By Binalakshmi Nepram
On 29 May 2013, AS Reingamphi from Choithar village, Ukhrul district of Manipur was found dead in her rented accommodation at Chirag Dilli under Malviya Nagar Police Station in Delhi. There were signs of brutal assault on her nose, face and legs.
The deceased girl’s relatives submitted a complaint letter to the police station charging the landlord and his brother-in-law of sexually assaulting and murdering Reingamphi, but no action was taken. It was only after three days of sustained pressure after hundreds of protestors gathered, that the police finally lodged an FIR under Section 306, which is abetment to suicide. This is in complete disregard of the preliminary post-mortem report, which does not mention the cause of her death, and against the wishes of the family who wanted the case to be filed under IPC 302 and 304. The reports of the two post-mortems conducted remain inconclusive about the cause of death. Meanwhile, the landlord and the police claim that the girl committed suicide and the injuries on her person were caused by rats. As protests continued in Delhi, the mortal remains of Reingamphy were taken to her native village in Manipur on 6 June 2013.
The death of Reingamphi is a tragic reminder of the continuous violence against women from the Northeast. But her death brought forth a united Northeast collective and women’s groups like never seen before in Delhi. However, questions about what has really changed after the brutal 16 December Delhi gang rape persist.
A large number of people from the Northeast travel to mega cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad mainly for professional or academic purposes. According to the North East Support Centre & Helpline (NESC&H), over 414,850 people from Northeast India came to these mega cities of the country during the time period of 2005 and 2010. The national capital has emerged as one of the most preferred destinations for people from this region, ironically, in an effort to seek refuge from violent conflict in their hometown. Men and women from the Northeast are often subjected to racial discrimination and violence, often leading to severe beatings, and on some occasions, rape or death. It is alleged that almost half the women sexually harassed in the national capital and its neighbourhood are from the Northeast. And the numbers are only increasing. “Seventy-eight out of hundred people from Northeast India living in Delhi face racial discrimination, with crime against women, human trafficking and violence against people from the community emerging as major concerns”, reveals the 2011 research study by NESC.
The study further reveals that “more cases of violence and sexual harassment have come to the limelight since the past five to six years. Between the period of 2007 and 2011, NESC&H recorded 96 crimes against people from the Northeast in Delhi and NCR, of which, 58 percent happened against women, including molestation, human trafficking, beating, rape and attempt to rape. Challenges faced by people from the Northeast in Delhi have seen a shift from racial attacks to sexual violence and human trafficking. The last challenge is more worrisome compared to first and second. A very disturbing trend of sexual harassment by landlords has also come to the fore, and quite often, when victims approach the police for help, they are turned down by an indifferent attitude.
Some of the shocking incidents in the past include the case of Ramchanphy Hongray, a 19-year-old girl from Manipur who was sexually assaulted, strangled to death and burnt at her rented apartment at Munirka in south Delhi in 2009 by Pushpam Sinha, a PhD scholar working at the India Institute of Technology Delhi and the case of a young BPO employee from Mizoram who was kidnapped in 2010 from Dhaula Kuan in Delhi, gang raped and then dumped in an unconscious state.
A UN study titled launched on 28 May 2013, highlights that indigenous girls are at a heightened risk due to the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they face. It says that such discrimination has been caused or amplified by colonial domination, limited access to social services, militarisation and dispossession from ancestral lands – all of which increase the vulnerability of indigenous people to violence and limit their ability to seek protection and recourse.
Though the UN has a ‘Protection of Women under International Humanitarian law’, the question is, why are these laws not implemented, why do these laws remain only on paper instead of being put into action? The Delhi State Commission for Women has been set up under an Act of the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, passed in 1994. The main objectives of the Commission are to ensure security, development and well-being of women in every sphere of national life and particularly to suggest and ensure implementation of steps against gender discrimination. Programmes and projects undertaken by the Delhi Commission for Women Security, are supposed to ensure the security of women in the capital, which includes physical security, domestic harmony and legal protection.
There is an urgent need for the authorities to launch a mass education and sensitisation programme for the police as well as the general public towards people of the Northeast. As per the recommendations submitted to Justice Verma Committee by our team at the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network;
- The government must initiate the setting up of special non-political bodies with the involvement of media and activists, for fact-finding and dealing with cases of violence against women and youth from Northeast India in major metropolitan cities of India.
- Stricter laws should be in place against the perpetrators of such crimes and they should be given harsher punishments for stigma and discrimination.
- A special and effective redressal cell should be present for women and youth from the Northeast.
- A proper environment must be created for rehabilitation. Gender-sensitive and women-controlled economic rehabilitation for victims of violence must be prioritised.
- Proper awareness and orientation to people of Northeast India, mainly students, about the cities.
- An effective special mechanism to deal with safety of women from the Northeast.
- More people from the Northeast in law enforcing agencies.
- Use of media not to victimize, but clear stereotypical perceptions about people from the Northeast.
In the 1980s, when violence crept into the Manipur society, Manipuri women started the ‘Meira Paibi’ or ‘Women with Torches’ movement. “We marched through the streets at night with flaming torches to take the darkness away,” one of the founding members says. With the rise in violence against women and children in India today, we need a billion flaming torches to lift the darkness.
(Research support by Ms Sujata, Ms Ankitha, Ms Julia, Ms Ifra and Ms Gurung of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network)