The claims of 7 residents of Heirok being lured to an Assam Rifles camp under the false pretext of being taken for Army recruitment and made to sign up as being members of an armed underground group is another sorry aspect in the murky world of militarization in the state. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that fingers have been raised against the various ‘surrender’ programs that are taking place and will be not the last time either. The Assam Riffles on its part have earlier maintained that the claims of ‘fake surrender’ in the state are nothing short of false propaganda and that there are various layers and processes of verification of the people who come forward to ‘surrender’. While armed groups operating in the state have termed surrender programs as an eye wash and a ‘counter insurgency strategy’, the Assam Riffles have called such claims as unfounded. Caught between the two, it is the larger public who are made to be the hapless spectators and totally unsure of who to believe and whom not to.
Following the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in the state, the central armed forces have the impunity to ‘shoot to kill’ on mere ‘suspicion’ that the target is an insurgent. And before the claims and counter claims over ‘fake surrenders’ came into light, the earlier buzzwords were ‘fake encounters’. With total impunity coming along with AFSPA, there could not be any legal processes taken up in Civil courts and fake encounters became the order of the day till massive protests broke out over the brutal death and alleged rape of Thangjam Manorama, said to be a cadre of an underground group. National and international media could not ignore the subsequent nude protest by 12 women, and their scrutiny in a way led to fake encounters at the hands of the Assam Riffles to climb down. In its place came the new fangled idea of ‘joint counter insurgency operations’, which involves the state police in tandem with para military forces in the state. The recent Supreme Court ruling on instituting an inquiry commission to look into 6 cases prior to examining over 1500 cases of alleged encounter killings by the state police speaks volumes of the culture of lies and the orgy of violence which is being put into practice. In a state where the state government believes in people being shot to death without their trails, in a state where Para military forces can run riot under total impunity, the public can do nothing better than observe things with a jaundiced eye.
Assam Rifles and other para military units in the state often say that they are in the state to win hearts and that the cries of ‘fake surrenders’ are happening because they are succeeding in making inroads into getting the confidence of the people. They say that while their civic military programs and other forms of supporting civic populations are bringing them dividends in terms of preventing young people from joining insurgent groups, the surrender and rehabilitation packages are to give a medium for willing to get back into mainstream life. Noble thoughts without any doubt but given the air of suspicion and distrust on one hand and the presence of various forces at play all too willing to make the best for themselves on the other, there is no reason why the public today cannot seek clear answers over the process and procedures involved in surrender programs. The explanation that the state police are responsible for the verification of people who come forth to ‘surrender’ is not something that the people in Manipur will take kindly too. The state police is not the best candidate in winning public confidence in Manipur- not when various elements of the state police get hauled up in a near regular basis for crimes related to vehicle lifting, kidnapping, extorting, contract killing and murder. All said and done, no amount of local hysteria over the matter will ever bring any real seriousness to establish the truth. It will take the national or international media to take forth this story. Or it will take another knock on the doors of the Supreme Court.