Churachandpur, March 8: Less than a week after the uproar over the alleged molestation of a woman from Thoubal in police custody, surcharged Manipur found a new cause celebre in allegations about mass rapes by militants in Churachandpur district at the beginning of the year.
Thousands today hit the streets of Churachandpur to protest the alleged rape of 21 girls by members of the militant United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in three villages of Tipaimukh subdivision.
The Joint Women’s Organisation of Churachandpur district brought the alleged incidents, which are supposed to have occurred in January, to the media’s notice. It said UNLF members sexually assaulted the girls, including a 13-year-old, at Lungthulien, Parbung and another village in Tipaimukh, about 200 km from the district headquarters.
The militant group refuted the allegations, but failed to convince the protesters. Tension was in the air during the protest march and the organisers had to repeatedly appeal to the crowd not to indulge in any form of violence. All shops in the district remained closed.
Levis, a 21-year-old girl from Lungthulein, told the media that UNLF members went to her village on January 16 and beat up several male residents. “They then targeted the fairer girls of the village, dragging some of them into the jungle or to nearby houses. All these girls were sexually assaulted.”
The “witness”, however, admitted that she did not see any of the alleged sexual assaults. “I only heard the girls cry for help and mercy.”
The organisers of the protest march declined to disclose the identities of the girls. “The victims had themselves kept their ordeal a secret, fearing reprisal and social stigma. The matter came to light only after investigation by some NGOs,” said J.L. Sawmi, president of the Hmar Women’s Association and spokesperson for the joint forum of four organisations.
Although none of the “victims” filed an FIR with the police, Churachandpur and Parbung police stations registered 10 suo moto cases on the basis of reports in the media. A senior official said the police were trying to record the statements of the girls who were allegedly targeted.
As Churachandpur bristled, political parties raised a hue and cry over the alleged incidents during the budget session of the Assembly. Responding to demands for a judicial inquiry into the allegations, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who holds the home portfolio, said he would institute one immediately.
The Hmar Women’s Association, the Zomi Mothers’ Association, the women’s wing of the Mizo People’s Convention and the Kuki Women’s Union submitted a memorandum to the chief minister, calling for compensation of Rs 5 lakh to each of the 21 “victims”, permanent security posts in the villages allegedly raided by the UNLF and rehabilitation of all refugees taking shelter in Mizoram.
Sawmi said about 1,000 residents of Tipaimukh, including some of the “rape victims”, had fled to Mizoram.
Women’s organisations are planning to move theb National Human Rights Commission.
The UNLF said in a statement that central intelligence agencies incited the Hmar exodus and cooked up the allegations about mass rapes.