India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that the country has been “shamed” by a video showing a mob parading two women naked in a northeastern state where ethnic violence has claimed at least 120 lives.
Speaking publically about the Manipur clashes for the first time since they erupted in May, Modi said his “heart is filled with pain and anger”.
“The Manipur incident is shameful for any civilised society,” Modi told reporters. “It has shamed the whole nation.”
The video clip showed two women walking naked along a street and being jeered and harassed by a mob in the state, where the authorities have imposed an internet shutdown.
It was reportedly filmed in early May, but went viral on social media on Wednesday.
The violence in Manipur, prompted by a dispute over access to government jobs and other perks, has seen homes and churches torched, with tens of thousands of people fleeing to government-run camps.
The clashes between vigilante gangs from rival communities have pitted the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus and live in and around Imphal, against the mainly Christian Kuki in the surrounding hills.The Kuki community had protested Meitei demands for reserved public job quotas and college admissions as a form of affirmative action.
This also stoked long-held fears among the Kuki that the Meitei might also be allowed to acquire land in areas currently reserved for them and other tribal groups.
The Kuki women reportedly shown in the video told The Wire newsite that police were present at the time, and did not help them.
Manipur’s state government, led by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said it is investigating the filmed incident, with a suspect arrested on Thursday.
Opposition lawmakers in New Delhi have criticised Modi for silence over unrest in Manipur.
The European Parliament has called on the authorities to “promptly halt the ethnic and religious violence” that has left at least 120 people dead, 50,000 displaced and more than 1,700 houses destroyed.
The EU resolution said there were “concerns about politically motivated, divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism in the area”.
D. Y. Chandrachud, chief justice of India’s Supreme Court, said the abuse of the women seen in the video was “simply unacceptable”.
Legal newsite Bar and Bench quoted Chandrachud as saying that if the government “does not act, we will”.