India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised tough action against a mob who paraded two Christian women naked through the streets during a deadly attack in the north-eastern state of Manipur.
One of the victims, a 21-year-old woman, reported being gang raped, and the second woman, aged 42, said she was molested and assaulted.
The father and brother of one of the women were killed trying to protect them.
Describing the attack on the women as “shameful”, Modi said, “The guilty will not be spared. What has happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven.”
He added, “My heart is filled with pain and anger.”
The attack on the two Christian women happened on 4 May but only came to light when a video of them being dragged, groped and paraded naked by armed men went viral on social media on 19 July, causing major outrage. A third woman is understood to have been forced to strip but she is not shown in the video.
Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh called the incident a “crime against humanity”, announcing that state police had arrested a 32-year-old man in relation to the assault.
“A thorough investigation is currently underway,” said Singh. “We will ensure strict action is taken against all the perpetrators.”
Up to 120 Christians killed and thousands displaced
Modi’s comments, made on 20 July, were his first public remarks about violence against the Christian-majority Kuki (also known as Kuki-Zo) tribal group in Manipur carried out by extremists from the Meitei ethnic group.
More than 120 people – most of them Christians – have been killed since trouble erupted in May, while over 250 churches have been burned, and hundreds of homes destroyed. Up to 60,000 people – again, mostly Christians – have been displaced.
“After this violence erupted, they moved to different places to save their lives,” said a church minister in Manipur. “They want to come back, they want to resettle,” he added.
Those forced from their homes have sought shelter in the jungle, but are running short of basic foods such as rice, potatoes and onions, while communication is hampered by the lack of any internet connection. However, they are unable to return to their homes owing to risk of attack and even death at the hands of the extremists.
Even if the situation is brought under control, Christians will continue to struggle with the trauma of what they have experienced and the continual fear that they will be targeted again.
Anti-Christian prejudice is behind much of the violence, as demonstrated by attacks on church buildings and the homes of church leaders.
Indeed, extremists among the Meitei people have also launched attacks against the small Meitei Christian community.