We have been dealing with the Ishrat case for quite sometime but time has come to look at a very distant land, Manipur which is diametrically on the other side of India. But the distance makes no difference so far as the encounters are concerned as we shall here in below.
For the last 30 years, young men and women are regularly killed by the security forces of Manipur Rifles as well as Commandos of Manipur Police. All such killings have been described as encounters. In the last 10 years alone, atleast 2 individuals per week have been killed. The allegation is always the same that they belong to some militant group or the other like Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and that ‘militants’ were ambushed by the security forces. As per the FIRs filed by the security forces after the encounters, the allegations are almost identical that the ‘militants’ opened fire with 9mm pistols and in self defense, the security forces killed them.
The state has been primarily ruled by the Congress Party for almost whole of the last decade. The state is bereft of any development and perhaps it survives on the massive grants that are pushed in by the Central Government, but the common people merely survive, since most of the grants are siphoned off by the ruling party and their cohorts. It is in this process of siphoning that the ‘militants’ come in great use for the political establishment. The central grants which are used for infrastructural developments such as roads and buildings, go in the hands of chosen private civil contractors who pay a large kickback to the ruling party. To keep the contractors disciplined regarding the kickbacks, the ‘militants’ are used to keep them threatened in case of any betrayal and in case these ‘militants’ turn rogue, they are shot and killed at regular intervals. The security forces of Manipur Rifles and the Commands of Manipur police are used to carry out such ‘encounters’. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is just the law they need to keep off the Judiciary to pry into such dubious killings and corruption.
As thousands of young men have died in the last decade, in a desperate bid the young Manipuri widows formed an association and moved the Supreme Court through Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). The Supreme Court was aghast at the enormity of the killings and appointed a high powered commission chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hegde and two other members, one being the former Chief Election Commisioner Shri Lyngdoh and the other being former DGP of Karnataka.
The Commission was asked to enquire into six cases of encounters in which 7 persons were killed, namely Akoijam Priyoproto, Nobo, Gobind, Kiranjit, Oronjit, Umakanta and Md. Azad Khan. Azad Khan was just a school boy, aged 12 and studying in Class 8 and he was shot by atleast 20 police personnel in the field behind his house. These six ‘encounters’ had allegedly taken place between April 2009 and March 2010. These were a tiny sample which the Supreme Court wanted to be inquired in to so that they could decide what is to be done with the massive number of such encounters which had killed over 1500 people in 10 years.
I was invited by the widows association to help them before the commission. I had the opportunity to conduct most of the cross examinations of the police and Manipur Rifles personnel both in Imphal as well as in Delhi. When I went to Imphal in the first week of March 2013, I found a young group of determined lawyers led by Babloo Loitongbam who were representing the relatives of scores of victims that had been killed. Hundreds of widows had turned up in an inquiry conducted by a high power committee led by Justice Hegde. In my experience, this was the first commission I came across that had put their hearts into the investigation. We all worked for 6 days at Imphal and 4 more days in New Delhi and by the end of March, the commission had already given its report.
The report which was placed before the Supreme Court had unanimously declared that all six encounters were fake. The lawyer for the widows association, Shri Colin Gonsalves is now demanding from the Supreme Court, the appointment of number of SITs to investigate into the scores of fake encounters to put the law into motion against the most heinous killings in the history of India.
The encounters of Gujarat and the encounters of Manipur have several similar trends, but the motives appear to be quite distinct and different. While Gujarat encounters are purely politically motivated to profile the Chief Minister as a Hindu icon, the Manipur encounters are entirely in connection with the siphoning of Government grants. The common thing is that the ordinary citizens are being slaughtered for the benefit of the political leaders be it BJP or Congress.
Note: We are expecting the report of the commission soon and we shall put it into public domain.