Six months after they were stripped, paraded naked and allegedly gang raped by a mob in north-east India, two women, whose ordeal was made public in a viral video, talk to the BBC in their first face-to-face interview. They speak about living in hiding, their fight for justice and their call for a separate administration for their community.
Warning: This article includes descriptions of sexual violence.
At first, all I see is their lowered eyes.
Big black masks hide Glory and Mercy’s faces and scarves cover their foreheads.
The two Kuki-Zomi women do not want to be seen. But they want to be heard.
Their ordeal was filmed and shared online. It is a disturbing watch. Less than a minute long, it shows a mob of men from the majority Meitei community in Manipur state walking around two naked women, pushing, groping them, and then dragging them into a field where they say they were gang raped.
“I was treated like an animal,” says Glory, breaking down. “It was hard enough to live with that trauma, but then two months later when the video of the attack went viral, I almost lost all hope to continue living,” she adds.
“You know how Indian society is, how they look at women after such an incident,” says Mercy. “I find it hard to face other people, even in my own community. My pride is gone. I will never be the same again.”
The video amplified their suffering but it also became evidence of injustice because it brought attention to the ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities that broke out in Manipur in May. But while the video sparked outrage and spurred action, the spotlight made the women retreat further.
Before they were attacked, Glory was a student and Mercy filled her days taking care of her two young children, helping them with homework and going to church. But after the attack both women had to flee to a different town where they are now living in hiding.
They stay indoors now. Restricted to the walls of her temporary home, Mercy no longer goes to church or takes her children to school herself.
“I don’t think I will ever be able to live like I lived before,” she says. “I find it hard to step out of the house, I feel scared and ashamed of meeting people.”
Glory feels the same and tells me she is still “in a lot of trauma”, scared to meet people and afraid of crowds.
Counselling has helped them but the anger and hate have seeped in deep.
Six months ago, Glory was studying in a mixed class of Meitei and Kuki students in college where she had lots of friends, but now she says she never wants to see another Meitei person again.
“I will never go back to my village. I grew up there, it was my home, but living there would mean interacting with neighbouring Meiteis and I never ever want to meet them again,” she says. Mercy clenches her hands and she thumps the table as she agrees.
When their village was attacked and everyone ran for their life, Glory’s father and younger brother were pulled away by the mob and killed.
“I saw them die in front of my eyes,” she says softly. She describes how she had to leave their bodies in the field as she tried to defend herself.
She tells me she can’t go to look for them even now. Since the violence erupted, there is no crossover between the Meitei and Kuki-Zomi communities in Manipur. People are divided by a de facto border, lined with checkpoints manned by the police, army and volunteers from the two communities.
“I don’t even know which morgue their bodies have been kept in and I can’t go and check,” she says. “The government should hand them over to us.”