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Viral video of sexual assault in India sparks protest, Modi response

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Amid months of violence and government-imposed internet outages in northeastern India, an alarming video showing the sexual assault of two women went viral Wednesday, sparking public outcry over two months after it was filmed.

Fighting between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mostly Christian Kuki minority groups in the northeastern state of Manipur this year has left dozens of people dead, thousands of residents displaced, and countless buildings burned to the ground. Internet outages — meant to stem the spread of incendiary rhetoric and rumors — have become the Indian government’s approach to quelling the ethnic clashes which spiraled out of control after protests led to violence, which in turn prompted revenge attacks.

The crisis drew renewed attention this week after a ghastly video circulated on social media in which men from the Meitei group paraded two women, who were Kukis, naked through a crowd of clothed men who assaulted them. The attack took place on May 4, according to local media.

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In a May 18 complaint filed to police, the victims allege that “unknown miscreants” stormed their village with guns. While attempting to escape, the women, along with several other people who were accompanying them, were apprehended by police. But later, the group was intercepted by a mob, at which point, the victims allege, the attack began.

“The police were there with the mob which was attacking our village,” one of the victims told the Indian Express. “The police picked us up from near home, and took us a little away from the village and left us on the road with the mob. We were given to them by police.”

India’s Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to the assaults Thursday, calling them “shameful” and an “insult” to the country, in his first comments thus far about the ongoing conflict in Manipur.

Previously, though, rhetoric from members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stoked ethnic tensions in the region. Earlier this year, the chief minister of Manipur, Nongthombam Biren Singh, a BJP member who is Meitei, blamed local problems on the influx of refugees from Myanmar who fled to Manipur after the neighboring country’s 2021 coup. These refugees share ties with the Kukis.

“Chin-Kuki brothers,” Singh said in a March television interview, “are encroaching everywhere and planting poppy and doing drugs business.”

Many refugees from Myanmar are part of the Chin tribes, which is closely linked to the Kukis. Some members of the Meitei majority, meanwhile, have decried the bestowal of certain legal protections to tribal groups like the Kukis.

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