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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 30-31, July 22 & July 29 2023

A common thread of state complicity binding Manipur victims, wrestling champions, and Bilkis Bano | Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 22 July 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


There are remarkable parallels between the suffering of the victims of Manipur public stripping and gangrape, the international women wrestling champions’ sexual harassment case and even the Bilkis Bano gangrape of February-March, 2002 in Gujarat. And that is the alleged complicity of the state. In each instance we find the criminal/s won’t dare to commit such a heinous crime in full public view but for the confidence of protection of the state.

The official media in Delhi and Imphal, naturally at the behest of the state administration gave out the story that police had rescued the women and their men hiding in the forests after their houses were burnt by the Meitei marauders but they were forcibly kidnapped by the mob. But two days back as the video of their humiliation became public, the victim told a news reporter that in fact the Manipur police reached where they were hiding from the mob, took them away on the pretext of escorting them to a safe place. But drove them down to a crowd and handed them to the criminals.

In the video which an embarrassed government is now desperately trying to brush under the carpet, fearing all the questions being raised against N. Biren Singh’s BJP government, the predators are not only displaying shamelessly the nakedness of the poor helpless victims, after the father and brother of the youngest victim wax killed before their eyes. The criminals were in fact proudly getting themselves photographed in the shocking act of molesting the hapless girl. Such revolting act would put to shame anybody. According to the girl, one of the molester was a friend of her brother. And this friend after killing her brother gleefully participated in the ugly act in a mood of celebration as is evident from the video. All along, contrary to the earlier claims it is clear in the video that the crowd did not comprise of more than a dozen male members and they could easily be chased away by the armed policemen.

As soon as the video surfaced, first Prime Minister Narendra Modi who despite all the appeals, coaxing and cajoling maintained a studied silence for three months on the civil war in Manipur, came out and did condemn the incident in strongest terms, but with a subtle subtext dragging two Congress ruled states, going to polls later this year, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh, indicating that rapes have taken place in other states, ruled by the Opposition too, in this case the Congress party. Thus, Modi very slyly tried to play down the public humiliation of Manipuri women, as if it was just another crime.

Encouraged by this, Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh too indulged in double speak. While on the one hand he announced the arrest of an accused, (later three more were apprehended), he also told a reporter while defending the laxity that thousands of such incidents have taken place. If it is true that thousands of women have similarly been stripped and raped as these hapless women, then that is all the more reason for the Central government to dismiss this man immediately and impose President’s Rule under Article 356 of the Constitution to restore rule of law in this BJP ruled state. But rest assured nothing of the sort will happen. He is Modi’s choice and the Modi media taking a cue has started belittling the crime by screaming that rapes anywhere should be treated with same sincerity instead of making a political capital of it.

Avinash Paliwal, a London based academic wrote recently, “It’s not as if the alleged gangrape of the two Kuki women was unknown to authorities—after all the Manipur Police allegedly handed them over to the mob in the first place. But it took a leaked video and associated public shock for Manipur police to order an investigation. Till then there was silence. Unfortunately, if one goes by the predicament of India’s wrestling champions who’ve been fighting for justice against sexual harassment by those in power, chances of fair investigation in Manipur’s case remain thin. There may be a spectacle around the arrests of certain identifiable individuals in the video. But to expect this moment to translate into a turning point where the state asserts itself and reinstates a modicum of constitutional integrity to a strife-torn state is delusional…The only way to deliver justice to the two survivors of this mob assault and perhaps stabilise the situation in Manipur is to ensure accountability” Paliwal concluded.

Well known political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta noting what Modi said, wrote, “As a wit once said about this Prime Minister, whenever there is an atrocity the only thing worse than the PM not speaking is him speaking. The tone was petulant, angry at the fact that a lid could not be kept on an ongoing story of ethnic targeting in Manipur. The train of political equivalences was just shockingly callous. Yes, Rajasthan recently had a horrific incident, but no one in the state government was covering it up or legitimising it and the institutional machinery was at least put to work. The election violence in West Bengal was horrific. But again, in those cases the courts intervened…and the central government and the media were making it an object of attention.”

Ironically the same day news broke of how in Delhi an Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Harjeet Singh Jaspal granted bail to the accused in the wrestling champions’ sexual harassment case, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh a thakur Bahubali of eastern Uttar Pradesh, a close associate of UP’s Thakur chief minister Ajay Bisht nee Yogi Adityanath. The court argued that since the Delhi Police filed the chargesheet without having to arrest the accused, it therefore proved that the accused persons cooperated with the investigation. Also since the public prosecutor representing the Delhi Police said, “I am neither opposing nor supporting it (the bail).” This order was equally shocking. It said, “The counsel for the complainants had not placed on record any specific instance where the victims were threatened. However, he had expressed apprehension that the accused might approach the victims and try to influence them in future.” This after the magistrate was aware of how the seventh agitating victim, a minor girl first recorded her statement before a magistrate and later withdrew the complaint, apparently under pressure from none else than the accused?

A woman TV reporter confronted Singh the other day while arriving in Delhi and asked if he would at least now,resign as the president of the WFI, Singh turned around and replied roughly, “Kahey!” meaning why should I and pushed out the girl’s mike when she persisted with her questions. Naturally Singh is a BJP don with a past criminal record whose support is crucial for the BJP to score another resounding victory in the state with 81 Lok Sabha seats. So, the Prime Minister won’t utter a word while the ‘Goli Maro’ fame Sports minister Anurag Thakur another thakur, has only been doing his best to deny justice to these champions who earned India honours and fame in international events. On their victory the Prime Minister invited them home and offered them a cup of tea. But since January the girls and their fellow male wrestlers have been seeking an appointment with the Prime Minister to no avail. Shows how concerned Modi and his party the BJP is about the safety and security of women.

Naturally then, Olympic champion Sakshi Malik who led the agitation through months of dharnas and processions, was heart-broken over the court unhesitatingly granting bail in a case of sexual harassment, rare in the normal situation and the Delhi Police, which took months to actually move and investigate the case, refused to oppose the bail. Sakshi reacted thus to Singh’s bail, “We went to the police station, we went to the Supreme Court, looking for justice. Today, we stand with no hope. A person accused of sexual harassment is given bail, where can women in the country go, if not to the courts?” But when the entire state machinery is working in tandem to save the skin of the accused, what else should Sakshi’s expect?

After years of struggle and running around police and courts Bilkis Bano’s rapists were convicted and sent to jail. But later reports disclosed that they have been out of the prison ostensibly while serving the sentence of life term, most of the time, presumably on parole on the facile plea of personal work. But the day their 14 years technically completed they moved for release and immediately the Central and Gujarat governments under the guidance of the Supreme Court released them. The moment they came out they were garlanded and feted. It turned out they were all BJP activists and the local MLA actually issued a character certificate to these rapists and murderers who killed so many members of Bilkis family including her three year old daughter by banging her head against a stone. After such barbarism the BJP MLA issues a good character certificate to the rapists and invites them on the stage in a public function?

Another instance of double standards to save those helpful to the BJP is Dera Sacha Sauda supremo Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh granted his second parole in on year. Every time an election approaches this man convicted of rapes and murder is released by the BJP led Haryana government presumably to command his followers who are quite a large number to vote for the BJP candidate.

The Prime Minister is right in commanding that sexual assaults and harassment of women ought to be dealt severely. But can we in all fairness expect his government to bell the cat? Not to my mind.


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