Acting on two petitions filed by the Human Rights Alert, Manipur and the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur, the Inquiry Commission set up by the highest Court of the land, the Supreme Court on January 4 to probe the first six of more than 1,500 cases listed in the petitions. The six cases had been chosen at random after the two organizations pleaded for an independent probe into the killings. Given the nature of various forms and nature of commissions and investigations in the state with regard to many earlier cases of fake encounters, there was a degree of hope tinged with worries over the working of the Commission. The hope came from the fact that the Commission was instituted by the Supreme Court and is made up of three very distinguished persons with Retired Supreme Court Justice N Santosh Hegde heading as Chair and former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh and Retired DGP of Karnataka Police Ajay Kumar Singh as Members. The worries were over the nature of abrupt preparations and intimations of information regarding proceedings of the Commission but they have been put at rest after the Commission have begun its sitting in Imphal.
The six cases taken from the total list of over 1500 cases submitted by Human Rights Alert, Manipur and the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur are not surprisingly similar in nature: people being killed after being picked up by Assam Riffles and Manipur Police Commandos. The six cases chosen are Kh Orsonjit (19) of Sega Road Konjeng Hazari Leikai, killed by Manipur Police Commandos in 2010; Y Kumarjit (18) of Irom Meijrao killed in 2009; Ch Umakanta (24) of Iroishemba Mamang Leikai killed in May 2009; E Kiranjit (22) of Thoubal Haokha killed in April 2009; N Govind alias Dhopa (25) of Bashikhong Mamang Leikai killed in April 2009 and Md Azad Khan (14) of Phoubakchao Makha Leikai killed in March 2009. Interestingly, it is the nature and existence of the police commandoes as an entity that will be worth a watch, starting from whether there were any official channel that led to its existence and how the chain of operation and command functions. In matters of Army personnel being tried by a civil court, the impunity if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has led to the forces being mostly protected in various other cases but in matters of the Supreme Court, there can be actions if the Court finds merit in giving them due punishment.
It is pertinent to note that the Supreme Court of India on August 8, 2011 noted its concern on the subject of fake encounter cases, saying ‘ Blood thirsty persons who stage fake encounters deserve nothing less than death for cold blooded murders’. Police personnel involved in fake encounter killings should be awarded death sentence and hanged, the Supreme Court had said while directing the surrender of two senior Rajasthan IPS officers (Additional DGP Arvind Jain and SP Arshad) allegedly involved in the fake encounter killing of an alleged gangster called Dara Singh by the Special Operations Group of Rajasthan Police on October 23, 2006. A bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and C.K. Prasad had warned that ‘policemen will not be excused for committing murder in the name of ‘encounter’ on the pretext that they were carrying out the orders of their superior officers or politicians, however high. In the Nuremberg trials, the Nazi war criminals took the plea that ‘orders are orders’ but nevertheless they were hanged. These are ominous signals for the state and para-military personnel involved in the cases of alleged extra judicial killings for indeed if the Commission finds merit and proof that the 7 who were killed in the 6 cases were in a fake encounter, it would not only raise questions about the nature of investigations, reporting and Government and departmental processes that have been followed in the state but would also mean a possible recommendation of the death sentence. While the findings from the six cases may well led to investigations and due process for justice for the rest of the cases that the two organizations submitted to the Supreme Court, what needs to be remembered here is that there are many other cases of extra judicial killings and cases of forced disappearances that have not taken their journey to the country’s highest Court. And while past experiences may have well led to a position of despair over getting justice, it needs to be acknowledged that public participation and support is necessary to ensure that the stories of excesses and violations are recorded and deliberated upon.