This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
On May 3, 2023, ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur, India, between the Meitei people, a majority community living in the Imphal Valley, and the tribal community from the surrounding hills, including the Kuki community (Dhillon 2023). The Central Valley in Manipur has seen the most growth and urban development, and has been largely owned and dominated by the Meitei community (Sakia 2023; Lisam 2011), who constitute the dominant caste in Manipur, and come under the category of "Other Backward Castes" or OBC, and some under the Scheduled Castes category (Harad 2023). Accounting for 64.6% of the population, they live on 10% of the land, and hold 40 out of the 60 seats in the legislature. They are mostly Hindus, and are most commonly known as "Manipuris" (Splainer 2023). There are a total of 34 recognized tribes in Manipur, constituting 35.4% of the population, and living in 90% of the land, namely the hills. They are broadly categorized as Kuki and Naga tribes, and are predominantly Christian (Splainer 2023). The Kuki and Naga have faced historical marginalization and have relatively lesser access to resources and mobility when compared to the Meitei (Das 2023). They are both categorized under the "Scheduled Tribes" category, owing to their indigenous identity (Sakia 2023). The Meitei demand recognition as a tribe, because only members of the tribal community can buy land in the hills - according them tribal status means that they will expand into the hills, which provoked the tribal communities.
The present day conflict has its roots in a Manipur High Court decision issued in April 2023, directing the state government to to recommend to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by May 29, the inclusion of the Meitei community under the Scheduled Tribes category (Ojha 2023). The tribal communities protested the Meitei’s demand, seeing as it constituted the majority in the region. On May 3, 2023, the All Tribal Student Union of Manipur (ATSUM) hosted a solidarity march in all hill districts – but clashes broke out between the Meitei and Kuki populations in and in the areas surrounding Churachandpur, which borders the Imphal Valley (Travelli and Raj 2023). Following this, the army sent 10,000 troops and paramilitary forces to restore law and order, and internet services were suspended. Shoot on sight and curfew orders were issued, with intent to be enforced in “extreme cases” (Karmakar 2023). At the time of writing (July 20, 2023), around 55,000 people have been reported to be displaced (Splainer 2023), 142 people have been killed, and over 300 have been injured (Baruah et al. 2023).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
While initially, there was no coverage or mention of sexual violence in Manipur, reports surfaced belatedly after a video showing two Kuki women being paraded and gang-raped surfaced (Hrishikesh and Zoya 2023). Reports suggest that it was a case of “revenge rape” following fake news that circulated on WhatsApp, that a Meitei woman had been raped and killed by Kuki men. Though proved fake, by then, its circulation had sparked off significant amounts of violence. A combination of stigma and breakdown of the security sector system has made reportage difficult and in several cases, impossible. This is an evolving report and will be supplemented with more data when available. When asked about the incident, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that there were "hundreds of such cases," which he claimed justified his invocation of an Internet ban in the state (Free Press Journal 2023). A 19-year-old girl reported being assaulted, stating that she had been assaulted by 150 armed men and women who had raided her healthcare institute on May 4, 2023 (Purohit 2023).
Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence
From the initial report presented, it is clear that there is an ethnic basis for the use of sexual violence, where rape and sexual assault have been used to target the other. It is clear that sexual assault and rape were used as a form of revenge and intimidation and as a means of humiliating, controlling, and subjugating the community by targeting its women. The single case report that has been addressed in the media as of the time of writing also reflects the dangers of weaponizing fake news and propaganda to foment crime.
Das, Yudhajit Shankar (4 May 2023). "Manipur violence: State is burning, but what is the decades-old fuel behind the fire". India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/manipur-violence-clashes-nrc-meitei-kuki-naga-imphal-valley-illegal-immigration-myanmar-reserve-forests-biren-singh-2368476-2023-05-04
Dhillon, Amrit (5 May 2023). "Indian troops ordered to 'shoot on sight' amid violence in Manipur". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/may/05/indian-troops-ordered-to-shoot-on-sight-amid-violence-in-manipur
Baruah, Sukrita, Jimmy Leivon, and Ananthakrishnan Gopalakrishnan (9 May 2023). "Manipur Govt puts toll at 60, Supreme Court says concerned over lives lost". The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/manipur-violence-death-toll-supreme-court-says-concerned-over-lives-lost-8598842/
Free Press Journal (2023). '100s Of Such Cases Have Taken Place In Manipur': CM Biren Singh's Outrageous Statement On Women Paraded Naked In State Sparks Row. https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/100s-of-such-cases-have-taken-place-in-manipur-cm-biren-singhs-statement-on-women-paraded-naked-in-state-sparks-row
Harad, Tejas (6 May 2023). "ST Status for Manipur's Meiteis: What is at Stake?". The Quint. https://www.thequint.com/news/politics/manipur-violence-st-status-for-meiteis-valley-vs-hills#read-more
Hrishikesh , Sharanya and Zoya Mateen, "Manipur: India video shows how rape is weaponised in conflict." https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66254008
Karmakar, Rahul (4 May 2023). "Many killed in Manipur riots; State government issues shoot-at-sight order". The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/manipur-violence-government-issues-shoot-at-sight-orders-in-extreme-cases/article66812131.ece
Lisam, Khomdan Singh (2011). Encyclopaedia Of Manipur, Kalpaz.
Purohit, D. (2023). Manipur: Kicked around like a ball, assaulted girl quizzes CM Biren Singh. https://www.telegraphindia.com/north-east/manipur-kicked-around-like-a-ball-assaulted-girl-quizzes-cm-biren-singh/cid/1953441
Saikia, Jaideep (5 May 2023). "Manipur violence: How Christianisation widened socio-cultural gap between Meiteis of Valley and Hill tribes". Firstpost. https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/manipur-violence-how-christianisation-widened-socio-cultural-gap-between-meiteis-of-valley-and-hill-tribes-12550522.html
Splainer (2023). Manipur: Tale of a very Indian atrocity. https://splainer.in/sections/2023/Manipur-Horror-Story/big-story
Ojha, Srishti (2023) Manipur violence: What was the high court order that triggered massive unrest in the state? | Explained. https://www.indiatoday.in/law/story/manipur-violence-high-court-order-triggered-massive-unrest-in-the-state-explained-2388615-2023-06-04
Travelli, Alex; Raj, Suhasini (6 May 2023). "Dozens Killed in Ethnic Clashes in India's Manipur State". New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/06/world/asia/ethnic-clashes-indias-manipur-state.html