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Why It Took A Gruesome Video For India To Start Caring About Manipur

As a bloody civil war rages in northeast India, why is it that only graphic images of women attracts public attention to regions that are deemed too remote and peripheral?

Women protesting for Manipur violence against women.

Protest in Kolkata, India, against violence against women in Manipur, in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Sandip Saha/Pacific Press via ZUMA
Sainico Ningthoujam

MANIPUR — Time and again, Northeast India is typecast as a topography of terror, a distant zone of “disturbed areas”. In Manipur, members of the dominant Meitei ethnic group violently clashed with the minority Kukis in some of the region’s worst ethnic conflict in living memory.

What does it mean for communities within the same state, who have a fraught shared history, to lack any empathy for one another? How did the adoption of automatic rifles, ammunition, the brazen destruction of homes, neighborhoods, and religious places become an acceptable “defense mechanism” in the desire to protect identity?

It has been almost three months since the first spark of civil strife that started on May 3 and over 160 people have died, more than 50,000 people have been displaced, and homes, cars, churches, and temples have been reduced to rubble. And these are only the reported numbers; it will be a long time, if ever, that we can begin to take stock of the scale and depravity of the entire situation.

Heinous crimes

We are only now getting to hear about the brutal manner in which two Kuki women were stripped, paraded naked, and one was raped by a Meitei mob, according to a first information report on the incident.

The state police were aware of this heinous crime but prioritized personal sectarian interests over the course of justice. The video and public reactions force one to critically engage with the causes and consequences of the brutal horrors and nightmarish agony that locals have had to experience for the past months.

It is the sordid escalation of consistently dehumanizing another community.

What is alarming about the frightful incident of May 4 is that Meira Paibis — a women's social movement in the state of Manipur — have been key participants in fueling mob violence in Manipur. These elderly women from the Meitei community are historically heralded as protectors of communities against “anti-social” elements and famed for their spectacular revolt against the military in 2004.

In the current hostile climate, it is the Kuki women’s bodies that were paraded as receptacles of communal identity, and savagely violated by the miscreants of the majority Meitei population.

Group of men and a naked woman.

Screenshot from the shocking viral Manipur video in which two Kuki women were raped.

Screenshot of the brutal video that went viral in recent weeks in India.

Questions of "honor" and "dishonor"

The question of "honor" and "dishonor", encapsulated in women’s bodies, is intensified in times of conflict. Rapes of women of the “other community” is lauded as a righteous course of action, to fulfill a self-aggrandizing idea of punitive action. This notion hinges upon the act of "dishonoring" or humiliating the other community. It is the sordid escalation of consistently dehumanizing another community, of seeing the “other” as an abject enemy.

As legal and political dignitaries continue to debate the contours of indigeneity, the extent of affirmative action that the other community benefits from, it is civilians who burn in the ensuing crossfires. And it is women’s bodies that bear the marks of that confrontation. Even in the media reactions, the treatment has been steeped in patriarchal undertones.

It took the delayed circulation of a gruesome video of sexual assault to jolt people, to catch national attention.

This is an incident of “national shame”, inappropriate for any civilized society. This is the moment that invokes the paternal protection of the state as if earlier cries for peace and help amid atrocious mob violence did not warrant enough attention. It is only the notion of shame, of public humiliation that has elicited a response of deep remorse from all communities, finally uniting people in horror.

At last, we have earned the attention and words of condemnation from the prime minister.

Fostering hope

Where do we go from here? The state is ripped apart into fault lines of ethnically segregated neighborhoods and there is a total breakdown of public trust. This collapse of communication and mutual support is not limited to only the Kuki and Meitei communities. It is also the crumbling away of trust in electoral leaders at both the federal and the Union level. It affects the larger region which is home to several other communities and how they witness the fallout of this conflict. It is the self-fulfilling prophecy that labelled the region as "disturbed" and "lawless", and did nothing as the hours of burnings, displacements and ceasefires protracted into days, and extended into months.

It took the delayed circulation of a gruesome video of sexual assault to jolt people, to catch national attention. And the reason we are only hearing of this outrage now is because there is a complete internet shutdown, on the premise that the ban will stop the spread of fake news.

But fake news continued to be spread and communal tension was incessantly stoked regardless of the internet ban. Ironically, it could only be with the use of the internet that the case has come to light and some semblance of remedial action has been possible. But by making the conversation about tribal and non-tribal identities, religious differences, and by laying contested claims to indigeneity and citizenship, the core issue remains unresolved.

At the heart of this strife is the question of claims to affirmative action for education, livelihoods, and resources. Restoring peace in the state requires acknowledgment and redressal of these deep-seated concerns and a clear commitment to the protection of all legal residents. Perhaps, it is true that the nation cannot see our grief and finds the ethnic divisions too banal for its attention. It will be up to our local communities to foster hope and reparation to build a better future than our past.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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