Sept 8, 2018, was the painful anniversary of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, (AFSPA) in Manipur in the year 1980. Since then, cases of allegations of extra-judicial killings by security forces have keep on increasing.
The Supreme Court, which is currently hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, is going through as many as 1,528 cases of extra judicial killings that allegedly took place in the state of Manipur since the year 1979 to 2012 under the AFSPA on July 14, 2017, has called in a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and has also ordered the framing of charge-sheets in a given amount of time against the Army and the Police Officers involved in the alleged encounters.
Journey to Truth
Renu Takhellambam, president of Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur (EEVFAM), told, “We joined hands to find out the truth about the deaths of our husbands, brothers and fathers. The Supreme Court’s directions to the CBI to file charge-sheets in the deaths of most of the 1,528 persons have vindicated us.” It is the wives of men who died in alleged extra-judicial killings have come together and formed the EEVFAM on July 11, 2009.
Ms. Takhellambam narrated, “On that fateful morning of April 7, 2007, my husband, Mung Hangzo, was proceeding towards Imphal in a scooter with two friends. On seeing a police team, a common sight in those days in insurgency-afflicted Manupur, which caused fear of harassment and delays, they swerved to take a detour through a village road.”
The eyewitness told that the police team chasing the scooter overtook them and added, “This was not far from where we lived, I heard the gunshots. The police later said in the FIR that my husband and his two friends hurled a hand grenade at the police party. But nobody heard a grenade blast. They didn’t find it (grenade) also. This is just one of the cases of fake encounters now pending before the Supreme Court.”
Her only child, a boy was just 11 months old that time. Presently, he is studying in class 7th and is a brilliant student and has a keen interest in sports. Ms. Takhellambam finally added, “Mercifully, he does not ask much about his father now.”
More cases exist
Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of the NGO Human Rights Alert (HRA) said, “We have reason to fear that at least 200 more cases of custodial killings exist.” The HRA published a 275 page report that documents extra-judicial killings in the State, in 2010 with the title ‘Manipur in the Shadow of AFSPA’.
Construction workers found eight skeletons at the heart of Imphal city digging pits in December 2014. The same place was used as a camping spot by State and Central forces in the recent past time. The Okram Ibobi-led State Government said that the case will be handed over to the CBI or the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which never happened. Moreover, some of these victims may also have been women, since ear-rings and ornaments were also found along with the skeletons.
In a shocking incident, a police whistle blower, T. Herojit, stated in public that he had killed about 150 persons, “on orders from the higher-ups.” Moreover, recently Lieutenant Colonel Dharamvir Singh of 3 Corps Intelligence Unit, has filed an affidavit to the Manipur High Court in July 2018, stating that five alleged Manipuri militants were killed in fake encounters.
Living in Neediness
Edina Yaikhom, the general secretary of EEVFAM said, “Almost all widow are living in unspeakable poverty in far-flung areas. Most of the slain men were sole breadwinners. The widow are not even able to send children to schools. Many of them are eking out a living by selling a basket or two of vegetables, or as unskilled daily wage labourers.”
She also added, “We have heard of widow pension of Rs 200 each per month and some other benefits, but widow have been unable to get any benefits because the forms are not given to us on various pretexts. We have been branded as widows of terrorists who took up arms against the country.”
Many of the widows claim that they were urged to withdraw their court cases in exchange for employment and monetary settlements. A middle-aged Muslim widow named Salina Memcha, “I refused their proposal. Then, one night, security personnel raided my house. They found nothing though they ransacked it for hours. It was a threat. I hope the CBI files the charge-sheet quickly.”
She also claimed that her husband, Mohammad Faziruddin was dragged out of their home in Kwata in Bishnupur district on January 21, 2010, while having dinner and was “tortured for a long time”, and was then later shot dead in an encounter.
Ms. Yaikhom claimed that several such cases have been shared. She said, “On the morning of January 21, 2009, my husband, Anand Ningthoujan, left home. He did not call for a long time, which was not his habit, so I was worried. That night, there was a report in the media that three insurgents of the Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup had been gunned down in an encounter at Makhan village in Senapati district by personnel of the 16 Assam Rifles and the Imphal West District Police. Officials claimed to have recovered one Chinese hand grenade and one Ak47 rifle from the bodies.”
She also added, “However, there were protests since my husband was innocent and had no ling with any insurgency group. We refused to claim the body. We submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Okram Iboby with copies to other authorities. For four days, my husband’s body remained unclaimed.”
After this, Ms. Yaikhom also said, “Our MLA, N. Bijoy, approached me with the appeal to perform the last rites since the body was in a mortuary. He also promised to unearth the truth and arrange for a government job for me. My family and other locals eventually claimed my husband’s body for cremation. It was the last time we heard from the MLA.”
The Yaikom family has a son and daughter, who are presently studying in class 9th and 8th respectively. They were aged 5 years and 3 years when their father was killed. “Initially, they used to ask me frequently when their father would return. They used to point their fingers at me (while imitating a policeman pointing a gun), saying they would take revenge.” Ms Yaikom said in a sad and choking voice. In the end, she said, “I am glad now that the image of their father has faded and they have come to terms with his death.”
Some of the widows and grieving families were given monetary support on the orders of the High Court and the Supreme Court for the “mental torture” they have been through. But still, there are no officials arrested in this case so far.
Led by Women
The investigation led by the Supreme Court is a winner to the gallant women of Manipur, who strongly revolted against the colonial British government’s injustice back in the year 1904 and 1939 and now took up arms again to correct and check the Army’s excesses.
At the beginning of this justice movement, they confronted an Army column at Maiban Leikai in Imphal on December 29, 1980, and successfully rescued Ibomcha Lourembam, a claimed victim of custodial torture, whose reason behind arrest was not made known.
No Immunity for Security Forces
In the 85 page judgement of July 2016 that set a judicial precedent, a Bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit tore the cloak of immunity provided by the AFSPA, fairly declaring that “there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court”, if an Army personnel has committed an offence.
On July 2, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the National Human Rights Commission to be actively involved in the on-going case. The alleged extra-judicial killings, along with fake encounters by the Army, the Assam Rifles personnel and the police on duty in Manipur “cannot be tolerated”, said the Supreme Court.
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