New Delhi: A horrifying video of her sexual assault by a mob of men belonging to Manipur’s Meitei community has gone viral two days ago. She is aware of its impact in faraway mainland India – national outrage, and the prime minister finally breaking his silence on the violence that has been going on in her state since May 3.
Yet life must go on. On the morning of July 21 when The Wire caught up with her, she was in the middle of preparing a meal for her family. “I have a four year-old-child, you see,” she told this correspondent. Nearly three months ago, it was on behalf of that child that she pleaded her sexual assaulters to show some mercy, to not take her life. She recalled, “They then ordered me, remove your clothes if you don’t want to get killed by us.”
Excerpts from a telephonic interview with the 44-year-old survivor:
Can you recall what happened to you and your family on May 4?
Yes; on that morning, we were warned by some Meitei neighbours about a Meitei mob heading our way, to our village, B. Phainom (in Kangpokpi district). They told us to flee. Several fled to the jungles; I sent my child with some Kuki women from the village. As me and my husband were preparing to leave the village, the mob arrived and surrounded us. While he was taken away to a different side along with some other Kuki villagers, I was herded in another direction. We didn’t know what awaited us.
Some from within the mob told the women that your community had raped our [Meitei] women in Churachandpur [that contention was based on a fake video], so we will do the same to you now. The father and the son of the youngest woman among us resisted and were soon killed by the mob. I pleaded with them saying I have a child, don’t kill me. They told us, then remove your clothes if you don’t want to get killed; if we didn’t do it, they would have killed us too; we had no choice but to follow their diktat.
What happened next?
Once we removed our clothes, some men held us and began parading us naked. The mob was of about a thousand people. My private parts were touched; fingers were put into my vagina; some [people] put their tongue into my mouth. We were being dragged to a paddy field nearby. I continued to plead with them to leave me for the sake of my child.
How did you escape from the scene eventually?
It was with the help of some local Meitei men. They intervened and gave their shirts to us to wear; they told us to leave the scene at once. While we were walking past, we were sneered at by some men, saying look at these tribal women wearing men’s clothes. Some more Meitei men intervened and asked us where are our clothes; they helped us pick up our clothes from the roadside. The youngest among us, whose father and son were killed before our eyes because they tried to protect her dignity, wanted to go near their bodies. I tried helping her but we were strictly told, if we try to go near the bodies, we will be killed too. I then pleaded with her; let’s save our lives; they are anyway dead. I dragged her from the scene while the bodies remained on the ground.
The Wire also spoke to the survivor’s husband. Excerpts from the interview:
Where were you when she was sexually assaulted?
As she mentioned earlier, I was herded in a different direction by the mob.
How did you survive the killer mob?
By sheer luck! Among the thousand-strong mob were some boys whose fathers and I are friends. I am also the village head. They recognised me and told the others that they were taking me to another side, and when we were out of sight from the rest, they told me to flee. That’s how I saved my life.
Who filed the FIR at Saikul police station?
I did, on May 18, two weeks later. My nearest police station is Nongpuk Sekmai but I was so scared to go there after the assault. Therefore, after reuniting with my wife and child in the jungle where we originally intended to flee to, we started off towards Khamjong district, and were hosted by a Thangkhul Naga family at Lairam Khullen village for a week. I am most grateful to them for that gesture.
Then we moved to Tengnoupal district wherefrom I could send my family to a relief camp in Churachandpur; my wife belongs to that district. Once I was sure that they were safe, I headed to Kangpokpi district where I come from, and eventually could go to Saikul police station to lodge the FIR on May 18. But nothing happened till the videos went viral.
You have served in the Indian Army; how do you see this personal tragedy?
I fought the Kargil war, fought for my country’s honour, but that day I couldn’t save the honour of my wife from a killer mob within my own country. I feel short of words to express what I feel.
After over two months passed, the prime minister eventually spoke on the Manipur violence because the video went viral.
I don’t understand politics; I served my country. All I want to tell the prime minister is, give the women justice. Give us justice. After taking retirement from the army, I had set up a small business in my village and bought a mini truck with the money I had got on retirement. Today, my house is gone; my mini truck stands next to it, burnt down. The machine I had bought to carry out a small business from home was looted.
So here I am, standing with my wife, with all the victims of this conflict, of mob attack. I thank everyone who has helped bring these horrific attacks to light. All I plead for is justice.