Activists of the Meiti community carry out a torch rally to protest the arrest of alleged suspects in Pechi Awang Leikai village of the Thoubal district of north eastern state of Manipur Image Credit: AFP

The unbearable darkness of being, this sums up without frills or romanticism of words a collective conscience, on one hand seared and in pieces while on the other so deeply buried that anger is wasted on it.

To stay outside the echo chamber is a masterclass in self-perseverance, for those who speak after much prodding are better off silent. There is only so much humanity deserves.

In the last few days, the rights and safety of women in India have taken a battering, the kind for which phrases like to rise from the ashes will seem ambitious.

The daughters of Manipur need a heroic effort just to emerge enveloped as they and us are in this maelstrom of political rhetoric that has blinded those with less character. For when was defence or even indifference of brutal sexual assault anything less than complicity?

Two women from the northeastern state of Manipur — there are reports they could be three — were disrobed and dehumanised publicly in an act that will shadow them as long as they live. For two months the incident was suppressed.

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Speaking truth to power

Truth though is honourable; it has a way of getting out. The same can’t be said about those for whom power is a one-way street with their compassion crushed as though by a storming herd of elephants. The chief minister of Manipur has admitted that there are ‘100s more similar cases’ to the one where women were paraded naked in the state.

Our moral compass is off centre. The needle has moved and is now stuck in a labyrinth of whataboutery and deflection. In this emptiness what echoes back is genuflection, ministers who are also mothers emotionally bereft for the tragic plight of another’s child, women handing defenceless women to a mob to be raped and plundered, a polarised civil society that has long slid down on the empathy index, police that watches as crime unfolds and a blindfolded mainstream media that has long stopped seeing. It was not their house on fire.

To quote Barack Obama, “The biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass.” As a society we have lost ours. We garland murderers, mock champions who allege sexual abuse and offset crimes against others when there can be no cover. There is outrage, selective and against those who question, speaking truth to power is the unpopular opinion.

A Manipur policeman stands guard as members of Meira Paibis, powerful vigilante group majority Meitei women, block traffic in Imphal, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Manipur Image Credit: AP

Exactly a year ago India welcomed its first tribal president with much fanfare, today as tribal women in Manipur are paraded naked and raped, the office of the president remains silent. BJP leaders found their voice 80 days after violence erupted in Manipur but only to demand on loop action against sexual assault cases in opposition ruled states. Did two wrongs ever make a right?

With our social fabric in tatters, we are morally bankrupt today. In a conflict zone rape is weaponised, and crimes against women who are the easiest of targets a reflection of lawlessness at its nadir. Empathy and accountability then are the hallmark of a civilised society that treats a crisis and its women with respect, instead the victims have been betrayed by circling them in a political dance.

An existential crisis

It was a week of some more deep cuts. The cup of shame ran over when Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a member of parliament belonging to the ruling party who once infamously confessed to a murder on camera called the Manipur horror, ‘shameful’.

The macabre jokes keep writing themselves, Bhushan has been accused by India’s champion wrestlers of sexual abuse and despite grave allegations against him was granted bail with alacrity. The Delhi police which are under the home ministry not surprisingly did not oppose his bail.

Empathy and accountability then are the hallmark of a civilised society that treats a crisis and its women with respect, instead the victims have been betrayed by circling them in a political dance


Moral fibre of a society

In India a woman is raped every 16 minutes. Among these statistics are also two women who were disciples of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect which has cult following in the northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. Convicted not just of their rape but also for the murder of a journalist, Ram Rahim is serving a 20-year jail term. Or so we are told.

For the second time this year and the fourth in fourteen months the rape and murder convict is out on parole, once again for a generous period of 30 days. Last time around when he was enjoying his freedom, he mocked both the law and women by cutting a large cake with a sword.

The compass was already shaky, but it flinched when convicted rapists of Bilkis Bano were released by the government. The eleven men had also murdered seven of her family members including her toddler daughter whose head they smashed on a stone.

Since then, with every attack on women whether openly, covert or through names-plaining the meter moves further. Healing will only begin when we reset, instead the chasm is expediently widened.

Moral fibre of a society is like a fine muslin cloth, it comes with a handle with care manual and once ripped seldom retains its original beauty, however fine the needle that sews it back. An ancient civilisation like ours that proudly embraced its principles for centuries is now at crossroads, those same beliefs face an existential crisis. How hard is it to do what is right?