In an unprecedented move, the Manipur Police have registered a criminal case against the Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force in the country, for “obstruction of duty” and “criminal intimidation”.
The police have accused the personnel of the 9th battalion of the Assam Rifles of the “arrogant act” of “giving a chance to the accused Kuki militants to escape freely to a safe zone”.
The Assam Rifles has been under continuous attack from Meitei civil society groups and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs in the valley since the start of ethnic violence on May 3, which has claimed more than 150 lives.
On August 7, the BJP State leadership submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that the “Assam Rifles has been charged by the public for their biased role in tackling the situation by favouring and supporting one side only”.
They demanded the permanent removal of the force from Manipur. The Assam Rifles, which is also deployed along the Myanmar border, is under the operational control of the Army.
The first information report (FIR) comes in the wake of the August 5 incident at Kwakta in the Meitei dominated Bishnupur area where a father-son duo and another person were hacked to death in their sleep by armed miscreants, suspected to be members of the Kuki community who came from the neighbouring Churachandpur district.
Following the killings, the Manipur Police alleged that their team was stopped by the Assam Rifles unit from conducting a search operation to trace the suspected attackers who could have been hiding in the area.
It alleged that the Assam Rifles used armoured vehicles to block their way. A video of the altercation went viral the same day.
The Army, in a statement late on Tuesday, said some inimical elements had made desperate, repeated, and failed attempts to question the role, intent, and integrity of the Central security forces, especially Assam Rifles, that are working relentlessly towards saving lives and restoration of peace in Manipur since May 3.
“It needs to be understood that due to the complex nature of the situation on the ground in Manipur, occasional differences at tactical level do occur between various security forces. However, all such misunderstandings at the functional level are immediately addressed through the joint mechanism to synergise the efforts for restoration of peace and normalcy in Manipur,” it said .
The Army said two instances emerged over the past 24 hours aimed at maligning the Assam Rifles. While in first case, the Assam Rifles Battalion acted strictly in accordance with the mandate of the unified headquarters of strict enforcement of buffer zone guidelines towards the aim of preventing violence between the two communities, the second case of the Assam Rifles being moved out of an area was not even related to them.
An infantry battalion of the Army is deployed in the area (ever since the crisis erupted in May) from where the narrative of the Assam Rifles being moved out has been made, the Army said.
A day ago, the Manipur government ordered the replacement of the Assam Rifles from one of the several check posts on the Churachandpur-Bishnupur boundary.
The statement added that Indian Army and the Assam Rifles “assure the people of Manipur that we will continue to remain firm and resolute in our actions to prevent any attempt that could result in furthering violence in an already volatile atmosphere”.
A defence source said the place (in the August 5 incident) where the police team wanted to proceed to was a “buffer zone” and there were instructions from the combined headquarters that only Central security forces would operate there.
The Centre has deployed Central armed police forces and the Army in the “buffer zones” in the foothills where Kuki and Meitei settlements lie adjacent to each other.
There have been several incidents of Meira Paibis, or women groups, checking the identity card of Central forces and blocking their movement.
The Kuki community, on the other hand, has accused the State police of abetting and inciting violence against them in association with vigilante groups such as Arambai Tenngol and Meitei Leepun.
The FIR was registered by sub-inspector N. Devdas Singh, officer-in-charge of the Phougakchao Ikhai police station in Bishnupur district, on August 5 against the personnel of the 9th battalion, Assam Rifles.
The charges are of disobeying law by public servant with intent to cause injury to any person, obstructing public servant, threat of injury to a public servant, wrongful restraint, assault or criminal force and criminal intimidation.