- While Modi’s silence can be explained in terms of politics, what I fail to understand is the sheer inhumanity of his followers who don’t even “see” the horror of this episode.
On July 19, the world woke up to a horrific viral video circulating on Twitter and forwarded multiple times on India’s WhatsApp chat platform. In it a woman is seen held by a mob of hundreds – the video is not for the faint of heart – she has been stripped naked, her bare breasts and genitals being groped by men. Soon after, coding to news reports, the mob gang-raped her and another teenager. While this is horrific, we later hear from the victims’ statements that they were “given” to the mob by the state police.
Since violence broke out in Manipur in May, the hilly north-east Indian state, at least 130 people have been killed and 400 wounded in sectarian violence. More than 60,000 have been displaced and the internet has been shut down in the state by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), that critics say was intended to make sure no news of the violence got out of the state. Churches, temples and even police and army depots have been looted and destroyed, according to news reports.
The viral video incident dates back to May 4, 2023 and transpired after the circulation of a fake news of rape and murder of a Meitei (Hindu) woman. According to the police complaint, two men and three women belonging to the Kuki community were then blocked by a Meitei mob when they were attempting to flee their violence-hit district. Both men were killed by the mob and women were forced to take off their clothes, followed by the brutal gangrape. The police made first arrest in the case only after the video went viral, which was months after the incident took place.
Narendra Modi’s silence on every human rights violation in India is by now legendary. But this time, he and his Machiavellian Home Minister Amit Shah, may have overstepped the boundaries of political decency. Modi finally spoke on the spiraling situation in Manipur after a huge public outcry. He spoke for exactly eight minutes and 30 seconds – less than the hours of sexual abuse and gangrape of three Manipuri women by a 1,000-plus mob. He gave statement on July 20, 80 days after the incident and only after the despicable video surfaced. His silence can be linked to the fact that Manipur has a chief minister who belongs to Modi’s party.
I was sent the viral Twitter video by my friends and my sister-in-law in India. Women in India are literally sobbing and crying over the horror of that video. Countless women that I know in India begged me to spread the word outside of India as there was total silence in Indian newspapers and its government-controlled media. Finally, The New York Times picked up the story and by then other news outlets.
While Modi’s silence can be explained in terms of politics, what I fail to understand is the sheer inhumanity of his followers who don’t even “see” the horror of this episode and other victims who have been violated and abused in India. They explain away the incidents as opposition-led attempts to defame Modi or spread fake news that the perpetrators belonged to minority – read Muslims. Where is basic human decency? Humanity? That girl could be our daughter, sister, friend!
I experienced this firsthand. I recently asked in my old school alumni group chat about this incident and how they were coping. And to my utter shock and horror, the men in that group immediately took out the ruling party playbook to deny and distract by blaming the opposition for this news, calling it “old news that is being circulated now to discredit Modi before the state elections, and pointing out to me that this incident was in fact orchestrated by China, Christians and, yes Muslims and, wait for it, the drug mafia, of that region. Then, there was the Whatabouttry of old cases from opposition-ruled states and cases where the perpetrators were Muslim men.
I have never wanted to engage with Modi supporters on any social media platform. I have blocked family members in the past from social media platforms for their rants. But this was too much for me to handle. These men are doctors, engineers, and corporate leaders in India, in the Middle East and here in the United States. And they were collectively tag-teaming to shut down this “noise” from me. Eventually, it got down to name calling and then obnoxious display of lewd and catcalls. Did I mention that these are middle aged men with families? They did not “see” the helplessness, the humiliation, the pain and the shock on the victim’s face — all they saw was Modi and their need to “protect” him from the likes of me. If this is not how a cult forms, I don’t know what else does.
One of them forwarded a now debunked and fake news by ANI about a Muslim being convicted of that heinous crime. ANI, incidentally, is the unofficial government mouthpiece in India and a big player in how Modi’s IT cell operates its fake news machinery. This is how official “fake news” goes viral in India – ANI tweets the fake news. BJP’s IT cell picks it up and sends it out to its social media foot soldiers. Then, after a suitable time has passed, ANI deletes the tweets and “offers apology. By then, though, the tweet has done its work – it has managed to take the main narrative off the circulation and given live to the fake news.
The U.S. government recently feted Modi at the White House and the fear of China’s threat is probably not going to change its India policy. Few lawmakers have condemned the violence where hundreds of churches and houses of other ethnic minorities have been burned down. Kuki-Zomi Christians, the politically weaker minority in Manipur, have borne the brunt of the violence. Victims of the conflict allege that state police have stood by while their weapons were raided and used to arm militant groups.
Many are calling what’s happening in Manipur as the Gujarat pogrom 2.0. Gujarat 1.0 Model was when Modi and Amit Shah first rose to national attention with their state-sponsored terrorism. “The coordinated sexual violence and the indifference of the state we are seeing today recall the gang rape of Muslim women which transpired during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, and which have recurred with startling regularity ever since,” according to the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) President Mohammed Jawad. “The root causes of the pogrom then and now are the same: the divisive, religious nationalist ideology propagated by the ruling BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” he said. And, of course, Manipur has crucial elections this year.
Elsewhere in India, there is now not just outrage but disbelief and utter disgust for the ruling party and its inaction, I am told. The Supreme Court has responded within hours after the circulation of the video warning the government to act, otherwise the court will intervene. It has been pointed out that the internet shutdown in the state facilitated the cover up of the incident.
“Indian Americans of conscience must raise their voices to oppose the brutal violence in Manipur,” said Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of IAMC. “These attacks on Kuki women are a harrowing reminder of the divisiveness embedded in the heart of Indian politics by its current regime. Prime Minister Modi’s silence until now has added fuel to the flames in Manipur.”
The Indian government has opposed international pressure to intervene and prevent further violence. Earlier this month, the Indian government criticized a statement from the European Parliament tying the violence to “politically motivated, divisive policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism,” calling it “unacceptable interference.” Here in the U.S., the National Alliance of the People’s Movement (NAPM) is sending an Open Appeal to the President of India to immediately “intervene in the light of the horrific cases of sexual violence against Kuki-Zomi women in Manipur and ensure restoration of peace, normalcy and justice in the strife-torn state.”
Meanwhile, the ‘boys’ in my school alumni group will continue to engage in whatabouttry and deflect attention away from India’s abysmal human rights record and Modi to click and bait fake news about Muslims and other minorities. And while they are at it, they will also have no shame in name-calling their ex-batchmate and friend as a stooge and a tool of some shady group and its agenda that I certainly would like to know about.
Kuhu Singh lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Bidding adieu to journalism a decade ago, she nonetheless loves to write and express her very strong opinions on social media and blogs and sometimes in a few Indian publications. She is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager for a broadcast retail company. Race relations, diversity, and social issues fascinate and roil her into action. She volunteers her time with certain political and community organizations.