Throughout the weekend, Indian-Americans and allied entities held protests in the US states of California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, to condemn the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, which has left thousands of people displaced and hundreds dead.
A horrific video last week showed two young tribal women being paraded naked while being molested by a group of men in the violence-hit north-eastern state of Manipur. The protests were in part a response to the contents of the video.
A protest was organised by several advocacy groups, including the North American Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA), Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), and Ambedkar King Study Circle, on the steps of Oakland City Hall in California, where Indian-Americans and allies gathered in large numbers.
Niang Hangzo, founding member of NAMTA, said, “They chased us out of our homes. They burned our homes, our properties. They looted, they killed, they raped, they immolated, they beheaded, they’ve left us broken and everything we own reduced to ashes.” He added, “This is the butchery being done to the Kuki-Zomi… How long will the world stay silent? We want the House to bring this issue and discuss it like the EU (Parliament) has done.”
Earlier this month, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution, calling on Indian authorities to take “all necessary” measures to stop the violence in Manipur and protect religious minorities, especially Christians. Calling it an “interference” in its internal affairs, India condemned the resolution.
IAMC organized a protest and candlelight vigil attended by people from diverse faith and ethnic backgrounds, including members of local churches, NAMTA, and the National Association of Asian Indian Christians, in Iselin, New Jersey.
Pastor Prem Kankanala, representing the United Telugu Christ Church said, “If those two women could be dragged and paraded, it could happen to any other woman, no matter what religion.” He added, “Let us be united and raise our voices to protect women and to protect minorities.”
Several Indian-Americans and allies came together to express solidarity with the victims in Boston, Massachusetts, while urging President Joe Biden’s administration to intervene and call on Indian PM Narendra Modi to halt the escalating violence in Manipur.
After the round of protests, a senior Biden administration official said on Tuesday that the US is “shocked and horrified by the video of an extreme attack on two women in Manipur”. Vedant Patel, Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department said, “We convey our profound sympathies to the survivors of this act of gender-based violence and support the Indian Government’s efforts to seek justice for them,”
Meanwhile, PM Modi, in his first public comments on the situation in Manipur, last week, expressed pain and anger over the incident, saying it has shamed 140 crore Indians and asserted that the guilty will not be spared. However, opposition Congress said the remarks were “too little, too late”.
On May 3, the violence in Manipur erupted after the Kuki-Zomi community protested against the Meitei demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The majority Meities community accounts for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population; it lives mostly in the Imphal Valley. The tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, make up 40 per cent and reside mainly in the hill districts.