No Judicial Scrutiny

Manipur is a state bloodied by decades of armed rebellion. In the 1990s, Meitei separatists began to take up arms, and attack the Indian Security Forces and their collaborators. Insurgents bombed military convoys and assassinated officials, raided police stations and bought off legislators. After years of feeble state governments, in 2002 Manipur had a new Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi, and a police officer Yumnam Joykumar, who returned to his home state after serving in Kashmir, at the height of that state’s insurgency. As conviction of suspected terrorists was futile, state power adopted staged encounters. Under India’s National Security Act, a suspect could be detained for up to 12 months, without trial. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) imposed in Manipur in 1980, grants the military immunity from judicial scrutiny. Families of ‘‘encounter victims’’, identified 1528 Manipuris, all killed by Security Forces since 2002, in what appeared to be faked encounters. Following directions from the Supreme Court in 2013, a former judge investigated six of the 1528 killings. All six were quickly determined to have been staged.

In January 201, constable Thounaojam Herojit in a secret meeting with select journalists in Imphal, confessed that he was guilty of the execution of an unarmed young man in the middle of a busy market in 2009. He also admitted killing over 100 locals. Irom Sharmila, a 44-year-old activist from Manipur, began fast in 2000, after ten people were reportedly killed by a government-run paramilitary group near the city of Imphal. She had vowed to continue her fast until the AFSPA was repealed. On 09 August 2016, after a lick of honey Sharmila ended the world’s longest hunger strike. For years while in police custody, she had been fed via a drip. After years of ineffectual struggle, speaking to journalists, she stated that she wanted to topple the states’s Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, whom she accuses of having been in power during years of insurgency and corruption. She would try the political electoral route to rid Manipur of the Special Powers Act.

Whether Sharmila can change the rules of the game by participating in elections, is anybody’s guess. True, she has been able to draw national and international attention on gross human rights violations by the army and paramilitary forces in Manipur, through her prolonged hunger strike, a record in itself. Also, it can be safely concluded that she will win any type of election—assembly or parliament—by huge margins, as the legendary communist leader of Telengana fame Ravinarayan Reddy did in the fifties. How communists matter in the political scenario of Telengana today doesn’t require much elaboration. They are nowhere in the picture. In truth they don’t matter in national politics as well despite having some members—MPs—in parliament. It’s strange that Sharmila is not utilising human rights platforms to build broader public opinion against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, across the country. By becoming Chief Minister of Manipur, she could serve her state people better, no doubt. But the fate of Armed Forces Special Powers Act will depend on the Centre. As insurgency or for that matter what they call terrorism, is a way of life for thousands of youth who have no future, it is next to impossible to think of a Manipur free from violence. Even if insurgency dies down, the security establishment won’t allow it to die because they have vested interests in maintaining a changed atmosphere all the time. If there is no enemy, they can always create one.

Unless massive mass protests erupt, as it is happening in Kashmir right now, in states outside Manipur nothing will change for the better. Sharmila will soon find herself bound by the status quo. Only popular movements across the country can thwart extra-judicial killings by the security forces in Manipur.

Vol. 49, No.11, Sep 18 - 24, 2016