State Terrorism in Manipur
‘I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the Commandoes were molesting me … the police commandoes got themselves gratified with everything they want from my body. But, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least…’
Press statement of Miss Naobi
2nd March 2004, Imphal, Manipur (India)
The September 2004 issue of this journal contained an article entitled ‘End Military Rule in Manipur’. The author of the article informed how the custodial rape and murder of one Miss. Th. Manorama, a corporal of the People’s Liberation Army, had resulted in the 15 July 2004 ‘nude protest’ by Manipuri women and the subsequent protest movement against state terrorism that engulfed Manipur with a civil war like situation for four months. The Government of India, reacting promptly to deal with the situation, initiated an appeasement policy that divided public opinion on the issue of continuation of the protest movement. It announced the lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 from the Greater Imphal areas, the heart of the capital, and constituted an AFSPA Review Committee. Many perceived the announcement a respite from and a precondition for an end to state terrorism. The protest came to an abrupt halt and the government too had a respite to prepare itself for the further strengthening of its military occupation over the region. Quite contrary to what the people had expected the government, instead of repealing the Act, reinforced troops in the Greater Imphal areas and the frequency of flag-marches, frisking and counter revolutionary raids increased tremendously. In the name of counter terrorism a series of human rights violations were committed by the state forces without any restraint. The recent detention and torture of Miss Naobi is one of the most painful incidents of human rights violation by the law enforcing agents.
On 21st February Miss Naobi, a student who also teaches in a private school, attended the funeral rites of one Kh. Bikash, a People’s Liberation Army sergeant who was killed in an encounter with the Manipur Commandoes on 20th February 2006. At around 3 p.m. she was pounded, severely beaten up and later dumped into the police van by a team of the Manipur Commandoes. ‘They forced me to undress, I resisted but their threatening presence made my resistance gave in. I did as they wished. They were laughing to see my body. They said, I looked like an AIDS infected. They measured my body parts. They teased me telling I got a bad odour’. She was again thrown into the police van. Inside the van, her body faced the savagery of the police commandoes. They touched her private parts and played with them. She cried for help when she heard some vehicles moving around. She was gagged. The torture continued till they reached the custody by 7 p.m. In custody, she was asked to change dress in front of the male gaze. She did it. On 23rd February she was taken to the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s office. The Magistrate, instead of recording her statement, remanded her for another seven days. During detention for nine days, she encountered heavy tortures, humiliations, insults and laceration.
Manipur was annexed into the Indian Union in 1949. The capitalist path of development that the Government of India had imposed upon the people of Manipur, backed by its bureaucrat and military regime, has proven contrary to the notion of a ‘welfare state’ that the Manipuris had expected from Indo-Manipur relations. The material condition of the people remains comparatively low with more than 68% of the population living below the poverty line. The counter revolutionary measures and military repression of the democratic rights of the people to decide their own political and economic future has created a colonial situation and has perpetuated pre-existing Manipuri nationalism. Against this background, apart from other nationalist organisations, the Revolutionary People’s Front with its People’s Liberation Army intensified its propaganda for an independent and classless Manipur. The revolutionary spirit has become socially deep-rooted and the revolutionary organisations drew sympathisers to their cause.
In order to deal with the revolutionary situation the government has formed an additional force called the Manipur Commandoes, a special counter- revolutionary armed unit whose rank and file are being recruited mostly from amongst the goons who had developed personal grudges with the revolutionary ideology. There is widespread public perception that the Manipur Commandoes, unlike most of the conventional commandoes, were not properly educated and trained but ill mannered, corrupt and have little respect for human rights. There is rumour that a section of the Manipur Commando has become FIMU SETPA (black dress wearers) that indulge in carrying out terror during the night. The fact that whenever the FIMU SETPA indulged in dacoity or robbery and were caught by the local vigilant groups the Manipur Commandoes always arrived at the spot and allowed them to escape makes the logic of their interconnection convincing. In short, the Manipur Commando has failed to deal with the revolutionary situation and in a demoralised form it reveals itself to be a gang of crooks that needs complete disbandment.
On 20th February 2006 the PLA carried out an ambush that led to the killing of the officer-in-charge of the Thoubal district police commando, Inspector N Lokhon, a Z-category security man and three police commandoes. The demoralised Manipur Commandoes, in order to recoup their morale and to avenge the assassination of the inspector, resorted to act brutally upon the dear ones, kin and family members of Bikash. They warned the family members with dire consequence if they perform the last rites of Bikash, thus, obstructing the very cultural rights of the people. The threat imposed on the entire locality against participation in Bikash’s rites constitutes an organised attempt to tarnish ‘heroism’ accorded to the revolutionary cadres. They forcibly dispersed those who had come to attend the Mangani Leihun of Bikash, a ritual observed on the fifth day of the death. The observers were beaten up, arrested and tortured. But the use of armed power to obstruct such cultural rites by-passes the democratic norms prescribed by the Indian constitution. In other words, the Manipur Commandos’ attempted depiction of the revolutionaries and the ‘people’ in watertight compartments, which constitutes a propaganda that draws a ‘terrorist’ picture of the revolutionaries and justifies military repression, has begun backfiring as a result of their terror acts.
A widespread movement was voiced for Naobi’s safe release. She was released from custody without any condition on 2nd March with a brutally tortured body, deeply wounded psyche and pained dignity. Naobi should have been arrested and interrogated by adhering to normal judicial procedure. She is today proven innocent and released but her dignity and honour are tarnished. There are thousands of victims who have borne a similar trauma of state terrorism that Naobi had to face. The people of Manipur have risen up again demanding: punishment of the commandoes involved in torturing Naobi; immediate termination of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ms Kim, from service and the resignation of the Chief Minister of Manipur. The people of Manipur call for solidarity from the progressive parties and international community in support of their fight against state terrorism.
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