Imphal, July 16: A day after 12 of them disrobed and tore into the Assam Rifles base here, Manipuri women were back at the forefront of the agitation against alleged army excesses, taking rubber bullets on their bodies and vowing to continue the fight.
Nearly 100 women were wounded in the police crackdown on protesters in Imphal. They were caned, teargassed and fired upon with rubber bullets, but no one retreated. Some of the injured women later underwent surgery for removal of the pellets embedded in their bodies.
Scenes reminiscent of the anti-ceasefire uprising in June 2001 kept the police busy in Thoubal and Bishenpur districts, too.
Sources said the mob tried to torch at least five government buildings at different places since last night.
The targeted buildings include the State Council of Education and Research and the public works department office in Imphal East, the State Academy of Training at Takyel, a forest office at Eroisemba and the sub-deputy collector’s office in Bishenpur. But none of these buildings suffered major damage.
The Assembly was one of the buildings gutted in mob attacks during the agitation three years ago.
The present unrest in Manipur was triggered by the death of Thangjam Manorama in Assam Rifles’ custody. The administration clamped indefinite curfew in Imphal East and West districts after the naked protest by 12 women in front of the Assam Rifles base at Kangla Fort.
News bulletins of an Imphal-based cable television network were yanked off air for showing footage of the demonstration.
The commander of the army’s 3 Corps, Lt Gen. Daljit Singh, met chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and assured him that the court of inquiry instituted to probe Manorama’s death would start proceedings within 10 days.
Assam Rifles claims Manorama was shot when she tried to flee following her arrest on suspicion of being a militant. The police have registered a case against three Assam Rifles personnel involved in the incident.
Unlike yesterday, when protesters disrobed and chanted “Come and rape us all”, there was an uneasy calm at the main Assam Rifles base this afternoon. All three gates leading to the campus were locked and requests for a comment from the 9 Sector commander, Brig. V.K. Pillai, were politely turned down.
On whether he was embarrassed by the naked protest, a junior officer said: “Why should we be embarrassed'”
Award-winning filmmaker Aribam Shyam Sharma described the step taken by the women protesters as a reflection of the “deep sense of hurt” over the alleged abuse of human rights by security forces.
“It also showed the genuine spirit and determination of the women to protect the cause of Manipur at any cost,” he said.
Writer Pramodini Devi said the declaration of curfew following the protest revealed the state government’s negative attitude. Former hockey Olympian Thoiba Singh and star footballer . Bembem Devi accused security forces of not respecting the dignity of the people of Manipur.
The Ibobi Singh government sought to calm the people by saying it supported the crusade against custody killings, but was worried about violent reactions. It said the curfew was declared because of fears of violence and not to muzzle the people’s voice.