happened in a Bengal village in 2010 recurred in a Manipur village in 2023. The reasons offered for the barbarity were different. The teen girl of 2010 was punished because she was going around with a boy from a different community. The villagers, instead of being ashamed of what they put her through, were unrepentant. Similarly, the Manipur incident was the worst case of a mob that wanted revenge.

The Supreme Court also took suo motu cognizance of the horrific video of the two women in Manipur. Expressing “deep concern” over the video of the two women being paraded naked in Manipur and calling it “simply unacceptable” and “the grossest of constitutional and human rights violations”, a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud told the Centre to act, and warned “otherwise, we will take action if nothing is happening on the ground”.

Even as the ruling party, the Opposition and even the Supreme Court are talking about Manipur, there are thousands of cases of women being humiliated, tortured, assaulted and killed, and no justice being done.

Thirty-three years ago, Girija Tickoo, a university librarian in Kashmir, was kidnapped, tortured, gang-raped and then brutally murdered by cutting her alive with a carpenter’s saw. The case has been much talked about, but justice continues to elude her family even today.

The list is long and full of horrifying stories. The cases of crime against women are ever increasing.

Political noise and candlelight marches or campaigns on social media do not change anything. Momentary din leads to no justice and the country has seen enough of this. Even the most talked about case — Nirbhaya — took seven years, three months and four days to be brought to its right conclusion, when the four convicts — Mukesh, Pawan, Akshay and Vinay — were hanged to death in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

It will need humongous efforts to bring much-needed change. Unless and until the change is in the fundamentals of our society’s way of thinking and attitudes, in the enforcement of strict laws and quick justice, and in making moral education mandatory in formative years, the horror will surface again and again. (Agency)

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