More than three months after he was arrested in a case related to the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, 71-year-old former BJP MLA T.T. Haokip has now been denied bail by the Manipur High Court, on grounds that the complaint against him was corroborated by witness statements recorded before the police and that it might not be safe to grant bail given the situation in Manipur.
The ethnic conflict between the dominant valley-based Meitei people and the Scheduled Tribe hills-based Kuki-Zomi people has been ongoing since May 3 and has so far killed close to 180 people, injuring thousands of others and internally displacing thousands more.
Denying regular bail to Mr. Haokip, his son and one other accused in the case, the Manipur High Court said in its September 1 order, “The complaint is corroborated by the statements of the witnesses recorded under Section 161 Cr.PC. Moreover, no material is placed on record to substantiate the illness of A-1. The safety of the accused is also paramount importance. Considering all these facts, this court does not incline to release the accused persons on bail.”
The Manipur police had accused Mr. Haokip, his son and two others (both from the Kuki-Zo community) of threatening women vendors of a different ethnicity at the Checkon Tribal Market of New Lambulane on May 22. In the case, the police said Mr. Haokip allegedly instigated two youths to take weapons and threaten the women vendors, further adding that they had recovered weapons from the accused.
At the time of his arrest, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had held Mr. Haokip responsible for trying to trigger more violence in the already tense State.
However, in the three months that Mr. Haokip was in the Sajiwa Jail in Imphal, violence continued throughout the State and the police have not yet been able to record witness statements in this case before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Neither have they been able to file charges against Mr. Haokip.
During the proceedings before Justice A. Guneshwar Sharma, who heard the bail pleas together, Mr. Haokip’s lawyer argued that the police only had statements made to themselves, the seizure of weapons was from a co-accused, and that the alleged confession is also from a co-accused. Further, he stressed that the women vendors of the said market had identified neither Mr. Haokip nor his son in the case.
Counsel also submitted that Mr. Haokip was 71 years old and suffered from various ailments, adding that his continued detention might deteriorate his health. “Due to law and order problem, the medical record cannot be obtained,” they argued.
However, the court was not inclined to accept these arguments and said that the incident had the potential to incite fresh violence. It said the matter of seizure of weapons and the validity of the same is something to be examined only when the case is in trial. And while the court said there was no documentary proof of illness, it gave Mr. Haokip leave to approach the right authority for medical bail.
The State government argued before the court that the accused were involved in offences that created disharmony and mistrust amongst communities settled in a mixed colony during the time of communal violence. It submitted that the incident had triggered fresh violence in this sensitive area and that for this reason their bail must be rejected.
The State government also submitted that all seizures were made by law and that seizure memos had signature of the accused as well. The Manipur police said they had seized a licensed single-barrel weapon, two pistols, and a few live rounds from the New Lambulane home of Mr. Haokip’s son.