Wherever they happen, public protests against crimes against women bear pretty much the same messages. The protests in New Delhi against the brutal rape of a young woman and those on the streets of Imphal against the molestation of an actress are thus no different. They capture society’s growing anger and anguish at the authorities’ failure to prevent such crimes. What makes the episode in Manipur more painful is the death of a young journalist in the police firing on protesters. Obviously, the police there failed to tackle the protests more effectively. Worse, the administration did not seem to fully appreciate the ethnic context of the protests. The fact that the accused belonged to an underground Naga outfit should have made the administration more cautious in responding to the protests. The outfit is engaged in peace talks with New Delhi, but that should be no reason why the laws of the land should not apply to its members if they are involved in any crime. In fact, the anger in Imphal is partly owing to the public sentiment that the government is hesitant in dealing with crimes committed by members of such outfits. The peace talks in Nagaland are part of a major political initiative but these should not be invoked to connive at unlawful activities. Leaders of the Naga group must inquire sincerely into the charge against its member and punish him if he is found guilty.
However, the protests in Manipur came on the eve of the festive season in the region. The indefinite strike called by the agitators will only make life difficult for the people in a region bedevilled by such disruptions all too frequently. There is also a danger that the strike could worsen the ethnic tension in the area because this is the main festive season in Nagaland and large parts of Manipur. While the protests, if not the violence that accompanied them, were justifiable, it is unclear what purpose an indefinite strike would serve. For the Manipur government, though, the whole episode should serve as a warning. It cannot use the Naga peace talks as an excuse for not acting on its own against the people who violate the law. New Delhi too should tell leaders of the Naga group that the talks do not give its members immunity from the law. The success of the talks may be crucial for securing lasting peace in Nagaland. But peace and stability in Manipur should be just as important.