One common element that repeated in all instances of sexual assaults in Manipur in the recent spate of violence, was the refrain from the perpetrators as the assault was in retribution of what had been done to the Meitei women.
Revenge for rape is rape, they shouted, when they attacked women belonging to the Kuki-Zo tribe, as recalled by the victims later, and told to Hoineilhing Sitlhou, who teaches Sociology at the University of Hyderabad and who spoke to the victims and their kin.
Ms. Sitlhou recounted the testimonies as a speaker at the 50th anniversary event of the Progressive Organisation of Women on Saturday, where she linked the ethnic violence to viral spread of fake news, which she chose to call misinformation or disinformation.
“It was an orchestrated strategy which began with stereotyping of the Kuki tribe as poppy cultivators, illegal migrants from Myanmar, and a threat to national security,” she said.
On the contrary, Kukis as a community fought alongside Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in the Indian National Army, a fact that went past historians as happens with all Adivasi tribes. Attempts to record the Kuki rebellion against British Colonialism in 1917-19 were met with FIRs registered against the authors. It still remains an undeniable fact that of the 112 freedom fighters drawing pensions in Manipur, 80 were from Kuki tribe, Ms. Sitlhou noted.
The drug peddling allegation too, dissipates if one checks the records of people arrested for drug trade between 2017-22, which include all communities. Allegations about rising Kuki population also are false when compared with the Census data.
Citing a number of instances where false news was spread about atrocities against Meitei women, Ms. Sitlhou said such news was used to justify “revenge” strikes against Kuki community.
Intersectional identities as women and Kuki-Zo tribe made the women’s bodies sites of ethnic and cultural violence, Ms. Sithou said, establishing how propaganda by vigilante groups led to flare up of violence.
The event also had JNU professor Nivedita Menon demystifying the Uniform Civil Code from a gender perspective.
While every religious personal law discriminates against women in terms of property rights and marriage, uniformity, which is neither equality nor gender justice, has been a strategy of the authoritarian regimes to homogenise the populations for ease of control, Prof. Menon said.
The common yardstick used for Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was Brahminism in which women had the least rights. By subsuming all other communities into this definition of Hindu, the law has deprived women of other communities of their rights granted by their own codes, she said, and cited Jainism and matrilineal communities of Kerala as examples. Even where a common civil code exists, it only helped the patriarchy as seen in Goa, she said.
If gender justice is not prioritised, both uniformity and its dilution work only for promoting patriarchy and majoritarianism, she averred.
Uniform Civil Code was put under Directive Principles and not under Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution, with an understanding about diversity of practices in India, and if the government is keen on implementing all directive principles, they should also enforce free and compulsory education, workers’ participation in managing industries, and protection of heritage structures, Ms. Menon said.
Criminal law differs from state to state, but that is never seen as threat to national integrity, while personal laws are shown as one. Across the world, regimes are using the language of land rights to women, to undermine collective/community rights so that alienation of land for corporates would become easier, she said.