Democracy on trial in Manipur

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An ancient kingdom’s tumultuous tryst with destiny

By Thounaojam Brinda

Manipur became a constitutional democracy in 1947, adopted its own written Constitution on 26th July, 1947. Democratic election by Universal Adult Franchise was held under the Constitution in 1948. Thus, a popular responsible government was formed in the Manipur State Legislative Assembly (MSLA). The King became a constitutional hereditary monarch under the Constitution. In September, 1947, the king was invited to Shillong, put under military siege and coerced to put his seal and signature on a pre-drafted document now known as the Merger Agreement between Manipur and India. But in effect, as scholars have argued, Manipur was annexed by India on 21st September, 1949 though officially, this merger was declared and came into effect from 15th October, 1949, right on time before the Indian Constitution came into effect on 26th January, 1950 as the supreme law of the land by replacing the Government of India Act, 1935. Unceremoniously, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly was dissolved.  From a democratic state, Manipur was reduced to a minor chief commissioner’s province or a Part-C state of India. This affront on democracy and democratic ways ultimately led to resistance which progressively turned violent.

Heavy militarization followed. Freedom of speech was clamped. Manipur Communist Party led by Hijam Irabot and Manipur Socialist Party opposed the annexation and wanted the people to decide whether to merge with India or not. Hijam Irabot started the armed communist movement in 1948. The movement was crushed militarily and Irabot died in 1951. The police killed one and injured several others in the Mao public agitation that erupted against the annexation. Public voice, dissent or agitations against the annexation have been repressed using worse forms of state terrorism. The constitutional demand for statehood from 1949 to 1972 was not treated with dignity. The Manipuris considered 1972 too late. Armed resistance movement had started again in 1960’s.

The Indian government in the course of time enacted several laws and promulgated ordinances that empowered the state to suppress any dissent in the name of national security, counter-insurgency operations, maintenance of law and order, etc. State repression is liberally used to suppress any dissent against the destructive neo-liberal developmental projects of India. The military, paramilitary, state police and civil administration collusively work together in the state repressions that have resulted in untold tortures, rapes, sodomy, forced disappearances, fake encounters and widespread human rights violations. The resultant hatred and mistrust against India is exponential and justified.

From the Armed Forces (Special) Powers, 1958 (AFSPA), Disturbed Area Act, 1955, Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), 1971 (repealed), Land Acquisition Act, 1894, Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, National Security Act, 1980, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985-1995 (repealed), the Criminal Procedure Code, the Indian Penal Code, the Army Act, the Defense of India Act, Assam Police Manual, etc., are some of the legislations with oppressive provisions that deal with crime and criminality as defined and approved by the state. These acts empower the state to commit state terrorism with impunity from accountability. The legislations empower the state to decide how to deal with people whom India considers its enemy. It includes the power to kill on suspicion. Suspicion is enough to justify slaughtering of a human being by the state forces. These legislations applaud and award their forces.

1980, AFSPA came. The phenomenon of brazen administrative liquidation, popularly known by the generic ‘fake-encounter’ became ubiquitous. Each and all the ethnic communities of Manipur have their fair share of comrades amongst our unarmed heroes who have been massacred in India’s war with Manipur. The veil India has been wearing in the name of democracy needs to be exposed.

EEVFAM

Extra Judicial Execution Families’ Association, popularly known by its acronym EEVFAM is an organization formed by the families of those who have been extra judicially executed by the state law enforcing agencies of the Indian state. The families of the martyrs belong to lower income economic and socially marginalized strata. The helpless young widows and bereaved mothers came together to form EEVFAM at the home of the slain 33 year old Longjam Uttamkumar, son of Longjam Shantikumar and Longjam ongbi Meena of Keishamthong Longjam Leirak, who was slaughtered with bullets by the Manipur Police in front of his parents in their courtyard on 29th March, 2008, one day before he was to leave for engineering college.

EEVFAM is a charitable trust under the Indian Trust Act, 1882.

The Human Rights Alert (HRA) having closely worked with the families of the killed extended all possible help in the formation of EEVFAM and support to the families. Without money and influence, they struggled hard for their choice of legal struggle under the Indian Judiciary. The HRA provided whatever assistance in EEVFAM’s struggle. The Human Rights Law Network (HRNL), New Delhi, has rendered its unflinching support in the issue in all its legal requirements in the Supreme Court.

EEVFAM has chosen the legal course. The association petitioned the Supreme Court of India in 2012 to prosecute the police and security forces personnel involved in 1528 cases of extrajudicial executions in Manipur from 1979 onwards.

The significance of EEVFAM’s struggle vis-à-vis Indian democracy: Phenomenon of extra judicial execution and the impunity associated, can they co-exist in democracy?

We get to see the primary substantive evidence that prove how India’s democracy behaves in Manipur from the documentations done by EEVFAM. The body celebrates by exposing India’s hypocrisy every single day from its inception. The people are unarmed and overpowered when the state law enforcing agencies kill them. How the Indian state has empowered itself to rob a person of his right to life and personal liberty in Manipur needs no more example than these cases.

The case awaits the final judgment of India’s Supreme Court. The quality of the judgment will have deep impact on international human rights laws and practices, for worse or for better.

Significantly, EEVFAM has proven the existing violent conflict between Manipur and India in flagrant capacity.

In the name of counter insurgency operations, maintenance of law and order, peace and national security, people are slaughtered by the state security forces, subjected to exemplary tortures in order to suppress and warn them of the consequences of standing up against the Indian state. Interestingly, the state police register the FIRs against the victims as militants who in most of the stories took advantage of the dark, attacked the police and tried to escape.

The gradual and consistent increased militarization of state law enforcing agencies, including the state police needs to be understood and the role the state police, who do not act without AFSPA, have played in these crimes. The role of civil police is to save life and personal property of the people. When the state police is involved in killing people who are unarmed and under their custody, the police is said to be militarized. They treat the people as their enemy. Manipur police is popular for its fake encounter cases and rampant extortions.

Of the 1528 killings documented by EEVFAM, majority of the kills after 2004 were by the state police. Thus, I would like to draw attention on how with or without AFSPA, the Indian state has been devising the genocide of the indigenous using its alternative forces in the manner it deems fit. Reportedly of the over 30,000 number of Manipur Police personnel in service now, how are we going to descale the size of the force (the number is bound to increase with the constant police recruitment and the Government of Manipur has already declared the setting up of two India Reserve Battalions) is a dilemma in the struggle against militarism.

In September, 2004, the Government of India established a Unified Headquarter in Manipur with the objective to ‘synergize security issues and counter insurgency operations’ (in its words). The Combined Headquarters was headed by the Chief Minister of Manipur as its Chairman. Under the command of the Chief Minister are the: Strategy and Operations Group headed by the Chief Secretary (CS), Manipur, Chairman; Operational Intelligence Group headed by the Director General of Police (DGP), Manipur, as Chairman. The Combined Headquarters is functioning till date. The state terrorism perpetrated by the Indian army and para-military forces has been accentuated by a heavily militarized state police after this.

The Indian Army and para-military have been notorious in severe cases of human right violations in the state of Manipur. The most outrageous protest erupted on the rape and murder of Miss Thangjam Manorama, a 32 year old former cadre of the proscribed Peoples’ Liberation Army by the 17th Assam Rifles. Manorama was arrested and tortured in front of her family members at her home in Imphal East by the personnel of 17th Assam Rifles on the night of 10th July, 2004. She was taken away without issuing an arrest warrant. The following morning, the naked dead body of Manorama was found with multiple bullet injuries in her private parts and thighs. The body bore signs of torture and rape. The place where the body was found was barely two kilometers away from a police station.

The historic defiance: the nude protest of the mothers at Kangla

The rape and murder of Manorama was a warning to those who do not conform to the idea of Indian nationhood. The insult was a warning to the people of Manipur. Twelve mothers (Meira Paibi- female torch bearers) of Manipur challenged the Assam Rifles at Kangla Fort where they occupied as its Headquarters. On 15th of July, 2004, the twelve mothers stripped in front of the Assam Rifles and dared them to rape the mothers of Manorama. By the rape and murder of Manorama, the Indian state tried to subdue a particular community with intimidating show of brutal military and masculine force that hurt the dignity and plight of Manipuris to the core. The same sexual vulnerability was turned into a potent moral force against the Indian military by the twelve mothers of Manipur who challenged and defied the Indian arrogance with this historic nude protest. It was a show of guerrilla strength. The Imphal valley rose in flames. The AFSPA was removed from greater Imphal Municipality area. Assam Rifles was thrown out of Kangla four years later. More significantly, it showed the lethality of retreating Manipuri soldiers. It was the show of morale strength.

After this uprising, the Indian military took a back seat in killing and torture of Manipuris extra judicially. The Manipur Police took over the dirty job of liquidating people in massive fake encounters under the command of the Chairman of the Unified Headquarters of Manipur. 80% of the 1528 cases of extrajudicial killings have taken place under the unified command of Okram Ibobi regime and majority of the kills are done by the Manipur police. The pattern we observe here is the degrading level of human rights standard in Manipur under India’s rule. The phenomenon is perpetrated by the state forces who act under AFSPA or otherwise.

These massacres, enforced disappearances, rapes are the repressive means deployed and legitimized by the Indian state to suppress a group of people whom they consider racially inferior. Thus, India has set a different standard of democracy for the people of Manipur.

The law enforcing agents (central and state) aided by civil administration are empowered, encouraged and given impunity by the state are at liberty and position to tamper with evidences of crimes on matters related to crimes committed by them in the name of counter insurgency. Thus, ‘counter insurgency operation’ is the means that justifies all acts of the law enforcing agencies in Manipur.  In all the reports lodged by the police in matters related to the rapes and killings involving the state forces, the victims are all reported as militants who attacked them or tried to abscond taking advantage of the darkness and vegetation. The gist of the story is similar everywhere. India’s Constitution thus, has a different applicability for the people of Manipur. This is an acknowledged fact that gross human rights violations have been meted out to the native people of Manipur which have resulted in untold number of unnatural deaths, especially from fake encounter killings, enforced disappearances and chemical war. Thus, human lives are mere commodities that are perishable on the will of the state. The most evident proof being the collective petition of EEVFAM in the Supreme Court of India. Amusingly, the defense statement of India represented by its Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi while opposing any investigation or enquiry into the alleged fake encounter killing case as these happened during a ‘war-like’ situation and hence, do not fall within the ambit of CrPC, thus, openly endorsing extra judicial executions of the people of Manipur by the state security forces of India. Though the Supreme Court has struck down this proposition with the contention that it is an ‘internal disturbance’ within the Constitution. This very judgment of 8 July 2016 came up during the 3rd Universal Periodic Review of India during in the UN Human Rights Council on 4th May 2017 wherein the United States of America expressedly supported EEVFAM Judgment.

The Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Indian Constitution are guaranteed to citizens and non-citizens. The proclaimed essence of all fundamental rights, the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution to the citizens and non-citizens of India, has a different application for the people of Manipur which is amply clear from the quality of life we are being made to live under. So, a legitimate inference that can be conclusively drawn here is that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is not meant for the people whom India considers its ‘enemy’. The state infringes upon this inalienable right of the people by treating us as the enemy of the state who must be exterminated and slaughtered using all war crafts that violate its own Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, 1949, for Armed Conflicts not of International Character, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, International Covenant on Economy, Socio and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979, Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Treaty (CAT), 1984, etc.

India signed CAT, 1984 on 14th October, 1997 but has not ratified it nor taken steps to bring domestic laws in conformity with the convention till date. An effort on a stand-alone Torture Bill was made in 2010.  The Indian State is still yet to give reasons for not ratifying the CAT till date. What happened to the ‘Torture bill’ in 2010 must be declassified.

BT Road killings and the true lies on camera

The Manipur Police Commandos shot dead an unarmed and over powered Chungkham Sanjit, a 23 year old, killed a pregnant woman Th Rabina earlier and injured five others in the heart of the Imphal City. The killing took place at the height of fake encounter killings in Manipur. The whole crime was committed by the Manipur Police Commandos in full public view.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi applauded the kill in the State Assembly, “Haatpa nattana upai leite!” (There is no alternative to killing!) He blamed the victims for the state terrorism.

Massive widespread violent protests against the brazen crime seized the Imphal Valley.

On August that year, Tehelka magazine exposed the crime through a series of photos that show an unarmed Sanjit being accosted inside Maimu pharmacy and later his dead body is seen being dragged out. The then Director General of Police, Yumnam Joykumar took the defense that nowadays such photographs can be easily fabricated in a counter affidavit submitted in the Court to a case filed by Rabina’s family.

Based upon this revelation, Chungkham Taratombi (mother of deceased Sanjit) lodged a written information to the Officer-in-Charge, City Police Station who refused to register an FIR based on the information without assigning any reason. Taratombi further filed a Writ Petition before the then Guwahati High Court, Imphal Bench, praying for a direction to register the FIR based on the information she lodged. In the case, Advocate Nongmeikapam Kotiswar represented the respondents as the Learned Advocate General of the State. Accordingly, the Guwahati High Court passed an order directing the registration of the FIR in the last week of August, 2009. Thus, the police was forced to register a criminal case.

In the counter affidavits filed to the PIL, the DGP denied almost all the allegations the writ petitioner made and taken the stand that the official version is the correct one.

The Central Forensic Science Laboratory, New Delhi opined that none of the photographs were edited or morphed. It also opined that sequence of seven photographs was shot from one camera within a span of five minutes.

In the video clippings that are available in the public and from that of local TV channel, the then City PS Officer-in-Charge, Y. Munal is seen showing a 9mm Mauser Werke pistol wrapped in a pink paper to the media and public claiming that the gun was recovered from the encounter site.

However, the Seizure Memo shows a Tanfoglio.

There is no report of any inquest being conducted on the spot. No forensic expert, photographer or videographer were called to the crime scene by the police.

The case has been trapped in the judiciary. In the Charge Sheet submitted by the CBI, nine police personnel of Manipur Police ranging from ‘constable to inspector’ in rank are the accused in the case.

Thounaojam Herojit, the state liquidator who turned prime witness

Imphal Free Press, a local daily, published the extra judicial confession of Thounaojam Herojit, Head Constable of Manipur Police on 26th January, 2016. The floodgate of the dark reality of extra judicial administrative liquidation was opened and exposed through the oral testimony of the state executioner himself which are easily substantiated with all the available material evidences in the public domain by now.

Thounaojam Herojit made the confession that he shot an unarmed and over powered Chungkham Sanjit in the July 23rd BT Road incident on the order of the then Addl SP AK Jhalajit who also told him that the order had come from the DGP and Chief Minister. He confessed that it was a staged encounter and that a Mauser Werke was implanted on the crime scene later.

Apart from all the material evidence available to corroborate and substantiate the confession, there was no change in the status of the case under trial. Unable to have his judicial confession recorded, Herojit sworn on affidavit of the kill before an Oath Commissioner on 17th February, 2016 in the presence of several witnesses and submitted the same to the Sessions Court that has been trying the Sanjit killing case.

Meanwhile, Chungkham Taratombi filed a Writ Petition in the Manipur High Court praying to have the case reinvestigated afresh. This Writ was sent down to the Sessions Court. And Herojit was suddenly left with no lawyer. The court appointed an amicus curie. The court totally rejected the petition of Taratombi on 30th march, 2016. In spite of the several new evidences that came out in the form of exhibits and witness, truth of Sanjit fake encounter killing case was suppressed again for the second time. The case dragged on and the Court has still refused to accept Herojit’s judicial confession neither on prayer or suo motto.

His confession was treated and crushed as a lie. Herojit met with a near fatal vehicular accident near his quarter on 30th of April, 2016. The car he was driving was crushed beyond recognition by a pick up truck that had no license plate nor its headlight on. His scalp was torn and got 31 stitches, right leg and arms broken. A DI pickup truck had rammed into the car Herojit was driving.

Herojit being a serial killer of Manipur Police knows his organization in and out. The state exhausted his use after the exposure of Sanjit killing. He became a liability to the government. He became extremely vulnerable and time was running out. He would be called to the police station and locked up for hours on end. His house would be randomly ransacked without any formal procedure.

Purportedly, the State CBI team raided his house and seized three diaries of Herojit without following any legal procedure. Herojit was not given a seizure memo of the seized/stolen diaries. Till today, no one knows what happened to those diaries and what is their status now.

On the brink of starvation and complete betrayal, Herojit decided to come out with the truth implicating himself in this infamous case and the rest of the deeds he committed during the span of this phenomenon.

In February, 2017 a team of CBI from Delhi reopened the BT Road Fake Encounter Killing case after duly informing the Sessions Court, Imphal West. For the first time in the history of this case, AK Jhalajit was summoned by the CBI team in relation to the case. Before a third interrogation, Jhalajit reported sick. He obtained anticipatory bail from the Sessions Court which was challenged by the CBI in the State High Court. The case was again referred back to the Sessions Court. A single bench of Justice Nongmeikapam Kotiswar stayed the order given by the Sessions Court for the reopening of the case and ordered the CBI not to make any coercive move on Jhalajit, including his arrest. It may be recalled here that Mr N. Kotiswar, Justice of the Manipur High Court, in whose Court Jhalajit has filed the case, represented the state as the Advocate General on the same matter in an earlier petition.

Herojit has made multiple confessions on how he became a serial killer of Manipur Police. He was the prized asset of Manipur police during the height of fake encounter phenomenon in Manipur. July 23rd is the killing that got exposed at different levels. But, as we have seen, in spite of having the public confession and a sworn affidavit on the killing of Sanjit by the killer himself, the Government has continuously tried to shut his mouth from trying to tell the truth. The government has instead protected and patronized the higher officials who have played criminal roles in this state terrorism. The additional SP AK Jhalajit is free, the then DGP of Manipur, Yumnam Joykumar who was the commander of the Operational Intelligence Group of the Unified Command is made the Deputy Chief Minister of Manipur under the present government and Okram Ibobi who commanded the Unified Headquarters and committed maximum extra judicial executions is a Member of State Legislative Assembly. The decline in the standard of democracy and justice under the terror regime was starkly evident. The regime was encouraged to continue for three consecutive terms with absolute majority. Firstly, each regime represents India’s interests and hence is patronized by New Delhi. The government, law enforcing agencies work symbiotically to provide impunity (from accountability) to the regime head and his associates for the massive war crimes they have committed in Manipur. In spite of the ample of primary material evidence available on the perpetuation of state terrorism on the people, the Indian state has failed to look into or take up the issue suo-motto. Instead of an honest confession to the crime, the Indian state is busy defending and justifying its state terrorism in its own judiciary and international platforms.

These are the facts that briefly narrate on how a free nation was conquered and turned into a war zone. The war was waged upon the people of Manipur in 1949. Manipur was put under the rule of a centrally nominated Chief Commissioner, consequently promoted to a Union Territory and Statehood in 1972. Successive regimes have ruled the people and they are the centrally approved local elitists whom the New Delhi trusts. They safeguard India’s interests and are the direct beneficiaries of the funds, projects and grants that are paid to the people of Manipur. The Manipuri ruling class consists of bureaucrats, big landlords, contractors, black marketeers and Members of Legislative Assembly who are elected through proxy elections using military, muscle and money power upon the poor, illiterate and ignorant people who do not know what a free and fair election is and what are their rights towards deciding their life and destiny. The reign of terror the regime had imposed upon the people has been with absolute impunity and fearlessness. Human rights violations, including the plight of the surviving and liquidated victims of various political crimes are being denied justice deliberately. The outrage against the government has been high. But instead of fighting together to get justice, the state ruling elites are actively covering up these crimes they have made into an industry Thus, these core issues of the peoples’ right to decide their life and destiny are politicized and hence, sidelined. Human rights and justice thus have become political issues which are often misused in the name of security by self centered political barons who become black spots that destroy democratic ethos and value of justice in India.

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