mayhem in manipur


Newsletter Sept 2009 - Apr 2010

Much has been written and said about degree of militarisation in the north eastern states, and the draconian powers of the AFSPA. But if anything epitomised their true impact it was the Manipur valley in the latter half of 2009. A region of sustained conflict, the situation in Manipur became all the more explosive ever since the market shootout in Imphal on July 23, 2009 that resulted in the killing of a five-month pregnant woman, Thokchom Ongbi Rabina Devi, and a young man, Chungkham Sanjit and injuries to five persons by Manipur Police Commandos. Although the instance was widely believed to be a fake encounter, the authorities continue to brand it as an encounter between the alleged insurgent, Sanjit, and police commandos.

The killings of Sanjit and Rabina in July 2009 brought Imphal and Manipur to a halt, especially after Tehelka magazine published photos of the fake encounter in its August 8 issue. According to media reports and human rights activists, Imphal and other hill districts have had about 300 extra judicial killings since January 2009. The absence of any rule of law, and the absolute impunity with which the state police was operating was self evident. Several hundred of activists, including activists of the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (AMUCO) and the Apunba Lup and environmental activist Jiten Yumnam, were detained under the NSA on the allegation that they were working with or supporting militant groups.

For almost two months, a sustained campaign by peoples’ groups against the cold-blooded killings compelled the government to eventually suspend the seven police commandos involved in the incident and institute a one-person Judicial Commission headed by Justice (retd.) P.C. Agarwal to investigate the matter.

Solidarity efforts

In Delhi, solidarity efforts included a vibrant protest at Manipur Bhavan on 24 September 2009, New Delhi by women’s groups, human rights groups, students and  teachers. In a joint memorandum* issued on the occasion to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi said, “We express our solidarity and support to the people of Manipur in their mass peaceful actions in the streets for the restoration of democracy. Instead of responding to the democratic and legitimate demands of its people for justice and action against guilty police personnel, the state government led by Okram Ibobi Singh has replied with brute force and imposed curfew in the state, and tried to cover-up the story in the State Legislative Assembly… The Manipur government has responded to the democratic protests of the people with repressive measures like imposition of curfew, violent attacks on the protestors and the arrests of the civil society organisation leaders. It has acted with brutality against all kinds of dissent.

The severity of the current crisis in Manipur can be judged by the fact that it is almost impossible to find legal assistance for those arrested in the state today. This situation is absolutely unacceptable. There is an urgent need to intervene against the undemocratic and autocratic nature of the government in Manipur.”

Soon, an Independent Citizens’ Fact-Finding came together to examine allegations of fake killings and illegal detentions in the State by looking at a few cases, and look at the response of the State machinery to these allegations. The team comprised Dr.K.S. Subramanian, I.P.S (retd.), formerly of the Manipur-Tripura cadre and currently Visiting Professor, Jamia Millia University, New Delhi, Sumit Chakravartty, Editor, Mainstream, Kavita Srivastava, human rights activist and National Secretary of PUCL, and Vasundhara Jairath representing the Delhi Solidarity Group went on a fact-finding mission to Imphal from November 5 to 10, 2009. Sadly,  Prabash Joshi, eminent journalist and Gandhian activist, who was part of the team, expired prior to the team’s visit.

In its report, titled, Democracy ‘Encountered’: Rights’ Violations in Manipur the fact-finding team strongly indicted the Ibobi Singh government for the collapse of the rule of law in the state. It found a huge gap between the official and peoples’ versions of alleged encounters. It expressed concern at the ease with which high level Manipur government officials confirmed that more than 260 people were killed in encounters in 2009 in Manipur and that they were all insurgents implying that killing an insurgent was justified under any circumstance without following the due process of law. It noted that while the Manipur Police enjoys no special provisions of legal immunity, the imposition of the AFSPA for over 25 years have given a high degree of impunity to all security forces… approximately one security personnel for every 40 civilians. The report further states, that in a situation where the state in Manipur traces all forms of peaceful public protest to armed insurgent groups, laws like the National Security Act (NSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) create an atmosphere which can only reinforce the prevailing insurgency and armed militancy. The prevailing perception of a high degree of corruption in the police in Manipur is further buttressed by the large number of gallantry awards (reportedly 74 out of 220 in the country) won by the Manipur Police personnel this year!

The team unequivocally recommended the repeal of AFSPA, thorough probe into each alleged encounter, strict enforcement of NHRC guidelines with regard to “encounters”, transparency in public reports of all magisterial (judicial or executive) enquires and action against those found guilty. The team also recommended the revocation of the NSA and false charges slapped on those fighting for democratic rights and an end to intimidation of those resorting to peaceful and democratic forms of protest and urged that the government engage in meaningful dialogue to address their concerns, redress their grievances, provide rehabilitation for affected families and, last but not the least, end Irom Sharmila’s custody and restoration of her civil liberties.

Endnote: Less than a day after the release of the citizen’s report on the civil unrest in Manipur, Union Home Secretary, G K Pillai stated that his Ministry had revoked the detention orders of 10 people, including Jiten Yumnam.

* Memo issued by:- Committee for Peace and Democracy, Manipur, Delhi Forum, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), Intercultural Resources (ICR), Focus on the Global South, National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), New Socialist Initiative, The Other Media, Saheli