EDITORIAL: Wheels Of Justice

The pictures remain as fresh as they were and while time may have done its bit of being the “best healer” the scar still remains and it will take more than the hands of a top cosmetic surgeon to remove it completely. It is now nearly two years since Th Rabina, a young pregnant housewife was shot dead in the middle of BT Road, just next to the BT Flyover and Ch Sanjit was killed under contesting claims by police commandos. July 23, 2009, will not be just another date on the calendar to a number of people for different reasons.  Tehelka became an overnight vocabulary for the common people of Manipur, after it came out with a series of photographs, which showed the police commandos accosting Sanjit, then pushing or shoving him inside a pharmacy and later coming out with his lifeless body with the claim that he was shot dead in an encounter.

The series of photographs were carried in the August 1, 2009 edition of Tehelka and all Imphal based daily newspapers carried the photographs and story from Tehelka on August 2, 2009. The days that followed the expose’ by Tehelka will not be easily forgotten for a number of reasons, and it wouldn’t amount to exaggerating things if we were to say that the July 23, 2009 incident threw up a couple of heroes and unmasked a number of frauds, who had achieved a certain degree of social status for “standing up for issues which directly affect the life of the common people of Manipur.” The heroes and heroines of the days that followed the BT Road killings were undoubtedly the common people, who took to the streets and braved the lathis and smoke bombs in their quest for justice.

It was probably the first time in the history of insurgency in Manipur that a banned organization came out so strongly against the Opposition members for not discharging their duties as representatives of the people. The scathing criticism came after none of the senior Opposition members questioned the Chief Minister‘s statement on the floor of the House that Sanjit was killed in an encounter while Rabina was killed in the cross fire. Very significantly the verbal attack against the Opposition came days before Tehelka came out with its series of damning photographs and Chief Minister O Ibobi was accused of deliberately trying to mislead the House.

This accusation itself was serious enough, but more than that, the July 23 incident also gave credence to stories of fake encounters staged by the police commandos and increasingly the men in khakis came to be identified as the predator rather than the protector of the people. Its conduct during the protests that followed only eroded its credibility with even the foreign media chipping in with their comments and reports/photographs which did not cast the State force in any good light. Chief Minister O Ibobi also demonstrated how stubborn or resilient, depending on which way one looks at it, he can be and not only survived the crisis but also managed to turn the table against the champions of “Quit Ibobi” campaign.

If we can pin point one reason why the incident which happened nearly two years ago still disturb us, then it has to be the bare fact that justice is still a long way to go. Moreover there is the not so audible but silently uttered voice of silence that says that the months long agitation went off in vain as none of the major demands on which basis the people carried on the agitation for months were met. Apart from the charge sheets filed by the CBI against some police commandos, we have not seen the State Government taking up any proactive stand on the matter. By this we are not in any way stating or even hinting that the police are guilty of custodial killing, but the stoic silence, bordering on indifference, maintained by the State Government only added fuel to the fire.

Remember it was days after the people first took to the streets that the Chief Minister deemed it fit to address the people via the media. Justice (Retd) Aggarwal is yet to submit his report to the Government and the CBI has just started the process of filing charge sheets against some police commandos. In between, the people of Manipur woke up to the grisly fact that Rabina was carrying a fetus at least six months old, when her life was cruelly snuffed out. The picture of the earthen pot in which the fetus was kept before it was buried with due rituals, told many a story and it continues to haunt the collective conscience of the people.

The realization of the fact that nothing was gained from the months of agitation, including the nearly four months boycott of all educational institutions, the fact that none of the major demands were met when the agitation was called off, the fact that other than some cosmetic changes such as effecting the transfer and posting of some police officers, no major decision was taken, all combined to make the July 23 incident all that more bitter. Reports indicate that the Aggarwal Commission may submits reports any day to the Government in April  and no one is sure what the report would say, especially in the backdrop of the fact that no one from the side of the victims turned up before the Commission to record their statements. It is not about retribution or seeking one’s pound of flesh, but is all about the deliverance of justice and living up to the core meaning of democracy.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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