Video of Sexual Assault Goes Viral in India, Renewing Attention on Ethnic Conflict

It took more than two months for word of the shocking sexual assault to spread, partly because the internet in the region had been shut down.

This increasingly common tactic of restricting the flow of information has been part of the Indian government’s response to bloody ethnic clashes in the northeastern state of Manipur, where for several weeks, two communities have essentially been at war over access to government benefits.

So when a video — showing two women being paraded naked and assaulted in Manipur — went viral on Wednesday in India, it shocked the nation, further inflamed tensions and brought renewed attention to a conflict that has left more than 130 people dead, and over 35,000 displaced.

It also led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi making his first public comments about the situation in the state. “This incident of Manipur which has come to light, for any civilized society, it’s a shameful incident,” he said on Thursday. It was, he added, an “insult” that “is of the entire nation.”

He did not directly address the overall violence in Manipur, or offer any solutions to ease tensions.

In a statement on Tuesday, the state police said they were investigating a “case of abduction, gang rape and murder” and had reinforced curfews in half a dozen sections of Manipur.

The episode unfolded on May 4, when clashes in the state had just started breaking out, in the Kangpokpi district of Manipur, according to a police complaint filed by a family member of one of the victims. The footage shows two women, naked, being dragged by a mob of young men. A man can be seen slapping one of the women while he and another man sexually assaulted her. The women were crying, trying to cover themselves, as some men led them into a field, sticks in tow.

They were at the mercy of the violent mob, said Lian Mung, an activist who has been assisting the victims. “Our team met them in May,” Mr. Mung said in a phone interview from Manipur. “They told us, ‘We were forced to strip naked and parade or else they would have killed us.’”

Pleas for help from the police went unanswered, one of the victims told local news media.

The perpetrators then gang raped one of the women and killed her brother as he tried to protect her, according to allegations made in the police complaint, a copy of which was seen by The New York Times.

The mob, according to the complaint, comprised hundreds of Meitei people, who form a narrow majority in Manipur. The victims were from the community of hill tribes known as the Kukis.

Tensions between the two groups boiled over in early May, when a student-led group, mostly Kukis, marched in protest of a court ruling in favor of the Meiteis, who had won a special status that would allow them to buy land in the hills and guarantee an allotment of government jobs. Armed clashes ensued, and police armories were raided. Within two days, more than 50 people were dead.

The state of 3.7 million people is now essentially divided into ethnic zones. The Kukis have demanded that the chief minister of the state step down for peace talks to move forward. The chief minister, N. Biren Singh, a Metei leader, is a member of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Some in the international community have voiced concern about the Manipur violence.

Soon after Mr. Modi landed for an official visit to France this month, the European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution calling the violence a result of “divisive policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism.” Mr. Modi’s government called that statement an unacceptable interference in India’s internal affairs.

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