“You cannot excuse what is taking place in one part of the country like Manipur on the ground that this is now (happening) in several other crimes against women as well,” the Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, said.
Under fire over Manipur, the BJP has sought to counter the attack by pointing to crimes against women in Opposition-ruled states.
Speaking outside Parliament House earlier, while saying thatthe Manipur incident had shamed the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: “Whether the incident happens in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or Manipur, in any corner of India, in any state… rising above political disputes and maintaining the significance of the rule of law and the respect for women is crucial”.
On Monday, responding to a plea to take cognizance of alleged incidents of crimes against women in Opposition-ruled states like West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala and Chhattisgarh, the CJI said: “The only distinction is this. Undoubtedly, there are crimes which are taking place against women all over the country. That’s a part of our social reality. We are, however, dealing with something which is of unprecedented magnitude, namely crimes and perpetration of violence against women in a situation of communal or sectarian strife of the nature that is taking place in Manipur. There is no gainsaying the fact that there are crimes which are taking place against women, possibly as you say in West Bengal as well.”
The Bench, which included Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, was hearing pleas for setting up an SIT to probe the Manipur incident.
Filing an intervention plea, Advocate Bansuri Swaraj said: “After this horrific incident in Manipur, an identical incident happened in West Bengal and Chhattisgarh”.
“We will hear you on that later. We are dealing with Manipur right now,” the CJI responded.
But Swaraj said: “I have a very limited prayer. Whatever mechanism My Lords are setting up, whether it is transferring the investigation to CBI, or My Lords are monitoring the investigation, the daughters of India, pan-India, need to be protected”.
“In July, a mob of 40-50 men disrobed a panchayat poll candidate, molested her and paraded her nude in a village in Howrah district, West Bengal. Another candidate in panchayat (election) violence was also paraded nude, identical to what happened in Manipur. No FIR has been registered till date,” she said.
As the Bench sought to draw a distinction between the cases, she said: “In the case of West Bengal, it is equally grave because violence against women is actually being used to punish the electorate”.
Swaraj said 9,304 FIRs were filed in West Bengal, but only 3 per cent of the accused were held. “The conscience of civil society is definitely woken up here in this instance (Manipur). And what is happening in Manipur cannot be condoned. But bone-chilling facts are coming to light. After what happened in Manipur, similar things are happening in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Kerala. Kindly protect all daughters of India and not limit that mechanism only to Manipur,” she said.
She said two women in Rajasthan had been raped and the accused were police officers. “All daughters of India require that mechanism (which the court is proposing to put in place),” she said.
The CJI then asked: “Were you for a moment saying that do something for all the daughters of India or don’t do anything for anyone at all?”
Swaraj replied that she was appealing that the court should do something “for all the daughters of India”.
Meanwhile, responding to submissions by Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, who appeared for some Meitei organisations, the CJI said: “Violence perpetrated against whichever community, we will treat in the same absolutely equal platform. We are conscious of the fact that some of the counsel for the petitioners may be appearing for a particular community, the Kuki community, and we are not blaming counsel for it. You appear in a matter where you are briefed to appear… Please rest assured that as a court, it is our duty to attend to these issues, irrespective of who the victims of violence are. And we will be even-handed in dealing with the matter, irrespective of who has been the perpetrator and who is the victim”.
Gupta said the violence would not stop until the basic underlying issues are addressed.
“We will be putting it to the Attorney General, Solicitor General and Advocate General of Manipur — what is the state doing to ensure that the violence comes to an end because otherwise, we are only going to deal with a cycle of renewed violence every now and then,” the court said.
Another counsel pointed out that the victims were both Kukis and Meiteis. “There will be victims among Meiteis also. There is no doubt about it. Because in a situation of sectarian strife, you cannot postulate that it is only one community which is universally at the receiving end. Obviously there is going to be violence on both sides,” the court said.
The counsel referred to a purported video of a young man being executed by a mob after interrogation. The CJI said he had seen it.
“I have also seen that video myself… Of course you are right that it can’t be only that one video (of sexual assault of the two women). That one video is something which triggered national outrage. But now that as a court we are into it, we can’t say we are only going to confine ourselves to that video and then say alright, the rest has to be forgotten. That one video has the trigger for intervention of the court. That’s all. Nothing more than that,” he said.