Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday condemned the rape of two women in Manipur, calling the acts “disgraceful” and vowing severe punishment amid a general climate of racial violence.
Modi, who has not commented directly on ethnic clashes in the country’s northeast that have claimed at least 125 lives in the state ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP, spoke a day after videos of two women paraded naked and caned in the street surfaced on social media.
The two women, according to the BBC, were attacked by men from the Kugi ethnic group and the Meide ethnic group. In a statement quoted by British television, the Tribal Chiefs’ Forum said the two women had been gang-raped.
“My heart is full of pain and anger,” he said at the end of his customary remarks at the start of every parliamentary session. “This incident in Manipur is a disgrace to any civil society.”
“What happened to the daughters of Manipur is unforgivable,” he said, urging the chief ministers of all Indian states to strengthen the rule of law.
After Modi concluded his statement, Manipur Chief Minister Brin Singh issued a statement on social networking site Twitter in which he said the state police had made the first arrests in the case. “The investigation is on and we assure you that decisive action will be taken against the culprits, including the possibility of death penalty,” said Singh, who has been accused by rights groups and BJP MPs of failing to tackle communal violence.
Singh told reporters that two people – including the prime suspect – have been detained by the Manipur Police. Authorities have already launched an investigation into the gang-rape and are said to have questioned more than 36 men. Initial reports from the investigation indicated the assault on the two women took place in May, but videos of the victims being dragged, beaten and paraded naked went viral this Wednesday, police said.
The Supreme Court of India underlined the disturbing nature of the images and asked the government to inform the court of steps taken to arrest the culprits and ensure that such incidents do not recur. “In a constitutional democracy, this is unacceptable,” said Supreme Court Justice TY Chandrachud.
Clashes erupted in Manipur in early May, with periods of calm interspersed with episodes of violence and killings. The Indian government, which is home to more than three million people and shares a border with Myanmar, has remained tense ever since. Hundreds of people have been injured in the clashes and more than 40,000 have already fled their homes.
The wave of violence started after a court ordered the state government to consider providing special economic benefits and quota to the majority Maithi population in educational institutions reserved for the Kuki minority.
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