Spreading the light of humanity & freedom
I am writing to express solidarity to the fifteen year - long fast of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Iron Lady of Manipur and her cause.
I am informed that Sharmila has started the fast on 5 November 2000, protesting against the violence committed by state and non-state actors in Manipur. I am aware that the protest also demands an immediate end of impunity in the state, for which the withdrawal of the martial law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), from Manipur is a prerequisite.
I am worried about the sufferings of the ordinary people of Manipur at the hands of the underground militant organisations as well as the state agencies.
I am aware that the AFSPA is enforced in Manipur to support government actions in the state in countering secessionist activities and underground militant acts. Yet, it is now certain that the AFSPA has not helped in countering militancy in Manipur, but in fact has enraged it.
I am informed that the climate of impunity is one of the reasons why conflict continues in Manipur.
The AFSPA, as far I understand is an addition to the overall impunity framework that has contributed to the deterioration of the state of rule of law in Manipur. My opinion is also shared by national bodies including Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee; the Second Administrative Reforms Commission; and the Prime Minister's Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir. I am informed that these eminent bodies have recommended the government to withdraw AFSPA from operation since they are of the informed opinion that a law like the AFSPA will only facilitate violence and not prevent it.
I am convinced that under the current circumstances in Manipur the withdrawal of AFSPA will not in itself solve the Manipur crisis.
Yet, it could be a bold and open step by the government to show that it is determined to find solution to an armed conflict that has haunted an entire generation in the state. The withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur will be recognition to the sufferings of the state's people and an expression of respect and acknowledgment of their rights.
Additionally, withdrawing AFSPA from Manipur will be a catalyst to end the climate of impunity in the state. Jai Hind. Vande Mataram.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) appreciates the effort taken by the Home Minister of India in undertaking a visit to Manipur. Manipur is one of the states in India with a poor human rights record. During the past three years the number of encounter killings reported from the state has steadily increased, until the state administration faced severe criticism for the public execution of two persons on July 23, 2009 by the state police.
The Home Minister is known to be having a professional as well as no-nonsense approach in work. Many in India hold him at a high esteem, referring to the Minister as a person who assesses officers and institutions under his command on the basis of their performance. Based on these references, the AHRC wishes to place before the Home Minister the following questions, so that the Minister will be able to help the state administration and the people of Manipur in finding a sensible solution to the six decade long internal conflict in that state.
1. Can the state administration account for the money that it has spent in the past five years for countering insurgent activities in the state? Can it provide the exact details as to who was paid what amount? It is not required for the state government to publically account every single Rupee of the tax money that it has spent on countering insurgency. But it must be able to produce records to the satisfaction of the Union Home Ministry for at least those expenses, where the spending was Rs. 200,000 or above in a single payment.
The AHRC appreciates the value and sensitivity of 'human.int.' in counter insurgency work. Yet, the state administration must be able to account to the Union Home Ministry that supports the release of such 'Central Funds' to state government.
2. What training was provided to the Manipur State Police and its State Police Commando Unit in the past two years to deal with insurgency? Does it meet the requirements of training offered to a civilian police force that is to undertake counter insurgency activities respecting the rule of law? How many police officers have received such training?
3. What is the process of recruitment to the state police in Manipur? What is the guarantee that the candidates selected for training and appointment in the state police are not selected on the basis of bribes paid to the Chief Minister or to his party's MLAs?
The AHRC has credible information that to secure appointment as a Trainee Sub-Inspector in Manipur, a candidate is required to pay Rs. 1,400,000 to Rs. 1,800,000 as bribe to the Chief Minister or to a designated MLA as of 2010. The AHRC is informed that the officers upon appointment, realises through various means from the public the bribe they have paid to secure a job in the state police service. The AHRC also has credible information that in the process police officers are engaged in extortion, conniving with some of the criminal elements that are also listed in the prohibited organisations' list by the Union Government. It is reported that such widespread corruption is one of the important reasons for a high number of encounter killings and unabated criminal extortion in the state.
4. How many police officers have been investigated in the past three years for crimes alleged to have committed by them, in particular torture and criminal extortion? If any such investigation has been conducted, who has been prosecuted?
If not why?
5. How many instances of encounter killing -- other than the July 23 incident -- have been investigated in the past three years in Manipur? What prevents the state from complying the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission concerning encounter killing? If the state administration has conducted such investigations, why is that the reports not sent to the Commission?
6. Why is that most cases of encounter killing show the same pattern?
Most of the cases of encounter killing documented by human rights organisations in Manipur, shows the following pattern: a person is arrested by unidentified police commandos who are often accompanied by officers from a para-military unit or from a military detachment stationed in the state; the arrested person is detained in custody illegally, often for days; later the person found dead at a distant place; the state police immediately release a press note saying that the person was shot dead in an armed encounter; weapons (mostly 0.9 mm pistols, grenades, live cartridges) are shown as recovered from the deceased insurgent.
It would be interesting for the Union Home Ministry to verify how many such recovered/seized articles are produced in courts as material objects recovered from armed insurgents. How many of such recovered materials are kept in police custody? Do they all have separate identification marks? Does the articles and their number tally with the statements issued by the state police in each case? Does the state police have any such accounting system? If so, will the state police dare to make the list public? If not why?
Will the Home Ministry be willing to undertake an impartial accounting of recovered articles? The AHRC is willing to collaborate in such a process with the Union as well as State administration.
In 2009, between January and November, the state police have reported 272 executions, which was publically admitted by Mr. Joykumar Singh, the current Director General of Police. In most of the cases, the above pattern has been noted.
This proves two things. One, it defies logic. Further it could also suggest that the state police are ill equipped and ill prepared that many persons they arrest escape from their custody. Or, it has to be assumed that the state police is well informed that at least 24 times each month in 2009, the state police were able to intercept and engage an armed insurgent invariably resulting in the murder of the armed insurgent. If the latter were the case, there must be no more armed insurgents operating openly in the state, or the insurgents are so naïve that they always expose their armed presence to the state police. None of these would satisfy commonsense or the acumen of a lawyer, which Mr. Shinde is.
7. Will the state administration put an end to the illegal tax collection of some of the armed insurgent groups in Manipur? It is common knowledge that in Manipur many armed insurgent groups prohibited by the Union Government have setup illegal tax collection (criminal extortion) counters adjacent to police check posts on public roads. Every person, particularly drivers in Manipur know this or are their victims. Why have the state police not stopped it? Or are they hand-in-glove with the insurgents? Or is it the police themselves posing as insurgents?
The Home Minister must know that today in Manipur, it is hard to distinguish between an insurgent and a police officer. Both kills with impunity, extorts money by force from the people and are unaccountable to everything under the sun. Can the Home Minister contribute to change this situation?
8. What plans has the state administration made and executed to regain the confidence of the public? At the moment, Manipur is like a volcano that could erupt anytime. Has the state administration taken the effort to make public its public confidence building plans if they have any? If not, what prevented them in doing so?
9. Will the Home Minister meet Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila? Reports from India inform that the Home Minister will meet human rights activists in Imphal. Does the Home Minister see Sharmila as a threat to the peace of Manipur or a unifying factor to its fragile social fabric?
10. Will the Home Minister make a public report about his visit to Manipur? The public need not know the nuances of the state's security scenario. But every Indian, especially each person in Manipur has a right to know what is their future in terms of their safety and security. Today they have only stories of fear and anger to say about their Chief Minister and the administration he leads. Can the Union Home Minister bring a difference?
If not what hope does Manipuries have of being part of the world's largest democracy?
On 4th of March 2009, when it was touching noon,(around 11:50 am), Mohd Azad Khan was reading a newspaper in the courtyard of his house along with one of his neighbouring friends, in Phoubakachao Makha Leikai Yumnan village of west Imphal district, Manipur. Azad, a barely 12 year old boy and a student of class seventh at the local high school, was sitting with his friend Kiyam Anad Singh (14 years), when some personnel of the Manipur Police Commandos rushed in to his house. One of the personnel dragged Azad by both of his hands and started beating him severly. Meanwhile, the commandos asked Kiyam the reason for keeping company with Azad. Didn’t he not know, Azad was an activist of an underground organisation. The commandos showed him a gun saying that it belonged to Azad and slapped him on his face. Subsequently, Azad was dragged out some 70 metres towards the north.
While Azad was being dragged out of the courtyard, the commandos fired some rounds in the air and at the same time other commandos prevented his mother and family from following them, pointing guns and forcing them to go inside their house. After dragging Azad, he was pushed down on the paddy field and shot dead. Almost immediately, the commandos threw a pistol near the dead body. The whole incident was witnessed by his family members as well as neighbouring villagers, as all of this happened in broad daylight. After the killing, the dead body was taken away by the raiding commandos in their vehicles. The villagers tried following the police commandos but were stopped.
Azad is not alone
Believe me, this is not the script of a horror/action film but a real life story. What is most disturbing is that the case of Azad is only one amongst the hundreds killed in cold blood. Over the years, cold blooded murder, or ‘encounter’, as they call it, has become a routine of Manipur. Like Azad, you would be reading the newspaper today and be a news item in tomorrow’s newspaper, which too would be limited to those published in Manipur and neighbouring areas. In the same year, on 23rd July, Chongkham Sanjit (27 years old), was killed in cold blood in broad daylight, barely 500 metres from the state assembly. But it was only when the newsweekly Tehelka, published the photographs of the episode by an anonymous photographer, that news of Sanjit’s cold blooded murder reached us.
Cold blooded killings, and, in particular, fake encounters by the Manipur Police Commandos (MPC) have become a day-to-day affair in the life of Manipuris. In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killings by the MPC. In several cases, ordinary civilians carrying money and valuables have been robbed and sometimes killed. In few of the cases, official ‘action’ has been taken but for the most part, their extra-judicial activities goes scot free. In fact, it happens the other way around. Take the case of Azad. Her mother Garamjan Bibi deposed before an Independent People’s Tribunal headed by Justice (retired) K K Usha of Kerala High Court, during 11-13 December 2009. “When I tried to bring out the truth, filling a case with police, the police commandos, warned me to withdraw the case if I wanted to save my life.” It must be mentioned, in all of the cases, Commandos repeatedly threatened the petitioners to withdraw the cases. What is more glaring is that it is not just happening in Manipur only, but different parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir as well.
The root Cause
Why is it happening so? What makes these forces so powerful, or rather, so brutal? The answer is, Arms Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)-1958, a draconian law in the name of maintaining law and order in the so-called disturbed areas. According to the Act, in an area that is declared as ‘disturbed’, even a non- commissioned officer of the armed forces has powers to: "Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the extent of causing death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law", against "assembly of five or more persons" or possession of deadly weapons. To arrest without a warrant and with the use of "necessary" force on anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so and to enter and search any premise at any time in order to make such arrests. It gives army officers legal protection for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the law.
The act is not only problematic because of violation of rights that occur in ‘disturbed areas’. But it is also problematic because once the AFSPA is in force – as it is in all Northeast Indian states – the government through a simple notification can declare any area, the entire state, or parts of the state, as ‘disturbed’ without any public debate. The deployment of the armed forces, the suspension of fundamental freedoms and the ‘special powers’ of the armed forces can immediately come into force. An area can remain ‘disturbed’ for years with no end. The act legitimizes a localized form of indefinite emergency rule in the areas. Ironically, the Act is nothing but a replica of the 1942 Ordinance framed by the colonial powers to control the wave of Indian freedom struggle.
AFSPA must go
It has been 57 years, since the act came into being. And over the years, it has become an established fact that due to the draconian law, hundreds of ordinary citizens of the so-called disturbed states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir have lost their lives. Extra-judicial killings, illegal detention, rape, torture has become a routine affair for the people—men, women, old and child all alike, of these ‘disturbed areas’. The act has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness by the one who is supposed to protect their life, liberty and dignity. Even the Justice Reddy Committee, appointed by Government to study the issue during UPA-I admits it, "the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness." And without an iota of doubt, the impacts of the draconian laws like AFSPA are far reaching and disastrous. These are tools of the Indian government, through which it is alienating and pushing towards the wall its ‘own-people’. Government after government, no matter which party is at the helm of affairs, is not worried about these people, nor ready to scrap this tool of oppression.
This 22nd May, when the draconian law is completing its 53th year of enactment and going to enter the 54th, it is the duty of us, the people from the so-called mainland India to stand up by the side of (or with) the oppressed and demand to scrap the AFSPA. After all, injustice anywhere is everywhere. It is time to join Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is on her fast unto death, now going to enter in eleventh year, with the firm resolution to see the Act meet its end and an end to the injustice (mostly unaccounted) by the armed forces on the innocent civilians. Today when hundreds and thousands of people from Kashmir to Manipur are demanding to scrap the AFSPA, let us come together and join hands, stand in solidarity with the people of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir and say : AFSPA must go now and by now. Enough is enough.
Three days after she stated her fast, she was arrested by police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide" and was transferred to judicial custody later. To keep her alive while under arrest nasogastric intubation was forced on her on 21st November. She has been released and rearrested each year as she keeps continue her strike after every release.