By Jiten Yumnam
In another shocking instance of undermining media persons rights and freedom in Manipur, Mr. Aribam Dhananjoy alias Chaoba, a reporter with the Imphal Free Press, was physically assaulted inhumanely by personnel of the 1st Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) on the night of 10 February 2014. Havildar Md. Majibur, leading the IRB frisking team at the Northern Gate of Kangla Fort in Imphal town, Manipur, started assaulting and hit him on Mr. Chaoba’s forehead with his walkie talkie set inflicting severe injuries on the left eyebrow, leading to profuse bleeding. In a clear disregard of the dignity and rights of media persons, Mr. Chaoba was assaulted even as he identified himself as a reporter of Imphal Free Press and a member of All Manipur Working Journalist Union. The security personnel robbed two of his mobile phone handsets and further threatened to eliminate him if he complained to concerned authorities. Pursuing an act of brutality, dacoity and inhumanity by defenders of Indian democracy in Manipur even on members of fourth pillars of democracy is a clear testament of insanity of democratic practice in India.
With the incident provoking furious condemnations, the Government of Manipur, through the Commandant of the Ist Indian Reserve Battalion issued an official order on 13 February 2014, placing Mr. Majibur under suspension from his official duties, Suspension is indeed a mockery in Manipur, and it cannot substitute for justice. Manipur, unfortunately, has witnessed enough instances as to how security forces involved in rights violations are initially suspended and later reinstated with promotions. With Manipur recorded as one of the most corrupted places, probably on Earth, this is no surprise.
A deeper reflection of the incident and as to how security forces in armed conflict afflicted Manipur, dared to unleash mindless brutality, even to a media person would be worthwhile, and probably would find consonance with the larger state of affairs in the state. One may wonder if this is the first case and it’s unlikely. Mr. Chaoba, as a media person only bears the audacity to confront the IRB personnel and to report it, and makes the case different. There’s every possibility that countless number of innocent people are regularly subjected to such humiliation and brutalities from security forces. The assault on Mr. Chaoba also re-affirms the lack of respect of human dignity and even the rights of journalist and other human rights defenders by the security forces in Manipur.
One also need a serious introspection as to why low ranking law enforcing officials and security forces in Manipur, can unleash violations and even to the extent of threatening people to derogate non derogable rights such as the “Right to Life”. Till very recently, Manipur witnessed a reign of terror, one of the most brutal forms of human rights violations, probably in its entire history, a systematic elimination of its youths in extra judicial executions, involving the Manipur police commandoes and the Indian army and its paramilitary forces, operating under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. One may recollect that the period from the year 2006 till 2010 was, indeed, one of the worst nightmares for many parents in Manipur.
Those fortunate to survive and to resist such reign of terror were subjected to illegal detention, torture and inhumane treatment by the very people like Mr. Majibur of Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB), whose personnel shuttle between Manipur Police commandoes and IRB. And those experiencing such nightmares will recall the threats and intimidations by such personnel during the periods of incarcerations, and a usual and an unusual form of harassment is threatening to eliminate them and to take their “right to life”, a non derogable right indeed. So, to issue a threat to eliminate a media person like Mr. Chaoba by a security person like Mr. Majibur is no wonder and simply not an individual aberration, but simply a outcome of a long pattern of human rights violations and a culture of impunity attached to it in Manipur.
In Manipur, the law enforcing officials and security forces enjoys a de-facto immunity for their violence and violations and none of those police and army personnel involved in the more than 1000 extra judicial executions over a short period of four years from 2006 till 2009 were ever punished, not to mention of other similar violations in the last several decades. The prolonged application of emergency laws, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA, 1959) to subdue the ongoing Self determination movement in Manipur and prolonged derogation of non derogable rights such as “right to life” and ‘right to “justice remedy”, seems to reinforce a very wrong concept among the security forces that they are just above the law, with license to harass civilians at will, without fearing to worry for prosecution. On the part of the Government, a serious and concerted effort to ensure full protection of the rights of journalist in conflict torn Manipur and to accord appropriate justice to those perpetrating violations against media persons is simply nonexistent and deficient.
The issue of ‘justice’ remains oblivious for journalist and human rights defenders targeted to human rights violations. The assault on media persons by the State security forces is not uncommon. There are even cases of media persons being targeted to extra judicial execution, illegal detention and torture in several instances. However, justice delivery continues to be a serious challenge. The punishment of the police personnel involved in the extra judicial execution of Mr. Konsam Rishikanta, a sub editor of Imphal Free Press and confirmed by the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation, continues to be a long pending issue. Mr. Thangjam Nanao, a journalist of Prime Time was also killed in a police firing in 23 December 2012 while covering protest against sexual harassment of a woman in Thangmeiband area of Imphal.
The prolonged denial of justice is evident in the outcome of the meeting of the All Manipur Working Journalist Union, on 13 February 2014, which resolved to take legal recourse to seek punishment of the IRB personnel involved in the recent assault on Mr. Chaoba. This is also an indication that AMWJU’s earlier rapprochement and reconciliation approach with the Government of Manipur on incidents of rights violations on Journalist has failed, and, thus, the recourse to seek justice. And this also indicates justice has been denied for long even to journalist victimized to rights violations.
The assault of Mr. Chaoba by the security forces on 10 February 2014 again constitutes a serious violation of human rights and freedom of the press. The assault constitutes a violation of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, among others.
The direct assault and intimidations by the IRB personnel involved in the assault of Mr. Chaoba indicates a larger culture and practice, harboured for long among security forces. The IRB personnel and petty officials like Majibur already experience power abuse and already used to the written and unwritten safeguards. Thus arose the need not only to seek justice for Mr. Majibur of 1st IRB and those involved in his frisking team but also to review and reflect on the performance and the lack of respect and indiscipline among the security forces in Manipur and the context which enables them to abuse their power and role. The impact of militarization and massive deployment of security forces and also the impact of prolonged application of emergency laws, which facilitates culture of impunity need be thoroughly assessed for human rights compliances.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mr. Margaret Sagakya, during her visit to India in 2011 strongly urged upon the Government of India to recognize the role of all human rights defenders, including journalist, in promoting culture and practice of democracy and hence should be accorded full respect and protection of their human rights. Ms. Margaret’s message continues to be highly relevant in the context of conflict ridden Manipur, where journalist takes exemplary role to end human rights violations and to establish a system based on rights, respect and justice. As demanded by the AMWJU, the Government of Manipur should terminate Mr. Majibur and all those IRB personnel involved in the gruesome assault on Mr. Aribam Chaoba on 10 February 2014 and should be awarded befitting punishment.
A thorough investigation and review of the entire conduct, indiscipline, disrespect of common people among security forces, the cause of such, and necessary changes, needs urgent review, to at least instil a peace of mind among the common people. The Government should also initiate adequate measures to protect the human rights and personal integrity of all journalist and all human rights defenders of Manipur. It is also high time the Government of India fully Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders in Manipur. Insane practices and mindless brutalities, unleashed on common people, are no means to achieve democracy. And this is more pertinent in a country like India, which brag on as the world’s largest democracy.