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Thangjam Manorama: The Unnoticed Nirbhaya From Manipur; And Our Selective Outrage

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By Vishakha Dahiya:

December 16, 2012 — The entire nation was shocked at the brutal gang rape of a girl in Delhi. The disgruntled youth protested against the law and order situation for overlooking the safety of women in Delhi for many years. The result was effectual and all the 4 culprits were given death sentence. The voices we raised were heard and our hopes in law-enforcement agencies were restored. This is one side of outrage that we came across. What happens with the heinous crimes against women from marginalised communities?


The gang rape of “Thangjam Manorama” still remains under the hood. There are many tribal women who suffer a great deal and their voices are persistently unheard. Hers is one such case. On July 10 2004, Thangjam was picked up by security personnel of the Assam Rifles and later was found brutally raped and murdered. She was prosecuted for keeping grenade but at the time of arrest, there was no proof for it. Thangjam was not even given a chance to prove her innocence in the court. A few women in Manipur protested naked against the rape and murder of Thangjam. It was one of the most radical protests of our times by  Meira Paibis, a grouping of several women’s organisations in Manipur, who went naked and protested saying, “Indian Army Rape Us”. Since a woman’s body is used as a tool of oppression, they turned oppression back on its head by reclaiming the body. AFSPA has been under fire for many years now. Does AFSPA provide the “right to rape”? The need of the hour is to stand against the laws that give impunity to the armed and paramilitary forces. Any person found accused of sexual assault should be tried in a civilian court

What we fail to understand is that though we feel satisfied with the justice given to Nirbhaya, we are missing out an important element here — strict laws and regulations against sexual harassment. The barbaric treatment of adivasi women in our country is often overshadowed by the rape cases which make it “big” on news channels. We need to get to the depth of the situation and ensures safety of women in every corner of the country. With the recent development strategies by the government, we need to make sure that it reaches the untouched parts of the country. We need to challenge the laws which promote impunity in any manner.

We need to foresee a brighter future for the women in our country so that no woman has to think twice before raising her voice or stepping out of her home, even after the wee hours of the day. Though armed forces will always be treated with reverence for the support they provide, we can’t afford to lose the sight of such acts which question the very existence of the Armed Forces.

Note: Even though Assam Rifles is nominally under the Ministry of Home Affairs, its officers cadre comes from the Indian Army on deputation and has always operated as a special counterinsurgency force of the army. It is also the oldest paramilitary force in the country, raised as the Cachar Levy. Kindly note that Assam Rifles doesn’t come under the ‘Central Armed Police Forces’ of the Ministry of Home Affairs but is a special ‘paramilitary force’. They do enjoy immunity from prosecution under the AFSPA. Also, kindly note that the Army and MoD were respondents in the Case, at various stages, involving Th. Manorama’s custodial rape and killing.

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  1. Shibayan Raha

    Thanks for writing this mate. But Manorama was from Manipur and not Mizoram.
    Shibayan Raha
    Founder, Seven Sisters Project

    1. Vishakha Dahiya

      Yes. I’m sorry about the wrong place mentioned here. It is Manipur. Sorry readers!

  2. Akshat Seth

    Do you know although I disagree with AFSPA, as a principle but should it be removed now, the insurgent groups cutting across the North-East will make the region a living hell. The problem is that the govt. sees it as a long term solution and does nothing in the way of building a sense of goodwill so that with time it can be repealed.

    1. Simon Laishram

      There was a commission of SC Judges who reviewed the efficiency of AFSPA and, as per their recommendation, it should have been removed because it acts more as an immunity shield for human rights violations by the armed forces than it has solved national security issues. If sentiments such as this furthers among the mainland masses, then I’m afraid, eventually India will part with another “forgotten” area.

  3. Amarjeet Singh

    the basic problem with Indian Administration is the long term policies laid down without any consideration of diversities and timely reconsideration………

  4. Simon Laishram

    I truly appreciate the writer’s concern and am in complete support of her. But please do get your facts soundly verified. Calling communities “tribal” frivolously may be considered offensive if do not happen to be. I understand that your parallel to Adivasi atrocities is only natural and for public good but, calling a culturally non-tribal majority of a whole state may be offensive nonetheless. Thank you!

  5. Shiva

    Women safety is a complex topic in India. From being a nation that has so many goddesses, we have today lost the plot somewhere. It can’t be solved by ‘dharnas’, candlelight vigils or by paying mere lip service. It needs a change in approach, the way we live. The first step is catch them young. Parents should inculcate the habit of respecting women in their son when he is kid. And mothers can play a big role here. Sex education is another area where we have to open up. Community watch groups should be created that identify any threat in advance and keep anti-social elements at bay. Women in bollywood should demand better portrayal of women in movies. I remember a scene from the movie Namstey London, where a drunk Akshay Kumar, a jatt from the hinterland, jumps on Katrina Kaif and pins her against the wall just to ask her name. Imagine million other men watching the movie and subconsciously legitimizing this way of interacting with women. I wish Katrina Kaif had refused to do such a scene.

    About the article, i feel it is flowing incoherently and in an ill-informed manner. Less research has been put into the article. AFSPA is a focused topic and it’s not just all about Manipur.


  6. Captivate

    abhi ek do saal pehle ki baat hai….jab militants Indian Army ke 3 jawaano ke sir kaat diye the tab desh ke har hisse se soldiers ko Jammu-Kashmir bheja ja raha tha. uss samay Saugor (M.P) se 2 sainiko ne train ke andar bahut bawaal machaya tha.

    Ek newly married couple ka reservation sleeper coach mein tha. 2 army ke jawaan jo highly boozed the wo uss compartment mein ghus gaye and newly married ladke ko bahut maara. ek jawaan uss ladki ko ghaseet ke apne compartment mein le jaane laga. Jo log beech bachaav karne aa rahe the army walo ne unko b maara.
    then the whole incident was told to MCO, Saugor Railway Station and the two army men were punished by court marshal

  7. NN

    Thank You Vishakha for writing an article on one of our many issues in Manipur. Hope you continue to do so in the coming months/years until peace prevails there. It’s a mess.

    As a young guy who grew up in the cities, going home was always a pain to think of. The zero nightlife where i risk my life going out after 6pm and the possibility of being shot at mistakenly or otherwise under a fake encounter if i have cash in my pocket. Even if that’s just Rs 3000!!

    Insurgency grew only to repulse the indian army. There’s over 40 such insurgency groups from zero when India got independence and these insurgency survives on taxing the poor people further and from any central/state sanctioned projects, sometimes even upto 40% of it. 3% to one group, 2% to another group… The Indian army does nothing to fight it either. They are trying to survive in the system through various means, illegal or otherwise, public suffering has become a norm in Manipur with no electricity, proper roads, water scarcity to begin with.

    People wait in line to an underground hand-pump to fetch water for several hours in many localities. Water is expensive if you have to buy compared to the cities. The tribal localities suffer even more. There’s hardly 10-15 hours of electricity in Imphal city. Sometimes none at all for several days. Forget the villages. The roads.. lets not even begin with it. If you drive out for a few hours within the Imphal city and your body/hands are still not shaking from the road bumps, i’ll personally give you a …whatever you want.

    The central government gives no f* about the people in Manipur. The same is with the Meitei people (non tribals) who controls the cash flow towards the tribals. There’s ZERO development in tribal areas. The roads connecting the tribal villages are a joke. They are footpaths but that’s the condition of most roads within the city too. Even the Tribal Department in Manipur has no tribals working saying tribal people lack education and capabilities. There’s no tribal professor in Manipur University except one that i know of. There’s a few tribal lecturers on temporary basis stating there’s no qualified people while the tribals exceed the number of PhD scholars passing out as compared to the Meitei people in MU.

    NOBODY gets a job in Manipur without bribing the officials conducting interviews with a minimum of Rs 5 lakhs for a Rs 15,000 job. Even the jobs for the top Manipur Public Civil Services. Although some say that they didn’t bribe the officials to get the MPSC jobs, it is a well known fact that the families take loans during these period of time. Only a handful tribals get through MPSC while the rest is taken up by the Meitei people. What’s hilarious is, there’s a higher number of tribals who gets through IAS. Co-incidence, every year?

    There’s just too many to begin with :/

    Irrespective of what communities we belong, tribal or non-tribal, Hindu/Muslim or Christian, everyone suffers in Manipur and the first step is to remove AFSPA. Insurgency will die its slow natural death with it and hopefully the rest will fall into place.

    PS: I’m sure you know but Thangjam Manorama is not a tribal lady. She’s a Meitei from the general category.

  8. Hardeep

    Very very painful. I personally find it very disturbing that those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the meek often start abusing them. This is not acceptable. How can we just read these stories and forget about them? This country will become a living hell if we do not start doing something about the increasing levels of crimes against women and children.
    THe manner in which our sisters from Manipur have had to protest shows the extent of their anguish. If we do not start to stand up and defend all women irrespective of their caste, religion, race, ethnicity, etc., we are a party to the crime and no better than the scumbags who abuse and rape women.

  9. Samyukta

    I am glad you are highlighting this issue especially after so many years…
    Just a point to note, Manorama was not a tribal woman but a woman from the Singh/Sharma community of Manipur…

    What I am trying to say is that the issue is not just about adivasi or tribal women and women in India in general especially where AFSPA is still prevelant.
    Also a small achievement (not a very big one), as a result of protest against Manorama’s rape and murder, the AFSPA was reversed from the Imphal valley in Manipur… But yes the other districts in Manipur are still under the act.

  10. Shweta

    These woman? Seriously! Indian Army must have really low standards.

    1. Pranya

      I don’t think you understand that rape is not about sexual attraction, but establishing power over a person and exploiting them.
      As for the fact that all you could make out from that article, you should be VERY, VERY ashamed of yourself. Very. Learn to shut the hell up if all you have to contribute to social issues is snidy, ignorant comments.

    2. Devinder

      I think your standard is as low as low it can get……you should be ashamed of your comments.

    3. Ritu


    4. charlie

      very arrogant comment for both sides Shaweta I hope you are beautiful at least when you looking yourself in mirror

  11. Anoynumous

    Now-a-days only media is heard and acted upon. The day these paid medias shift thier focus from discussing what a celebrity or politician ate/met/said/fought to ground realities and more importantly EAST of India, things will start changing. I believe govt also sets the priority of every task. Issues most visible on social media are addressd first. Media should cover incidents And mishaps in east it will not only create pressure on the govt in east but also bring peace and development in those areas in a long run.

  12. Varsha Pandey

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope the government and the media wake up and such issues do not go unnoticed. Just one more point though, the rape cases which make it “big” on news channels are not to be blamed for “overshadowing” those which go unnoticed. The very fact that people are now voicing their concerns against any form of brutality and crime against women is a positive and desirable change in the society. I believe no such case is any less important. And I hope more people like you continue to make the country aware of news that the media is unfortunately failing to cover.

  13. shahbaz

    though it was past but it is not in the light side of the nation and media too ..we should share this in our resprctive social media .
    may this comr to view of our busted media

  14. Ritu

    and than we ask “why do people become naxalite”??

  15. abhisikta

    really painful ….

  16. chakri

    It seems the will of Irom Sharmila chanu’s satyagrah is much more powerful than I thought. I was buzzed to see a girl of that age playing that part.
    But now this article seems to be a small part of her will.

  17. Ishant jain

    Why did Indian army personnel do this? We have faith in you ? Is Assam rifles diff from Indian army or is it that MoH isnt aware of what’s being cooked in Assam rifles?…aren’t Assam rifles or any other paramilitary forces subjected to report to MOH ? WE NEED ANSWERS..

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