NHRC takes up Manipur abduction, gang-rape case, issues notice

First public statement on Manipur violence from human rights body since violence began on May 3; Commission says took up case for ‘urgent intervention’, notices returnable in four weeks

July 20, 2023 10:54 pm | Updated 11:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Women protest in Imphal on July 20, 2023 after a May 4 video of sexual violence in Manipur surfaced the previous day.

Women protest in Imphal on July 20, 2023 after a May 4 video of sexual violence in Manipur surfaced the previous day. | Photo Credit: PTI

Two and a half months after the ethnic conflict in Manipur began on May 3, the National Human Rights Commission of India issued its first public statement about human rights violations in the State on Thursday.

In its statement, the NHRC said that it had taken cognisance of the May 4 incident in B. Phainom village of Kangpokpi district, where a mob of 1,000 Meitei people had abducted five members of a Kuki-Zo family while they were being escorted to safety by the Manipur Police. The mob proceeded to kill two of the men who tried to protect the women. They then stripped, paraded and sexually assaulted the women in public, also gang-raping one of the women. A video of the incident went viral on Wednesday, prompting the police to act and arrest four accused within 24 hours.

Also Read | Came to know of May 4 incident after video went viral: Manipur CM Biren Singh 

‘Urgent intervention’

The Commission said that it had taken up the case based on “complaints” that sought its “urgent intervention”. In notices issued to the Manipur Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, the NHRC has sought detailed action-taken reports within four weeks. 

“The Commission would also like to know about the steps taken/proposed to be taken to safeguard the human rights of the citizens, especially women and vulnerable sections of the society from such barbaric incidents,” it added.

First comment since May 3

Since May 3, the NHRC has issued a total of 35 press releases and has posted on Twitter almost every day. Its chairperson, Justice (Retd.) Arun Mishra, has addressed at least three public events, including one at the United Nations in New York. None of these statements or speeches has mentioned the violence in Manipur or the human rights violations being reported in the State. 

Neither the NHRC nor its chairperson publicly mentioned the Manipur violence or any action taken on the issue until the July 20 statement. However, over the last two and a half months, the Commission has, in public statements and social media posts, highlighted action it had taken with respect to allegations of human rights violations in States such as West Bengal, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra; suicides in prisons; lack of internal complaints committees in sports federations; and increase in online circulation of Child Sexual Abuse Material.  

Also Read: Supreme Court ‘deeply disturbed’, orders Centre, Manipur government to act

Complaints from Manipur

The first of the complaints regarding the situation in Manipur started coming in on the NHRC web portal as early as May 5. Taking up one of these complaints filed by a Kuki-Zo resident of Mizoram, the NHRC initiated a broad case on May 8, following which it called for an action taken report from the State government on May 9. 

The next time the NHRC took up the case was only on July 12, when it noted that the State government was not submitting details of FIRs registered or details of compensation given out to victims of the violence. However, it went on to give the State government four weeks to come back to it with these details. 

While at least one more complaint filed before the NHRC has been tagged with the case it is already looking into, another complaint filed about the burning and destroying of homes in Twichin village of Kangpokpi district was transferred to the State Human Rights Commission. 

Most other independent complaints that have been filed before the NHRC from Manipur since May 3 have been dismissed — citing either lack of jurisdiction, the existence of an ongoing probe, or another court already looking into it. Since May 1, the Commission took suo motu cognisance in 37 cases, none of them pertaining to the ethnic conflict in Manipur, until July 20, when it took cognisance of the complaints it had received.

Also Read | Outside Parliament, PM breaks silence on Manipur sexual assault, promises stringent punishment for guilty

‘NHRC should visit’

Former NHRC member Jyotika Kalra told The Hindu, “If they already have initiated a case, the Commission can at least go for a visit to the State to look into the case they have registered. Even now, they can do it.” 

The NHRC did not respond to questions from The Hindu on what other steps had been taken to take forward the probe in the Manipur case. 

However, Ms. Kalra, who is also a Supreme Court Advocate, added, “The Commission works through government agencies, police, and officials. In such a case, where the government clearly seems to have failed, I do not know what more the NHRC can do here.”

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