|Pictures by Eastern Projections
Imphal, July 15: A group of Manipuri women stripped down and stormed the army base here as inhibition collapsed before anger at the custody death of one of their own.
“Come and rape us all”, they shouted in a protest never seen anywhere in the country.
About 40 women converged on the main entrance to Kangla Fort, the headquarters of the Assam Rifles’ 9 Sector, around 10.30 am. They shouted slogans against excesses by security forces and demanded punishment of the personnel who allegedly tortured and killed 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama on Sunday.
A dozen of them — most middle-aged and some older — shed their clothes and tore into the campus through the western gate. The sentries did not budge from where they stood, dumbstruck by the protest.
The other women in the group held banners that said “Indian army take our flesh” and “Indian army rape us”.
Some of the demonstrators fainted, possibly overcome by emotion.
Ramani Devi, who led the protesters, said: “We decided to strip as our protest against extra-judicial killings and molestation of women in Manipur went unheeded. We are Manorama’s mothers. We do not believe in judicial probe. We demand public trial of the guilty.”
When senior police officers reached the spot, the protesters accused them of turning a blind eye to atrocities on women by the security forces. An Assam Rifles officer, his hands folded, walked up to the gate and pleaded with the women to put on their clothes. The group retreated after much cajoling.
Fearing an upheaval similar to the June uprising, the administration clamped curfew in both Imphal East and West districts for an indefinite period. CRPF and India Reserve Battalion units were deployed in the Manipur Assembly building, the state secretariat and the residential complex for ministers and MLAs.
In June 2001, violence erupted across Manipur over Delhi’s decision to extend ceasefire with the rebel group, NSCN (Isak-Muivah), beyond Nagaland.
Tension had been mounting since Manorama’s bullet-riddled body was found 4 km from her house at Bamon Kampu in Imphal East on Sunday morning. A two-day general strike ended yesterday.
A team from the 17th battalion of Assam Rifles picked up Manorama from her house in the wee hours of Sunday. A havildar signed the arrest memo, which said she was being taken into custody on suspicion of having links with a militant group. The memo said no incriminating evidence was found during a search of the house.
The paramilitary force, which is under the operational command of the army, changed its version after Manorama was killed. It said she was a “corporal” of the militant People’s Liberation Army and that a wireless set, a grenade and some incriminating documents were seized from her. She was shot while trying to flee, it added.
Manorama’s family has yet to accept her body, which has been kept at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences. Assam Rifles personnel allegedly sexually abused and tortured the woman before taking her away. The police recovered a bloodstained kitchen knife from her house the day after the incident.
The Congress government of Ibobi Singh and Assam Rifles have instituted inquiries into the circumstances leading to Manorama’s death.
Singh has sought “affirmative action” to prevent violation of human rights by the security forces.