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Kin of Manipur encounter victims still wait for justice

Women blocking a road during a stir to condemn the murder of a person in a fake encounter in Imphal in 2009.   | Photo Credit: PTI

On March 4, 2009, Azad Khan, a 12-year-old Class VI student in Thoubal district, was reading a newspaper at his home with a friend when police commandos surrounded them. One commando beat up the friend asking him why he was getting mixed up with a “militant.”

Then he whipped out a handgun which he claimed to have recovered from Azad. The police beat Azad, frogmarched him to a nearby paddy field even as his mother and some other villagers were held back at gunpoint. Then Azad was shot right in front of his stunned mother and several villagers.

His mother, Garamjan Bibi, said: “When I lodged a complaint with the police, I was warned to withdraw it if I wanted to save my life.” Despite the threat, she went ahead with it.

No closure

She later gave a graphic account of the killing to human rights groups, which took up the case. Director of Human Rights Law Network Manipur Meihoubam Rakesh said: “It was one of the six stray cases the Supreme Court examined out of 1,528 victims of fake encounters in Manipur, victims whose relatives are waiting for closure. Most of the victims were breadwinners. Their family members are fending for themselves by earning daily wages.”

Some families were given solatium by courts as interim relief. But the final verdict is still awaited. Family members of “missing persons” and victims of fake encounters want to see justice delivered.

Former Supreme court judge N. Santosh Hegde, who was a member of the three-member committee set up by the Supreme Court, said: “How can a 12-year-old boy be a terrorist?” The report was submitted to the Supreme Court on July 8, 2016, which said there was no encounter with Azad Khan and he was not an extremist and had no criminal record.

Taking note of the results of judicial inquiries and the findings of the Gauhati High Court, the Supreme Court Bench has posted the Manipur encounters PIL for hearing on May 11. It also wanted the names of officers and personnel involved to be included in the FIRs.

In another case, Ravina, who was at an advanced stage of pregnancy, was walking on B.T. Road in Imphal on July 23, 2009, with her three-year-old son for a medical checkup when a bullet hit her in the forehead and she slumped to the ground. A few minutes later, Chungkham Sanjit, a former insurgent who came to buy medicines for an ailing member of his family, was accosted by some police commandos, pushed inside a pharmacy nearby, and then after a few minutes his lifeless body was dragged out. The police claimed that it was a “militant” who killed Ravina, and he was killed in police action. Sanjit had been staying home and he was unarmed, according to witnesses.

Commando’s confession

The saga of ‘encounters’ took a decisive turn with head constable T. Herojit, a police commando, turning whistle blower and confessing two years ago to the media that he had killed Sanjit inside the pharmacy “on the orders of higher-ups”.

What was unknown to the police at that time was that a lensman had been secretly taking photos of the killing. These tell-tale photographs were published in the magazine Tehelka, and established that Sanjit was unarmed and killed in cold blood. The photos showed a smiling, unarmed Sanjit being surrounded by policemen and then being pushed inside the pharmacy and later his body dragged out and taken away together with that of Ravina in a station wagon to the mortuary.

Herojit, under suspension, had publicly confessed to having killed several people “on the orders of the higher-ups”. He confirmed there had been no exchange of fire when Sanjit was killed. As he was denied a judicial confession in a court — judges had second thoughts due to legal tangles since it is the first of its kind in India — Herojit submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in January 2018, saying that he could assist in a probe into the fake encounter killings since he was present in most of the incidents.

Human rights activists are of the view that Herojit was at hand when over 100 persons were similarly killed over 15 years, and he had urged the apex court to recover his four diaries from the CBI, in which he claims to have recorded the chilling details of the “executions”. He said the CBI sleuths seem to be “completely disinterested in the matter”.

On January 16, 2018, the SC reprimanded the CBI for not registering all cases and directed it to register 30 more cases by January 31, which the CBI did. Earlier on July 14, 2017, the SC directed the CBI to set up a SIT (Special Investigation Team) comprising five officers to probe the allegations of fake encounters, by December 31. The SIT should investigate the 98 cases of alleged fake encounters, a Division Bench of the SC comprising Justices Madan Lokur and Uday Umesh Lalit said.

Advocate Bashantakumar Wareppam, counsel for Human Rights Alert and Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, which had filed the PIL plea, told The Hindu that though the number of victims is 98, there were 42 cases in the period 1984 to 2012. There was more than one victim in several cases.

The first case was the massacre of 13 civilians and injury to 65 others on March 11, 1984 at Heirangoithong in Imphal west district by CRPF personnel.

A game and a massacre

An absorbing volleyball match was in progress near a bridge and patrolling CRPF personnel were also watching it. Insurgents killed three personnel, injured some others and fled. With reinforcements from the nearby camp, the CRPF personnel retaliated by allegedly mowing down helpless spectators.

Under public pressure, a judicial inquiry commission was set up. During the hearings, the CRPF counsel maintained that there was an exchange of fire with the militants and the civilians were caught in the crossfire. On the prayer of the victims, the Commission visited the spot. Later, A. Nilamani, counsel for the victims asked the commission why there was not a single bullet mark on the bridge in general and baluster in particular if there was an exchange of fire between CRPF and militants. The CRPF counsel was speechless. There was no further hearing by the Commission, which was later wrapped up.

On March 12 this year, the SC provided a four-point blueprint to the CBI’s SIT and directed it to expedite the probe into the alleged extra judicial killings and fake encounters by the Army, Assam Rifles and police in Manipur which had come under the scanner of the National Human Rights Commission, Guwahati High Court and some Commissions of Inquiry.

The directive was given by a division bench comprising Justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit. The SIT was directed to first complete the ongoing probe in 13 cases of the NHRC followed by matters relating to judicial inquiries, and those on which the High Court had given findings.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 10:04:36 AM |

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