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Indian Army And The Legacy Of Rape In Manipur

In the Indian narrative of progress and development, the North East has always remained in footnotes. While mainstream media rarely takes notice of the violence caused by Indian Army in the North East, recent outpour of extreme resentment at the military forces did shake both the media and the state as forty Manipuri women –twelve of them naked– stormed the Army headquarters in Imphal, holding signs that read ‘Indian Army, Rape Us!’

Thangjam Manorama’s brutal murder by Army personnel was the source of anger for the protesters. Manorama’s murder is far from being an exceptional case in Manipur where rape, abuse and murder are everyday realities. In their brave protest, Manipuri women shamed Indian army by parading the very female body that brought humiliation and death to their sisters. With their raw anger and amazing mobilization, these women refuse to get knocked down by the ‘˜rape culture’ that enables the ‘˜victor’ to demoralize their victim.

The human rights violations in Manipur are, in fact, sanctioned by the state in the form of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, which gives enormous powers to security forces. AFSPA has been operative in Manipur for over four decades and has given unaccounted power to the security forces to search, arrest, detain or kill anyone on the basis of suspicion–of course all in the name of ‘˜maintaining public order’. The abuse of power by security forces has resulted in incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and killing.

The systematic misuse of AFSPA is discussed at great lengths by Amnesty International in the report ‘Official sanction for killing in Manipur’ (1998):

‘By conferring broadly defined powers to shoot to kill on the armed forces, this law has fostered a climate in which the agents of law enforcement use excessive force with impunity. A pattern of apparently unlawful killings of suspected members of armed opposition groups has resulted from the systemic use of lethal force as an alternative to arrest by the security forces. Civilians, including women and juveniles, have been among the victims of killing or wounding by security forces.’

As though special powers are not enough, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act goes on to provide the security forces protection from prosecution! The Committee on Human Rights has documented 55 selected incidents of arbitrary killings by security forces between 1980 and 1996 –none of the cases have been resolved till date.

Invasion of women’s bodies is another consequence of the privilege and power enjoyed by security forces in Manipur. Countless incidents of molestation and rape go unreported, while few women who do report do not get fair hearing. Miss Rose (1974), Neelam Panchabhaiya (1986), Tamphasana (1990),

Ahanjaobi Devi (1996) tried fighting legal battles against their rapists but all of these cases were dropped on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Amnesty International gives a disturbing account of the faa§ade of justice in Manipur:

‘Despite consistent allegations of widespread human rights violations in areas of the northeast of India where the Act is in operation, to Amnesty International’s knowledge, no member of the security forces has been prosecuted for a human rights violation.’

Besides the threat of violence, women in Manipur also have to contend with the threat of sexual abuse by the armed forces. Not to speak of the social stigma attached to rape that doubles up the sense of guilt and insecurity.

Masculine military privilege and its visible aggression in Manipur can only be understood in terms of an ancient war tactic which uses rape as a tool to control and dehumanize the ‘˜enemy’. Given the misogyny of the state, we must start looking at spaces outside the state for solution of problems. As Manipuri women take their struggle to streets, they have become an inspiration to everyone suffering and fighting patriarchy. In struggle, together!

*The opinion is written by Shivali Tukdeo.

*The article was earlier published October 2004.

*The author can be reached at


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