Women as Weapons: Exploring Mob Behaviour in Manipur and its Devastating Impact on Human Rights


In the troubled state of Manipur, India, women have tragically fallen victim to sexual violence, wherein rape is employed as a weapon to instil terror and exert control over communities. This distressing practice not only violates fundamental principles of humanity but also undermines the very fabric of society. The systematic use of sexual assault as a tool of dominance and terror has left a deep scar on the collective psyche of Manipur, perpetuating a cycle of violence and perpetrating a grave violation of human rights.

This article delves into the convoluted state of affairs in Manipur by drawing on the insights of Sigmund Freud’s theories on mob behaviour and group psychology, Marina Abramovic’s provocative artistic experiment ‘RHYTHM 0,’ and the socio-psychological paradigm of the ‘broken windows theory’ as elucidated by Wilson and Kelling in 1968. These seemingly disparate elements intertwine in an analysis that sheds light on the ghastly exploitation of women, the erosion of moral boundaries within collectives, and the normalisation of violence in Manipur.

Unmasking Manipur’s Nightmare: Women’s Plight during Ethnic Conflicts

Incidents of sexual violence have garnered both national and international attention, bringing to light the harrowing reality faced by women in Manipur. One particularly horrifying incident involved a video depicting two women belonging to the Kuki-Zomi faction being paraded naked and subsequently raped by men of the Meitei faction. This incident shook the conscience of the nation, revealing the dark depths to which the use of rape as a weapon had sunk in the state. Tragically, such acts of brutality have not been isolated occurrences. Meitei mobs have repeatedly targeted women as a means of control of the rival faction, including burning homes and subjecting them to assaults, and even coercing women to strip under threats of violence or shooting them in the face, causing disfigurement. 

The devastating impact of sexual violence on women in Manipur is closely linked to the prolonged conflict in the region. Insurgencies and ethnic tensions have ravaged the state for decades, leaving communities deeply divided and vulnerable to manipulation by vested interests. In this scenario, women have become deliberate targets of sexual violence aimed at asserting power, degrading their dignity, and sowing discord within rival communities. Sexual violence against women is not only a weapon of war but a manifestation of the deep-rooted patriarchal norms that perpetuate and exacerbate the conflict.

Minds in Motion: Freud’s Analysis of Group Psychology and Mob Behavior

In seeking to understand the dynamics at play in Manipur, there exists a stark parallel between the theories of ‘Mob Behaviour’ and ‘Group Psychology’ proposed by Sigmund Freud and the prevailing situation in the state. Mob mentality also called herd or hive mentality, is the tendency of certain individuals to join large groups, often disregarding their personal emotions and embracing the behaviours and actions of those in their vicinity. Freud’s theories elucidate how individuals within a mob or a group may act in ways that they would not as individuals, driven by a collective psychology that allows for the abandonment of personal responsibility and the embrace of violence and cruelty. Those in power can harness this dark aspect of human nature to manipulate the masses and further their own agendas, even if it means causing immense harm to innocent lives.

Human Extremes under the Spotlight: Contextualising Abramovic’s’ RHYTHM 0’

Marina Abramovic’s daring art performance and social experiment, ‘RHYTHM 0,’ serves as a chilling real-life example of the potential consequences of unchecked mob behaviour. In her performance, Marina allowed participants to interact with her freely for six hours, granting them immunity from consequences and encouraging unrestrained expression. The disturbing and intense display of human behaviour that unfolded during the experiment included intimate touching, kissing, stripping, cutting her with a razor, and inflicting severe harm, such as slashing her throat and drinking her blood. Marina’s genuine fear of being killed during the ordeal underscored the profound impact of group dynamics and the alarming power of unchecked actions. 

These findings do not confine themselves to the realm of experimentation and controlled settings. Rather, they reverberate through real-world scenarios like the 2017 New Year’s Eve mass molestation incident in Bengaluru, illustrating the pervasive impact of mob behaviour on women’s safety and how it amplifies the vulnerability of women in public spaces. Beyond India, the effect was made evident in incidents like the assault on journalist Lara Logan in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011. Sociologist Elaine Replogle’s analysis of the Logan incident points out that multiple perpetrators pursuing a victim reveal an evident mob mentality, where the presence of others engaging similarly fuels misconduct due to reduced personal responsibility. The public space paradox, with strangers as an audience, unintentionally incentivizes rather than deters such behaviour, highlighting the intricate dynamics at play. 

Exploring the ‘Broken Windows Theory: Normalising the Manipuri Violence

Since mob behaviour severely magnifies the violent tendencies of the public, this is where the relevance of Wilson and Kelling’s ‘broken window theory’ (1968) comes into play. This theory explains the continued amplification and non-impact of this increased violence on the public. It explains how this extreme behaviour, over its course of gradual intensification, gets normalised to have negligible impact on the people, allowing the violence to continue unchecked. 

The theory posits that visible signs of disorder in an environment foster a cycle of normalisation, leading to further instances of disorder. In Manipur, the unchecked use of sexual violence as a weapon has created an environment where such atrocities have become disturbingly normalised, perpetuating a cycle of violence and degradation. This is so because the hatred and violence often fade into the backdrop, reduced to mere statistics and fleeting videos. Recent research confirms that while wartime rape is not new, its deliberate, strategic use is undeniable, yet it continues with impunity and international apathy in conflict zones, regardless of its widespread recognition by international organisations and human rights agencies.

Endeavors for Change: Uniting to Break the Cycle

In response to the sexual assault video, the Supreme Court of India took suo motu cognisance and issued an ultimatum to the governments to bring the perpetrators to justice. While this step was crucial, the resolution of this specific incident alone will not change the scenario across the state or the nation. The use of women as weapons in political and communal conflicts is a pervasive global phenomenon that regrettably persists to this day and is likely to persist unless sufficient sensitivity is raised.

It is of utmost importance to underscore the delicate equilibrium between individual accountability and the impact of collective influence in such contexts. The political manipulation of local communities in Manipur, luring them into the trap of group psychology to achieve vested interests, has resulted in devastating consequences for innocent lives. To address this issue, we must confront the darker aspects of human nature that may manifest in mob behaviour, much like the disturbing events witnessed in Marina Abramovic’s performance.

As a society, we must unite in recognising how the ‘broken window theory’ can deceive our minds into normalising reprehensible actions. The normalisation of sexual violence and the dehumanisation of women in Manipur must be challenged at every level, from community education to legal reforms. The empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality are essential steps towards building a safer and more just society. Additionally, addressing the root causes of conflict and working towards reconciliation among different factions are vital for breaking the cycle of violence that has gripped Manipur for too long.

Collaborating to Conquer Human Rights: A Call for Action

The devastating impact of sexual violence against women in Manipur demands urgent attention and concerted efforts to bring about change. The parallels between Freud’s theories, Marina Abramovic’s art performance, and the prevailing situation in Manipur underscore the significance of understanding mob behaviour and confronting the dark aspects of human nature. We must reject the normalisation of violence and work towards fostering empathy, respect, and compassion to create a safer and more equitable world for everyone. Only through collective action and a commitment to justice can we hope to bring an end to the exploitation of women as weapons and the destructive cycle of violence in Manipur.

Tejaswini Kaushal
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