IMPHAL: A man who was part of the mob that paraded naked two tribal women in Kangpokpi district of Manipur and was seen dragging one of them was among four persons arrested on Thursday as the incident of May 4 drew widespread condemnation.
In the evening, Chief Minister N Biren Singh briefed reporters that two persons have been arrested. Hours later, official sources said two more arrests have been made.
Police said the first arrested person – Huirem Heradash Singh – was seen prominently directing the mob at B. Phainom village of Kangpokpi district in the 26-second video that surfaced on Wednesday.
The identity of the other three arrested persons was not immediately known.
Senior officers are scrutinising the video and matching those who feature in it with the people arrested. Taking suo motu cognisance of the video, police last night said a case of abduction, gang rape and murder was registered at Nongpok Sekmai police station in Thoubal district against unknown armed men and that all-out efforts were on to arrest the culprits at the earliest.
During the night-long raids, supervised by senior IPS officers, the person identified as Huirem Heradash Singh, age 32, was arrested from Thoubal district while a manhunt has been launched to nab others.
The two women are alleged to have been sexually assaulted before being set free by the mob comprising the majority community.
Meanwhile, villagers set the house of accused of Heradash Singh on fire and have also ostracised his family.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh termed the incident as “inhuman” and said the culprits deserve a “capital punishment”.
Expressing strong condemnation, he labelled it as a crime against humanity and maintained that his government would not remain silent on this heinous crime.
He said that immediately after seeing the video, he had directed the Cyber Crime Department to check its authenticity and also instructed officials to conduct a mass combing operation at the suspected areas to nab the culprits.
Singh further said his government was putting in all possible efforts to restore peace and normalcy in the state and talks have been held with various civil society organizations of different communities, businessmen, leaders of religious institutions as part this process.
“As we have lived together for a long time and must live together in future too, misunderstanding amongst communities can be sorted out and addressed with talks, so that we can live together again peacefully,” he added.
Influential Meitei body – Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) – also issued a statement saying it strongly condemns “the barbaric and uncivilised act of violence on two ladies parading naked in broad daylight at a remote village in Manipur”.
The statement said that COCOMI is trying all possible means to hunt down the culprits wherever they are.
The entire Meitei community is in deep shame and anguish over the clip…COCOMI firmly believes that all those involved in the barbaric act will not be spared by the Meetei community in any ways and befitting punishment will surely be given to everyone involved in the crime,” it said.
One of the eyewitnesses of the May 4 incident, Hahat Vaiphei, claimed the villagers of B Phainom thwarted a similar attempt by a mob the previous day.
“When we started to relocate from the village, we were caught by the mob. They dragged us away from the village as we made appeals to spare us,” Vaiphei told a YouTube channel run from neighbouring Mizoram.
She said the mob forced the two women to parade naked before raping them.
More than 160 people have lost their lives, and several have been injured since ethnic violence broke out in the state on May 3, when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mostly in the hill districts.