'What was the police doing': SC raps state, central government over Manipur viral video

"Was the local police unaware that such an incident took place? And why was the FIR transferred to the Magistrate on the 20th of June? After one month", Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud asked.
Image used for representational purpose. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)
Image used for representational purpose. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

The Supreme Court on Monday grilled the Centre and the government of Manipur on the ethnic violence going on in the state since May 4.

The SC termed the video of two women being paraded naked in Manipur as "'horrendous" and sought information about steps taken so far in the FIRs lodged.

The top court said that it will not want the state police to probe the matter as they virtually handed over the women to the rioting mob.

It also said that it may constitute an SIT or a committee comprising former judges to monitor the situation in the strife-torn state subject to hearing the law officers representing the Centre and Manipur on Tuesday.

The SC also questioned the Manipur police over its delay in registering an FIR in the viral video case, " Why no FIR was registered on the horrifying incident that had happened on May 4 and why it took the state police 14 days to register an FIR?"

According to LiveLaw, the bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that the incident of sexual violence against women shown in the video was not an isolated incident and surmised that there would be several such instances.

The first information report in the sexual assault case was registered on May 18. However, it was only after the video was shared on social media that the arrests were made. Seven people have been arrested in the case, including a minor.

"Was the local police unaware that such an incident took place? And why was the FIR transferred to the Magistrate on the 20th of June? After one month", the CJI continued to ask.

On being questioned about the number of FIRs registered in the state, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, who was representing the state government, said that about twenty FIRs have been registered in a particular station and over 6,000 FIRs across the State. However, the SG told the bench that the state does not have the facts in its possession on the bifurcation of the FIRs. 

The CJI expressed surprise that the state does not have the facts in its possession, but that the media has. 

CJI Chandrachud said that the viral video incident was part of systemic violence. "There are statements by the victims that they were handed over to the mob by police. This is not a situation like 'Nirbhaya'. That was also horrific but it was isolated. This is not an isolated instance. Here we are dealing with systemic violence which IPC recognises as a special offence. In such a case, is it not important that you should have a specialised team? There is a need in the State of Manipur to have a healing touch. Because the violence is continuing unabated", the CJI said.

Two Kuki-Zo women in B Phainom village in Manipur were sexually assaulted by a Meitei mob on May 4 and according to the police complaint, one of the women was brutally gang-raped by the mob. 

A shocking video of the two women being paraded naked by the mob was widely shared on social media on July 19, seemingly because of the Internet ban in the state. People from all walks of life have expressed anger and demanded strict action against the mob.

The next day, the Supreme Court said that the incident was 'simply unacceptable' and directed the Centre and the Manipur government to take immediate steps in the matter. Only after this did the Manipur police arrest seven persons including a minor identified from the video.

The Union government on July 27 also told the Supreme Court that it has transferred the inquiry into the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Scores of people have been killed and several hundred injured since ethnic violence broke out in the state on May 3 when a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status.

The two women survivors of the horrific sexual crime approached the Supreme Court to ensure a fair investigation. The women also expressed no confidence in the CBI. 

Their counsel senior advocate Kapil Sibal categorically told the bench that they are opposed to the Centre's proposal to hand over the investigation to the CBI and transfer the trial to Assam.

The bench emphasised the need to rebuild confidence in the people and help them to return to normal lives. 

It also asked Attorney General for India R Venkataramani and the Solicitor General to get instructions from the authorities on the queries raised by the court.

The matter will be heard again tomorrow.

(With extra inputs from PTI)

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