This Article is From Jul 28, 2023

Opinion: Manipur Needs Healing, Today

As I write this, we have just concluded the seventh day of parliament. No sign yet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi inside Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The closest he has come to the chambers of both Houses is to address the media somewhere in the precincts of parliament House. The INDIA parties (preferred usage to "Opposition parties") are striving to get a discussion going in parliament on Manipur. There is one hitch. The PM does not want to participate in the debate. The INDIA parties insist he must. Hence, the logjam.

Let's leave parliament aside for a moment, and consider the footage that has surfaced from Manipur. Last week a bone-chilling video was circulated on social media. Two women from the conflict ridden state were being paraded naked by a mob of men, some of whom seemed to be teenagers.

Since then, several details have emerged. What we know so far is that this incident occured soon after the violence in Manipur erupted. That it was caused in retaliation to a piece of fake news that went viral in early May. This piece of false news showed the image of a young woman wrapped in a plastic bag. The claim was that she was from a particular ethnic group, and had been raped and killed by men from a rival group. As it was discovered later, the woman was a Delhi murder victim from 2022. The image enraged men belonging to one group, who then abducted the women who appeared in the video and revenge raped them.

It gets worse. Even though an FIR was filed days later in May, it is only after the video generated social media traction that the Prime Minister, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh commented on it. The Chief Minister said, "There are hundreds of similar FIRs here". Extending the apathy and inefficiency, 'South Asia's Leading Multimedia News Agency' (guess who!) put out yet another piece of fake news, incorrectly implicating a man from a minority community as one of those arrested in the case. At a time when any piece of information has the power to do irreversible damage to both communities, how can a government's actions be guided only by what's trending on Twitter.

At the root of the gruesome assault are two issues. One, the government failed to control the spread of false information that caused the rape and shameful parading of the women. In this light, the Press Information Bureau's (PIB) recent admission that it only acted upon 1,200 of the 1.2 lakh fake news requests it received in the last three years seems less shocking. Two, despite knowing well in advance, the union government failed to stop an uncensored version of the video from being circulated on social media. In response to a question by this columnist in parliament, the government admitted blocking 635 URLs on the internet since December 2021. Where was this promptness when the dignity of Manipur's women was under threat?

This case of sexual assault surfaces when parliament is in session. Multiple parties are demanding a discussion under the 'emergency rules' of parliament, given the gravity of the situation. The Prime Minister has other ideas. But if everything was so hunky dory in Manipur, then why has the internet been shut down for nearly three months? Was the internet shut down in Rajasthan and other states that the BJP draws parallels with?

The video that reached the internet is one that we know of. If previous cycles of fake news distribution are to be relied on as evidence, that single fake image might have already caused several other acts of violence. These may never reach us.

The Prime Minister's mug shots are splattered all over the country on G20 hoardings, with the tagline 'One Earth. One Family. One Future'. But before that, Manipur needs healing. Today.

(Derek O'Brien, MP, leads the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha)

Additional research: Varnika Mishra

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.