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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Woman at the centre of Manipur storm

By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Manipur

At the centre of a huge political storm gripping the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur for the past two months is a woman whose rape and murder has sparked widespread protests.

Thangjam Manorama, whose rape and murder sparked the protests against federal anti-terror laws in Manipur
Manorama's bullet-riddled body was found by a roadside
Thangiam Manorama was a 32-year-old woman whose friends and family describe as being very friendly and quiet.

The authorities say she had links with an insurgent group fighting against Indian rule in Manipur.

Her friends maintain that she was just a simple person.

Manorama's family members say she always played the peace-maker: telling people not to fight.

Now her killing has inspired people in Manipur to come together and put up a formidable fight against the state government and the security forces.

Brutal death

A resident of Bamon Kampu village, some seven kilometres from the Manipur capital Imphal, Manorama was picked up at night from her home by the soldiers of the paramilitary Assam Rifles in July.

We are a poor family, she was like a mother to us, she brought us up
Thonjum Dolendru
Manorama's brother
Three hours later her badly mutilated and bullet-riddled body was found by the roadside.

Since then, Manipur has not been the same.

The state has erupted in protest, hundreds of people have been injured and at least one person has died after he setting himself on fire.

The protestors are demanding punishment for the killers of Manorama and the lifting of a special anti-terror law - the Armed Forces Special Powers' Act.

It gives unlimited powers to security force personnel to detain, search and arrest anyone on the basis of suspicion and without a warrant.

But who was Manorama?

Manipur protest
Widespread and violent protests followed the killing
The Assam Rifles say she was a member of the banned militant People's Liberation Army and she was killed when she tried to escape.

They allege she was an expert in laying landmines and explosives.

Manipur chief minister O Ibobi Singh echoed the thoughts.

He told the BBC that he has no doubt that Manorama was a "UG"- an activist of the underground insurgent group.

Conflicting views

But Manorama's family and friends strongly deny these allegations.

They say she was an social worker who mobilised her community to clean playgrounds and drains in the locality and organised cultural festivals.

Her younger brother, Thonjum Dolendru, told me Manorama had a cardiac problem.

"She was a quiet person," he said.

All the women here feel very insecure. They don't know what will happen next
Manorama's neighbour
"If we made a mistake, she corrected us. We are a poor family, she was like a mother to us, she brought us up."

"She always tried to make others happy. But she never had any happiness herself, her life was full of troubles," he says.

Outside Manorama's house, some 300 women sit and watch a video of a protest march held by a dozen Manipuri women on a television screen.

"We are all Manorama's mothers," says one protestor and the audience greets the remark with applause. Not one eye in the gathering is dry.

Anger

Watching the video is one of Manorama's neighbours, Arkewan Gulsana. She says she is shocked by her killing.

"She was a simple girl, like any of us. She made a living through weaving clothes and helped her mother look after her brothers. She was a friend of my sister-in-law's and visited our house sometimes."

Ms Gulsana is furious with the security forces and holds them responsible for her death.

Women on a protest outside Manorama's home
Women on a protest outside Manorama's home
"The soldiers killed her," she alleges. "Now they are lying, telling people that she was an expert in explosive materials.

"They say they found weapons on her, but that's an utter lie. They tortured her, this is a clear case of custodial death."

The Assam Rifles categorically deny torture.

Another neighbour, a young woman, says she feels violated by what happened to Manorama.

"It's like it's happened to me. All the women here feel very insecure. They don't know what will happen next."

In Manipur, women have traditionally enjoyed a lot of respect. Crimes against women are rare and perhaps that explains the people's anger at Manorama's killing.

A young unmarried woman is treated as a goddess here and Manorama has now become an icon for Manipuris.

A local human rights lawyer, Kotiswar Singh, says there have been similar allegations against security forces in the past too, but this time the people's patience has run out.

"The question no longer is whether Manorama was an insurgent or not," he says.

"The question now is the way she was killed and the way the security forces carried out the entire operation."


SEE ALSO:
Arrest threat for Manipur troops
25 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Fresh protests erupt in Manipur
19 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Crackdown on Manipur protesters
19 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Bid to axe Manipur 'terror' law
12 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Midnight knock and a killing too far
12 Aug 04  |  South Asia
Q&A: India's violent north-east
21 Nov 03  |  South Asia


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