Mayang Imphal: The landscape of Mayang Imphal, a small village bordering the Imphal West and Thoubal districts in Manipur, is dotted by fish farms, paddy fields and the still swollen Imphal river. It was amid this quaint scenery that a 14-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped last week, and died later.
The girl had left her house after receiving a phone call Tuesday night, never to return. Early next morning, she was found in a semi-conscious state, nearly drowned in a pond in the neighbouring village of Heibong Mekhong, with a loin cloth around her neck.
She was rushed to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal, over 40 km away, where she died of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) Thursday (3 September), according to the police.
Before she died, her family members said, the 14-year-old had narrated to her 20-year-old sister the gruesome events that had unfolded on the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday. The girl allegedly said she had gone to her boyfriend’s house in Heibong Mekhong with an intention to “elope”, but his family rejected the match. She was then allegedly “assaulted” by her boyfriend and his friends.
“It was around 8 pm when we were having dinner. She (my sister) had dinner a little before that, after which she got a phone call and left. We thought this was a usual thing since she keeps talking to her friends,” the victim’s sister told ThePrint.
The police has so far arrested four suspects in the case, including the boyfriend — 19-year-old Mohammed Maza Khan — booking them under IPC Sections 376 and 302, pertaining to rape and murder, respectively, and the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
The police, however, did not confirm rape, saying they are awaiting the post mortem report.
Superintendent of Police, Imphal West, K Meghachandra Singh said, “The main accused hasn’t confessed to the sexual assault till now. According to him, the girl had insisted on eloping. But the youth was reluctant and they fought over it. The girl then hit him with some pebbles or stones and he also hit back and kicked her down.”
Asked if the victim’s injuries were consistent with rape, Singh only said, “It’s not that certain, we are waiting for the post mortem report.”
The Manipur government, meanwhile, has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the victim’s family that has now demanded death sentence for the culprits.
Love story gone wrong?
When ThePrint reached the victim’s house, located on a stretch between the Imphal river and acres of paddy fields, a crowd had gathered outside. The villagers, many of whom were part of a joint action committee formed to look into the case, had been working out their demands from the government.
The 14-year-old’s siblings — two elder sisters and a younger brother — along with her father emerged from the house where the discussion was taking place.
The 20-year-old, whom the victim had confided in at the hospital, said the family had taken out a search party that night but failed to locate her.
“In the morning, around 5.30-6 am, we got news that a young girl had been found unconscious at a farm…So people had changed her clothes and were taking her to the hospital,” the sister added.
She hesitated to reveal further details of the conversation she had with the victim, fearing some suspects could be part of the crowd outside the house. But during a phone call later, her husband said Khan and the 14-year-old were classmates.
“The boy’s family chased them out because the girl’s father is deaf and dumb…So both of them went near the lake. One other guy was walking in front of them. That’s when the boyfriend started molesting her. She resisted and there was a lot of tussle. She was gagged by a khudei (loin cloth) and her hands were tied,” the brother-in-law told ThePrint over phone.
The family alleged that the 14-year-old was raped by the boyfriend and four or five other men, presumably his friends. She was then “disposed of” in a nearby pond.
Dr Arun Kumar Singh, medical superintendent at RIIMS, refused to disclose the exact nature of the girl’s injuries. “So far, we know that the 14-year-old girl died of near drowning and ARDS…rest I won’t be able to tell you because of the law and order situation.”
Authorities have, however, confirmed that she suffered bruise marks from being beaten with a blunt object.
On Wednesday night, hours after the girl was found near the pond and news of her alleged rape spread, violent clashes had ensued between residents of the two villages to which the main accused and the girl belonged. A mob later torched the house of the main accused.
The two villages, dominated by the Meitei Pangal (Meitei Muslims) community, are separated by the Imphal river.
Both the victim and the main accused were from the same community.
According to a local resident, Manoj Fundreimayum, the clashes were initially of minor nature but the situation took a turn for the worse when the girl’s condition deteriorated by Wednesday evening.
“A meeting was held and after that a large number of people gathered and went to the accused person’s village. It was around 7 pm when violence erupted between the two villages,” Fundreimayum added.
“There were 100-200 people on either side. It was a dangerous confrontation that happened that night,” said Haji Arafat Ali, president of the Muslim Council Manipur (MCM). “Everyone was anxious and angry. They pelted stones as well and about 10-odd people were injured. Police forces of three districts had to be deployed.”
When ThePrint visited Heibong Makhong village after Wednesday’s clashes, 15-20 police personnel were still guarding the house of the other suspects.
‘Elopement is common’
While this alleged elopement went wrong, Manipuri culture experts said it was a common practice in the state. Known as nupi-chenba, it is found common in Manipuri culture.
“Over 90 per cent of marriages take place through elopement. Boys and girls fall in love, they elope and the next morning the elders of the boys’ locality will come and say the girl has eloped. And that’s how marriage is planned by the adults,” Nonibala Narengbam, convenor of Women in Governance, an organisation that works on governance and gender-based issues, said.
“But in earlier days, these kinds of crime didn’t happen…The nature of this is changing now. Nowadays it seems it’s not about love but more about lust and for sexual pleasure. That’s where this eloping is becoming a shortcoming,” she added.