New Delhi: Over the past few weeks in Manipur, Meitei civil society groups have been demanding the removal of Indian Army barricades across Imphal and the hill areas. The latter are areas now exclusively inhabited by Kuki community members.
Recently, a video went viral on social media, with the claim that Meitei women – particularly the vigilante activist Meira Paibis – were trying to block central security forces in Manipur’s Pallel so that they could enter Kuki areas. More than 45 Meitei women were injured in the effort, it is learnt. Meira Paibi leaders in Manipur have been demanding the replacement of central forces present in the state with other units of forces.
In the 135 days that Manipur has seen violence, there have been many allegations regarding the role of the Meira Paibis.
The Wire spoke with Lourembam Nganbi, a Meira Paibi leader and president of the AMKIL (United Mothers to Protect Manipur). Nganbi is 70 years old and was one of the Meira Paibi women who took part in the naked protest against the Indian Army on July 15, 2004, after the brutal rape and killing of 34-year-old Thangjam Manorama.
Amit Shah’s promises
Nganbi also met Union home minister Amit Shah when he was in Manipur for a three-day visit in late May and early June. Nganbi told The Wire that Shah had assured the Meitei community that there would be no separate administration and separation of Manipur, and he would resolve the Manipur crisis within 10 days.
Asked whether Nganbi made any requests of Shah, she said there were quite a few.
“We asked him to bring peace to Manipur, to stop poppy cultivation, to stop narco-terrorism, to develop a good education system in Manipur, to help people return to their homes, cancel the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement [with hill-based insurgent organisations], and many other things. But after he left Imphal, attacks on Meitei increased, and we believe he encouraged Kuki to attack us more,” she claimed.
‘Accomplices in a number of rape FIRs’
Nganbi also claimed that Meitei people have been “looted in Churachandpur” by “Kuki militants who were under the SoO agreement.” She further added that women on the Meitei community had been raped.
Kuki community members have claimed that it is Meiteis who have attacked Kukis disproportionately. In July, a video showing two Kuki women being paraded naked by a Meitei mob and being sexually assaulted had garnered nationwide outrage. More women have since come forward, essaying accounts of sexual assault and rape.
Meira Paibis’ names are registered as accomplices in a number of first information reports alleging rapes and sexual assault against Kuki community women. From their historic Kangla Fort protest for women’s rights against the Assam Rifles, to this point in time where many have alleged that they have a role in the sexual crimes perpetrated against Kuki women, are the Meira Paibis still going to present themselves as ones standing for Manipur’s women? Nangbi says yes.
“We are against everyone who is doing wrong in our state – no matter which ethnicity they are from. Two Kuki women were paraded naked but the ones who helped them survive and gave them clothes were Meira Paibis. We condemn such instances, and we believe that this incident should be investigated,” Nganbi said.
Manipur and Union governments
Nganbi lives around 30 km away from Churachandpur in Bishnupur district. Since May 3, there has almost been a blanket ban on internet in the state. Nganbi said that she was getting all her information from Churachandpur through her phone. She is critical of both the governments.
“The people of Manipur were seeking help from the Union and state government, but we didn’t receive any help from them. Instead, attacks on the people of Manipur have increased. We ourselves are helping each other,” said Nganbi.
While Kuki community members have been critical of the Biren Singh administration for favouring Meiteis, Nganbi is not impressed with the government’s handling of the situation either.
“The Manipur government is the puppet of the Union government. They do what the Union government wants them to do. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was silent for months when houses of our community were being attacked by Kuki militants and our women were being raped, only spoke when a video of two went viral. Manipur’s condition has been in turmoil since May 3. Meiteis had felt left out by the Prime Minister of India because he never spoke a word for our community. For today’s condition, Biren Singh and Narendra Modi are completely responsible, and I believe they are out to end our community,” she alleged.
Over the past few months, the Meitei community has alleged that security forces have helped Kuki militants in this conflict, while Kuki community members have alleged that the state’s law enforcement has helped Meitei groups.
Are Meira Paibis against the central security forces, The Wire asks Nangbi.
“At that time of the 2004 protests, the Assam Rifles had raped our sisters. Several women came out and spoke, but some decided to remain silent forever, like Rose Ningshen, who was raped by BSF officers.”
On March 4, 1974, Ningshen was raped by Border Security Forces officers, and two days later, died by suicide.
“An unforgettable and heart-wrenching incident is that of Thangjam Manorama. Manorama was picked up from her house by Assam Rifles in front of her family, they raped her, and later shot at her private parts. Since then, we have lost faith in Assam Rifles and all central forces, and that’s why we Meira Paibis have to take care of our land,” Nangbi said.
“Assam Rifles had been using their powers wrongly for years; if they wanted, they could have controlled the situation on May 3 itself when the violence broke out in Churachandpur,” she added.