Joint Ops: no one shoots, everybody escapes?

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Earlier, a report entitled ‘Manipur: Memorandum on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions’ collated and later, submitted by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the UN to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns during his visit to India between March 19 and 30 mentioned that altogether 1528 people, including 31 women and 98 children were killed in fake encounters by security forces in Manipur between 1979 and May, 2012. Of these, 419 were killed by the Assam Rifles, while 481 were killed by combined teams of Manipur Police and central security forces, according to the report. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 enacted as a short-term measure to allow the deployment of the army in India’s northeastern Naga Hills has been in existence for five decades over the entire North Eastern States of the country and Jammu & Kashmir and the violations on human lives and security. The impunity that the AFSPA has given to central security forces, what it has meant for the people in the state of Manipur and other states have been well documented: both in numbers and in terms of testimonies. In Manipur, it was the people of the hills of this small state that first bore the burnt of AFSPA. Later on, the valley would also suffer.

Following a PIL to the Supreme Court, filed jointly by Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families’ Association Manipur (EEVFAM), a body of widows and mothers of those killed by police and security forces and Human Rights Alert pleaded for investigations into 63 cases of alleged extra-judicial killings between 2007 and 2012 and another 1,528 cases documented by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations was a beginning of efforts from various civil society groups and Human Rights defenders to put the spotlight on the excesses committed under the Act. The bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai hearing the PIL went on record asking whether a war is going on in the state, given the number of killings. A three member commission was set up on January 4 headed by former apex court Justice N. Santosh Hegde, and former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyndoh and retired Karnataka Director General of police Ajay Kumar Singh as members and the proceedings in Imphal have showed the inconsistencies and the sheer neglect of procedures in matters of operations being carried out and investigations pursued.

Interestingly again, in matters of ‘joint operations’ the act of zeroing on who gives orders and who carries out the actual order on the field are what can easily be called the grey areas to put it kindly but mostly, an area of convenience to pass the buck around. What unfolds in the course of the cross examination of witnesses is that no one really is the one who shot to kill. The refrain is ‘there was a burst of gunfire after we asked accused to stop and instead fired at us’. It helps that the inconsistencies are backed very strongly by the fact that there are no forensic evidences being collected, entered or maintained which incidentally is what is to be done. It helps that an act like AFSPA gives impunity to para military forces and that the state police likes to believe that some of it may rub off on them too. Unfortunately, the state police are not protected by any act. Unlike the AR personnel with whom they jointly carried out operations, the police department has had all its warts being shown clearly to the public owing to the Commission having its sittings in Imphal where most of the police personnel were being cross examined. In far away Delhi, away from the glare of local eyes and the local media, the AR personnel also has the psychological advantage of never having to cross paths with the families of the deceased whose cases are being heard. So much for joint operations then where one partner gets away and another gets all the muck.

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