End Military Rule in Manipur

Malem Ningthouja

The killing of Miss Thangjam Manorama (32) in Manipur by the 17 Assam Rifles has provoked widespread condemnation and protest from the people of Manipur. The 17th Assam Rifles apprehended her after issuing an arrest memo at the early hours of 11th July 2004 from her residence at Bamon Kampu in Imphal. In the morning she was found abandoned dead with no proper clothes near Ngariyan Mapao Maring village. There were not only scratch marks all over the body, but also a deep gashing wound probably made by a knife on the right thigh and at least seven bullet wounds on her back with one shot from the upper buttock which pierced through her private part on the other side.

The people’s protest against the rape and brutal killing of Manorama began by way of not accepting the body by the family and the local organisations demanding justice. This was followed by a public meeting of various social organisations at the locality that decided to launch a joint agitation against the brutal killing of Manorama. Twenty-six social organisations, which later increased to thirty-two, later called a 48-hour general strike from midnight of 12 July 2004 to midnight 14 July 2004. On the first day of the general strike people protested against the killing, demanded justice and the immediate repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958). The effigies of the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, home minister Shivaraj Patil, Manipur Chief Minister O. Ibobi, DIG Assam Rifles and others concerned were consigned to the flames. All commercial activities came to a halt and inter-district passenger buses and inter-state buses services were suspended.

On 15th July 2004, while many sit-in-protests were going on at various parts of Manipur, 12 women belonging to various social organisations protested naked in front of the 17th Assam Rifles at the Kangla Gate. This protest by women has exposed a hidden part of the repression in Manipur – the use of rape as a repressive weapon by the Indian security forces. The womenfolk raised a number of slogans, questioning how long they have to suffer, while their sons and daughters are being trampled on, tortured, raped and killed by the security personnel? Sentiments were further heightened by this protest. The government imposed indefinite curfew in the greater Imphal areas with shoot-at-sight orders to deter any further protest from occurring. On 16th July, a large number of women defied curfew and came out to the streets and confronted the rubber bullets and tear gas of the armed forces. They demanded ‘(1) immediate arrest and prosecution of the personnel of the 17 Assam Rifles responsible for the rape and brutal killing of Km. Thangjam Manorama, (2) immediate stop to the systematic and ‘genocidal’ killing of the Manipuri people, (3) immediate withdrawal of the 17th Assam Rifles in particular and the Indian Army in general from of Manipur and (4) the removal of the draconian ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958’ and the immediate revocation of the disturbed area status for the whole of Manipur. Women attempted to seize the offices of the District Commissioners and the camps of the Assam Rifles in various parts of Manipur. At least ten persons and five women sustained injuries due to rubber bullets at Kongba and at Chingmeirong respectively. Infuriated protesters of the Wangkhei attacked police with stones and catapults and pushed down a 407 mini Tata with security personnel inside it into a drain.

Pitched confrontations between protestors and police continued on 17th July. Four women at Lamshang, three girls at Kongba Nongthombam Leikai, sustained severe injuries from rubber bullets and a lathi charge by the police. A 35-year-old woman was hospitalised following a tear gas canister attack at Thambalkhong. On 18 July protestors defied state-imposed curfew and organised sit-in protests and mass rallies. Unidentified protestors set ablaze seven government office buildings in Bishnupur district. On 19 July despite the deployment of two additional companies of the Rapid Action Police Force (RAPF) and indefinite curfew, sit-in protests and rallies continued. Protestors staged torch rallies at different points confronting the police, especially at Pishum Thong and Singjamei bazaar. Several police personnel were injured and an IRB bus was damaged in the attack by protestors. At Lamlong Khurai area protestors retaliated against police with stones and catapults. Police attacked the office of a daily newspaper Huieyen Lanpao with tear gas shells. On 20 July 220 personnel of an ad hoc unit of Border Security Force (BSF) arrived at Imphal. Torch rallies and sit-in protests continued and a 24 hours bandh (shut down) was called in Jiribam. On 21st July another 210 personnel of an ad hoc unit of the BSF, large chests of rubber bullets and tear gas shells arrived at Imphal. At least eight women agitators received serious injuries from police repression at Keishampat. On 23 July the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) severely beat up a local scribe who was covering the activities of protestors attempting to take out a procession despite the state-imposed curfew.

On July 24 five activists of the Manipur Forward Youth Front (MAFYF) attempted self-immolation at the gate of the Chief Minister. Around 700 cycle rally protesters confronted police with stones and catapults for almost half an hour. Meanwhile the mortal remains of Thangjam Manorama Devi, after lying unclaimed at the RIMS mortuary for 13 days, was consigned to flames without the presence of family members and civilians by police personnel amidst tight security arrangement in the evening. On 26th July, a 24-year-old youth slashed the palm of his two hands with a blade in front of the 17th Assam Rifles gate. Several members of the Manipur University Students’ Union were seriously injured when state commandos lathi charged them while they were trying to stage a peaceful protest in front of the Governor’s gate. The same day RIMS and JN Hospitals reported that the two hospitals had admitted till date a total number of 233 protestors, mostly women, who sustained injuries from police repression. Unidentified protestors set ablaze office buildings of the BDO, SDO and CIC at Keirao. On 29 July several protestors were injured in confrontations with the state police and RAPF in different parts of Manipur. While about 126 persons were admitted at JN Hospital, over 30 were hospitalised at RIMS. Chaotic scenes prevailed at the JN Hospital where injured persons could not be accommodated at the casualty ward and were treated at the corridor near the casualty, on the floor near the adjacent wards and tents erected outside. Unidentified protestors set ablaze the Wangkhei Kendra Congress block.

On 12 August the Chief Minister of Manipur announced the partial withdrawal of the AFSPA from seven constituencies in Manipur. On 21 August the Assam Rifles forced at gunpoints the villagers of Saparmeina and Kangpokpi areas to hold a mass rally in support of AFSPA. The people suspect all such attempts by the state and the armed forces as divisive ploys to weaken the unity and the protest movement. People intensified their protest against AFSPA through carrying out three courses of movements simultaneously: Leingak Wayel Saruk Yaadaba Khongjang (non-cooperation), demanding the members of the legislatures and government employees to quit from their respective posts; mipal tangdaba khongjang (self-reliance movement), boycotting use and sale of Indian made goods in Manipur and; Wakat Khongjang (protest movement) condemning the Act, passing resolutions, staging rallies, fighting with security personnel and so on. On 15th August, Indian Independence day, several protestors burnt Indian tricolour flags, formed human chains and fought pitched battles against security personnel in several parts of Manipur. Mr Pebam Chitranjan Singh (32) carried out the most extreme form of protest of self-immolation by setting himself on fire till death. As the peoples’ movement got heightened the government resorted to launching a combing operation, arresting several persons, torturing protestors, booking several leaders under National Security Act and locking them up in the jails. The state government has put restrictions on local cable networks and totally prohibited them from broadcasting local news. The movement continued.

The killing of Manorama has sparked off the protest movement demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958) from Manipur. The nature of the protest movement, the demands of the protestors and the way the state uses all brutal means to suppress it reflect the perennial state of governance by the Indian state in Manipur. In fact, the people of Manipur are facing a lot of economic hardships despite the rich natural and human resources favoured by a good climate. They are reeling under economic hardship to the extent that the state could not regularly pay salary to its employees for the last couple of years. Underdevelopment and hence lack of employment opportunities in a virtually captive-market economy has caused a vicious cycle of economic impoverishment and crisis. Rather than any efforts to solve the crisis the Government has undertaken extreme measures such as ‘militarisation’ and ‘terror tactics’ to stifle the voice of the people by curtailing the democratic right to protest, the demand for economic growth, political stability and justice. A large number of Indian armed forces are deployed against the civilians while basic infrastructures in health, education and communications are lacking. Historical sites, ritual places, playgrounds, grazing areas, and even schools are converted into army barracks. The recent military occupation of the Molphei and surrounding villages and the conversion of Sugnu High School into army barracks are glaring examples of this. In fact, Manipuris are suffering from ‘undeclared war’.

What infuriated the people is the barbaric, undemocratic and genocidal nature of killings carried out by the state in the name of restoring ‘law and order’ of which the alleged custodial rape and brutal murder of Km. Thangjam Manorama, the killing of one Jamkholet, a pastor (on 8 July), the cold-blooded murders during the Holi festival, which all took place this year alone are glaring examples. In fact, the whole of Manipur has been kept virtually under military rule for the past 24 years since 1980 when all of Manipur has been covered by the draconian AFSPA, 1958. This Act, one of the most draconian legislation that the Indian Parliament has ever passed, has a colonial continuity in its content and the context. Under this Act, all security forces, even the rank of a ‘havildar’, are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out operations, torture or kill anyone on the mere ground of ‘suspicion’ once an area is declared disturbed. Section 6 of the Act provides them with absolute immunity for all atrocities committed, except under the instruction of the Central Government. The brutal killing of Th. Manorama is standing testimony to what the security personnel have been doing under the immunity granted by the AFSPA and it is surprising that the government is still reluctant to lift the draconian Act.

The Act is anti-people, undemocratic, unconstitutional and repressive. The AFSPA violates Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India such as Article 21 (right to life), Article 22 (protection against arrest and detention), etc. There is no justification for such an act under relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards. It violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Body of Principles for Protection of All Persons Under any form of Detention, and the UN Principles on effective prevention and investigation of extra-legal and summary executions. The Indian armed forces have been committing various heinous crimes and acts of atrocities against the people of Manipur under the provision of the AFSPA. It has only resulted into innumerable incidents of fake encounters, massacres, arbitrary detention, torture, custodial killings, forced disappearances, rape, sodomy, collective fines, destruction of property, exhortation, and looting by security personnel.

The people of Manipur have been consistently raising their voices against the Act. Rallies, demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, court battles and organising protests and agitations are what people of Manipur have been doing for the past many years. Women organised as Meira Paibees have been keeping vigil in their respective localities against the Indian armed forces for the whole night for the past many years. They have been facing rifle butts, boots, grenades and bullets of the Security Forces to save those unfortunate ones who have become the target of the security forces. The Government has been carrying out extreme measures to repress any form of protest against state terrorism. For instance on 21.7.1999 a total number 19 protestors in Churachandpur got severe injuries when the CRPF suppressed a protest rally against their atrocities. On 27.02.1999, heavily armed army troops severely beat up the Meira Paibees of Khoijuman village in Bishenpur District, seriously injuring eight of them when they protested against illegal arrestment. Two weeks later, at Toubul, troops of 32 Rashtriya Rifles shot at the Meira Paibees, seriously injuring three of them for the same reason. Ever since the ongoing protest movement intensified in mid July the government has been trying to keep the people virtually under house arrest with the clamping of curfew and shoot-at-sight orders. The security forces are using tear gas shelling and rubber bullets even on the residential buildings. Educational institutions, markets and all working places are closed for the last few weeks. People are not allowed even to procure essential items. Even the media is not spared. Local cable TV networks are forced to discontinue news services for giving coverage on the agitation. The security forces are harassing even journalists covering the agitation.

The people of Manipur have resolved to oppose state terrorism at any cost. They are openly defying curfews imposed against them. They are physically confronting with the ‘state’ that uses lathis, tear gas, live rubber bullets and mock bombs to suppress the movement. Hundreds of the protestors are severely injured in police repression. The people of Manipur demand no less than the punishment of the guilty security personnel responsible for the brutal rape and killing of Manorama, removal of the AFSPA and an immediate end of decades long ‘state terrorism’. What they demand is peace with justice. They yearn for a peaceful democratic society free from all forms of state repression. The time has come now that all progressive organisations and individuals give their solidarity to the ongoing struggle of the people of Manipur.

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