Friday, December 6, 2019 11:51 am IST

Home » Politics » Manipur: A History Of Strife

Manipur: A History Of Strife

KS Subramanian was part of an independent citizens’ fact-finding mission to Manipur that presents its findings in the capital on November 23. This article traces the history of violence in the strife-torn state and analyses the deteriorating situation since July 23, 2009

The political situation in the tiny, conflict-affected state of Manipur (population: 2.6 million) in the northeastern region has been explosive ever since the extra-judicial killings by local police commandos of two innocent individuals — the pregnant Rabina (23) and the surrendered militant Sanjit (25) — on July 23, 2009 at a crowded marketplace in the capital city of Imphal.   Our fact-finding team visited Manipur from November 5 to 10, 2009 to assess and report on human rights violations in the state from July 23, 2009 to the present.

A group of concerned senior citizens with whom I interacted blamed the central government for its inaction. They identified two major conflicts, which have been persistent in the state ever since the formal integration of the princely state of Manipur into the nascent nation-state of India in 1949: a still unresolved ‘˜vertical’ conflict with the Government of India and a ‘˜horizontal’ conflict with the Naga tribes people in the borderlands of the Manipur state who seek integration with the proposed ‘˜greater Nagaland’ at the cost of Manipur. The vertical conflict with the Government of India arose, according to them, from the dishonest methods adopted by India while incorporating Manipur into the newly emerging nation-state in 1949, which is still resented by sections of Manipuris who have resorted to armed militant action for independence from India. This conflict can only be resolved by sustained tripartite negotiations between the centre, the armed militants and elders who have no political affiliations but speak on behalf of the people.

The horizontal conflict arising from the demand for the partition of the state by sections of the Naga element in society can be resolved by the centre by suitably amending Article 3 of the Constitution of India to guarantee the geographical integrity of small-sized states such as Manipur. The senior citizens also identified rampant corruption and nepotism on the part of the ruling elites in the state as a major problem which needs urgent attention.

Desperate to deal with the ongoing public unrest, the authorities in Manipur made a recent call for the resumption of classes in schools and colleges which have remained boycotted by the angry and insecure people concerned over recent violence. But this requires prior negotiations between the people and the government, which cannot be held unless several demands of the people are met by a reluctant government. If the impasse remains unbroken, the central government cannot remain indifferent. Sections of the public met by the fact-finding team expressed the view that the centre should intervene to bring peace, if necessary, even by invoking the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution of India.

July 23, 2009

The fact-finding team met and interacted with the families of those killed in alleged recent fake encounters carried out by the state police. Harrowing and tearful tales of human rights violations were brought out. Women whose husbands/sole breadwinners have been killed narrated their woes in the absence of their husbands whose earnings alone were the sole support of their families; they and their children were starving. They demanded justice as well as income-earning opportunities to support themselves and their children. The women also demanded the resignation of the chief minister on moral grounds and the dismissal of the state DGP for gross dereliction of duty in tolerating fake encounters by his subordinates.

During our meeting with the chief minister at which the DGP was also present, we were told that it would not be possible for the government to provide employment opportunities to the families of all those killed since the numbers were large. The demand for the resignation of the chief minister and the dismissal of the state DGP were also naturally not acceptable.

The DGP informed the visiting team that about 260 people had been executed by the police since January 2006 as they were underground militants/activists. When the team expressed concern over the detention of the human rights activist Jiten Yumnam, the DGP justified the detention stating that he was found to have connections with the underground militants. The chief minister stated that he was ready to have a second round of discussions with those agitating over the violent incidents of July 23, 2009 but several of their demands could not be met. He added that the repeal of the AFSPA was a matter for the central government. The team called for the transparent investigation of all cases registered under the NSA and other laws. Cases of extra-judicial executions should similarly be transparently investigated and the guilty punished. The team learnt that about 150 persons are held in the state prison as detainees under the National Security Act (NSA). The team interacted with some of the former detainees.

On November 6 the team was happy to meet Irom Sharmila Chanu, now in the tenth year of her heroic fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. It calls upon the government to provide similar access to other civil society members. Her family members should be permitted to meet her on a regular basis. Being allowed only a limited number of visitors, she expressed her desire to meet, see and speak to more people more often. Her strength and courage in undertaking the longest satyagraha in the world, completely peaceful and non-violent, leaves us in awe of her struggle. Her demand for the repeal of the AFSPA should be actively considered in the light of several official recommendations.

Since Mahashweta Devi was denied permission to meet her the previous day, Sharmila handed over a letter to the team members for the respected Magsaysay Award winner. She further expressed her concern over the number of innocents that were dying every day in Manipur due to the high degree of violence in the state.

Through our discussions in Imphal, the team came across repeated allegations against the security forces. The team expresses its deep concern over the deteriorating situation and the prevailing climate of impunity in Manipur. It conveys its solidarity with the victims of violence and calls for adequate recompense to the hapless women and children who have lost their husbands/fathers/sons/sole breadwinners and employment opportunities to them.

Many have alleged these killings as fake encounters ‘“ as killings of innocents who perished either in custody or otherwise, but without legal sanction. Each of these allegations should be transparently investigated and the guilty punished. Further, there have been charges of using preventive detention laws to curb citizens’ democratic rights to protest and freely express their views. The high degree and frequency of violation of human rights in the state is also cause for alarm. Restoration of peace and order must go hand in hand with the promotion of the rule of law and justice for the sustenance of democracy.

Official sources have revealed following information about the police manpower deployed in the state as of November 1, 2009:

Strength of Manipur Rifles (MR) and India Reserve Battalions (IRB): 10,396 (6 battalions each)

Strength of various civil police units: 5,056

Strength of Central Paramilitary Forces (CRPF and BSF): 10, 450

Strength of Army/Assam Rifles: 10 battalions and 26 battalions respectively

Strength of Home Guards: 2,312

The data on cases registered and number of persons/cases convicted for the last two years were as follows:

2008 Number of cases registered: 3,349; Convicted 67 persons in 64 cases.

2009 Number of cases registered (up to 8/11/09): 3,348; convicted 26 persons in 15 cases.

It will be seen from the above figures that i) Manipur with a population of only about 2.6 million, has too many military, paramilitary forces and too few civilian police forces, which means that the basic purpose of policing, namely service delivery to the public, is down- graded at the cost of maintenance of order which is prioritized; ii) the number of cases registered per year (including normal crime and extraordinary crime) is not large and the rate of conviction is poor. Both the features are disturbing.

About the violent incidents on July 23, 2009 which have provoked nationwide concern and outrage and has brought about the visit to Manipur by the present fact-finding team, the sequence of events may briefly be traced pending receipt of further information.

On July 23, 2009 in the forenoon, the Manipur police commandos were carrying out frisking operations against suspected terrorists on the well-known arterial BT Road. A young man with a firearm was apprehended but escaped police custody. While chasing him to recover the firearm, the commandos resorted to indiscriminate firing/or fired carelessly (whichever may be the case). Or perhaps the safety device on one of the   firearms was not on. One of the bullets from the automatic weapon carried by a commando hit and killed the 23-year-old and pregnant woman, Rubina. Police commandos were discomfited by this unplanned killing and started looking for an appropriate scapegoat for the killing. Luckily, they were able to locate surrendered militant Sanjit who was doing some medical shopping on behalf of his relative. The police commandos caught hold of Sanjit, dragged him into a nearby pharmacy/watch repair shop, shot him dead at point blank range and planted a weapon on him to convince the public that he had shot and killed Rubina. Both the bodies were then placed in a truck and taken away. The police then put out the story that Sanjit, surrendered militant, was the man behind the killing of Rubina. However, the photographs published in the Tehelka magazine told a different tale and appeared to disprove the police story. The two violent killings by the police commandos and the explanation put out by them were disbelieved by the public. There was outrage and protest which led to demonstrations.

However, at our meeting with him, the state DGP had maintained that Sanjit was a hardened militant and that the Tehelka photos were fakes.

The beginnings of strife

The armed conflict between the Indian state and non-state actors in Manipur has been a long-standing issue. The Indian state has tended to view the conflict basically as ‘˜internal disturbances’, which necessitate the large-scale deployment of armed forces and central paramilitary police forces and the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 in aid of the civil administration.

The AFSPA has been in operation in the state since 1980. The Act provides wide powers to the armed forces of the union, including the power to shoot on suspicion when an area comes under its purview. No legal action can be initiated against the armed forces for misusing the law without prior approval of the union government.

With the prolonged imposition of the Act, the cycle of violence has spread geographically and in intensity. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, torture, rape, housebreak, loot, arbitrary detention etc have become everyday features of life in Manipur. And yet, few perpetrators of these gross violations of human rights are ever prosecuted. Thus, the armed forces enjoy complete impunity and immunity under the Act.

The prolonged imposition of the Act and the resulting human rights violations have contributed to the growth of numerous militant groups rather than containing insurgency. Police records say that there are more than 38 underground outfits operating in the state.

Many of these groups have so many factions that one if often confused in trying to distinguish the different factions. Their brand of revolution based on extortion, kidnapping for ransom, kangaroo courts and summary executions, bomb blasts and terror tactics has led to increasing discontent among the general public against the non-state actors.

The previously vocal civil society organizations have been immobilized by the state government with charges of siding with the banned organizations. This situation gives unofficial sanction for elimination of any suspect and a killing spree.

In 2008 alone, the state witnessed the killing of more than 285 ‘˜suspects’ by the security forces. Many of these cases have remained unexplained. Families of victims or eyewitnesses of the killings who say that the deceased ‘˜suspects’ were first arrested, then taken to another place  and then brutally murdered are silenced by the state forces.

Thus, domestic laws and international human rights standards are routinely flouted by the agencies of the state. Respect for the law on conflict and the basic tenets of international humanitarian law are lacking in both state and non-state agencies.

Using data collected from newspaper reports and reports by some human rights organizations in 2008, the following appreciation of the situation in Manipur can be made.

Manipur was an independent kingdom before the coming of the British in the 19th century. Manipuris are ethnically and culturally distinct from the people of mainland India and more akin to the peoples in South East Asia. The British conquered Manipur in 1891, after overcoming stiff resistance. The first Kuki armed resistance against the colonial power broke out in 1917. In 1939, a spontaneous uprising by women against exploitative colonial economic policies took place.

Manipur regained independence from the British in August 1947. A constitutional monarchy was established under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947 and elections on the basis of universal adult franchise and secret ballot were held in 1948. The Maharaja of Manipur, however, was forced to sign the controversial Manipur Merger Agreement with India in 1949. The elected legislative assembly was dissolved, and the council of ministers disbanded followed by direct rule from Delhi. Manipur became a union territory of India in 1963 and an Indian state in 1972.

A fertile alluvial valley extends from north to south in the middle of Manipur, which is surrounded on all sides by hill ranges forming a part of the eastern Himalayas. Though it constitutes only about 12% of the total geographical area, the valley is populated by more than 75% of the total population of about 2.6 million.

Among the Manipuris, the Meiteis form the largest ethnic group traditionally inhabiting the fertile valley region. The surrounding hill ranges are settled by many hill tribes such as the Nagas and the Kukis. While the Meiteis thrive on wet cultivation, the tribal population subsists largely on the slash-and-burn cultivation and relies heavily on the valley for basic needs.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act

An underground movement for independence began in 1964 with the founding of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). Other outfits followed in the late-1970s. Mention may be made of the Revolutionary Peoples Front and its armed wing Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and later on the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). In the hills, there are Naga outfits like the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) and Kuki outfits like Kuki National Organization and its armed wing Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki National Front (KNF), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), Kuki Liberation Organization and its armed wing Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) etc.

The tremors of the movement for independence in Nagaland also reached the Naga-inhabited districts of Senapati and Ukhrul in Manipur. As the state forces failed to contain the movement, the army was called in. To facilitate army operations, a legal framework was introduced in the shape of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

The Act is a direct descendant of the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance 1942 that the British rulers promulgated to suppress the Indian freedom struggle. The present Act is however much more draconian but is applicable only in distinct geographical regions.

After modifications, the 1958 ordinance became harsher than the colonial ordinance of 1942. Parts of Manipur were declared ‘˜disturbed areas’ under the Act. The whole of Manipur was declared a ‘˜disturbed area’ under the Act in 1980.

With the continuation of the Act, the cycle of violence has grown in geographical spread and in intensity. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, torture, rape & molestation, housebreaking, looting, arbitrary detention etc have become a part of everyday life in Manipur. And yet, few violators of human rights are brought to justice. For all practical purposes, the armed forces enjoy complete immunity under the Act.

An international human rights agency in 2008 documented the failure of justice in Manipur under the AFSPA. The agency noted that ‘security forces are bypassing the law and killing people on suspicion that they are militants instead of bringing them before a judge. In the name of national security and armed forces morale, the state protects abusers and leaves Manipuris with no remedy to secure justice.’

Though the operation of the Act was eventually withdrawn from the Imphal municipal area, the state police commandos operating along with paramilitary forces continue killing suspects with bravado, which has percolated to the state forces too.

Focusing only on the so-called ‘˜encounters’ between state forces and suspected and banned underground militant groups in 2008, the emerging pattern is one of escalation in the number of questionable killings in the state.

‘˜Encounter’ killings

Some distinctive features in the so-called encounters are — isolated locations; absence of casualties on the part of security forces; recovery of 9 mm pistol or hand grenades in most cases; combination of force from the police commandos units and central security forces; the slain victim being taken away from home or elsewhere and killed at another place; theft of money, mobile phones and other valuables from the victims; and so on.

In most of these cases, the local Meira Paibis (women’s associations) and villagers in the vicinity of the place of occurrence said that either the victims were brought there and killed or were already dead and dumped there after firing some shots in the air. There are many instances of protest by the local inhabitants against bringing and shooting of detainees at such spots. There are even instances of confrontations between the local Meira Paibis and the security forces over bringing and shooting detainees at such locations.

In all these cases, the police or security forces do not suffer any casualties. In most of them, security forces claim resorting to retaliatory firing and in some cases, even claim recovery of empty cases or fired cartridges.

The majority of the recoveries made from the sites of encounters are 9 mm pistols and hand grenades. Even if claims are made by bereaved families that the victims were innocent, recoveries of the weapons are made. Such weapons are always carried by the security forces so as to plant them on victims when needed.

The case studies in 2008 show that the security forces involved in many cases are combined teams of the Manipur Police Commandos and either army or paramilitary forces.

Under the AFSPA, the armed forces are immune from penalty for their acts. However, this sense of not having to answer for their actions has percolated down to the state forces to such an extent that the Manipur Police Commandos freely kill people on their own without fearing consequences. Such impunity has filtered down to the state security forces and created a new state-sponsored terrorist group in the form of the Police Commandos. Instituted for the purpose of containing insurgency in the state, the Manipur Police Commandos have digressed from their stated purpose to embark on a path of seeking to fulfill personal agendas.

EN Rammohan, IPS (Retd), former advisor to the Governor of Manipur states: ‘In Manipur, civil policemen and officers were selected and trained as commandos. Although they did a good job initially, they soon deteriorated into a state terrorist force due to faulty leadership. They started extorting money from the business community, picking a leaf out of the insurgents’ book. What were the consequences for the hapless public? Here were five to six underground groups extorting money from the traders and here was a special wing of the police force, set up to arrest the underground, who also demanded their share of the extortion pool’¦’

A number of case studies have revealed the Manipur Police Commandos acting independently and carrying out ‘˜encounters’ without the assistance of the army or paramilitary forces. The state government remains a mute spectator to such killings and the usual protests and agitations which follow. Thus, the state security forces also enjoy the same immunity as the armed forces.

Indeed, the number of killings of ‘˜suspects’ by the police are even considered achievements and the perpetrators are rewarded with cash incentives, medals and gallantry awards by the state government which ultimately serves as a stepping stone to promotion. The audacity of the state government in doling out such incentives and awards to the very perpetrators of such atrocities fuels the security forces further to even more blatant killings. These are nothing but instances of state terrorism.

In many case studies in 2008, independent reports claim that the places of occurrence of the ‘˜encounters’ were different from the ones claimed by the police. It often transpires that the victims were picked up from their residences or from their locality by the security forces followed by police claims that they were killed in encounters.

In many cases, the local Meira Paibis and inhabitants claim that the victims were either brought and shot there or were already dead and dumped there by the security forces. In one case, the leaders of 19 villages in and around New Keithelmanbi area held a public meeting to protest against the ‘˜fake encounters’ in the area claiming all encounters within the said area were fake. There are instances of Meira Paibis protesting against the bringing and shooting of alleged militants at the spot, sometimes even leading to confrontations between them and the security forces.

Another issue of importance is the recovery of large sums of money from the person of the victim. Family members often say that the victim left home with a substantial sum of money, which is not reflected in the recovery memos of the police. Recoveries of incriminating pistols and grenades are almost always made in the aftermath of alleged encounters but recoveries of sums of money are seldom recorded. Genuine concerns thus arise as to whether the financial aspect played a vital role in the killing of the victims concerned. The situation has come to such a pass that the people of the state feel extremely insecure in carrying large amounts of cash on their persons, even for personal or business purposes.

The recruitment of personnel for the Manipur Police Department is a big issue. Large numbers of police personnel are recruited frequently. The recruitment processes are conducted with a semblance of transparency but always reek of large-scale corruption. Once the initial hurdle of selection and appointment has been overcome by a candidate, the clamor for the coveted place of posting in the state commando unit begins, as commando units offer useful avenues for making money by various methods including encounter killings of suspected militants, which can earn the commando recognition and rewards, cash incentives, medals and gallantry awards. In other words, gaining recognition for ‘˜devotion and dedication’ to duty is more expeditious for the commando unit than the ordinary police force. As a result, a paradigm shift has occurred in the mode of operation of the police commando units contrary to the purpose for which they are set up. The police commandos are more concerned with the achievement of their personal agendas than with the main objective of maintaining public order and security of the state, thereby straying from their primary objectives.

On July 12, 2008, the state security forces abducted one Ziaur Rahman Shah, the son of the chief engineer of the minor irrigation department, along with his two friends, confiscated their belongings including a laptop, three mobile phones, and money amounting to Rs 14,600, and released them with the promise of paying a ransom amount of Rs 300,000. Ziaur Rahman and his friends lived to tell their tale.

The situation today is such that people are being eliminated not only for possessing substantial amounts of money but even paltry sums.

A further aspect that requires serious consideration is the ‘˜relief’ usually proffered to the families of victims. Though the state government usually skirts the payment of compensation to most of the families by labeling the victims members of a proscribed outfit, the few who do obtain such compensation are compelled to be content with paltry sums doled out to them since such families are normally poverty-stricken.

Numerous fact-finding commissions have been instituted to inquire into controversial incidents in the past. However, in no case has the findings of such commissions been revealed to the public, nor the errant personnel punished. The findings of such inquiries are eventually shelved. Though in some cases departmental inquiries are launched, these rarely reach a conclusion.

Another disturbing trend, especially among the tribal population in the hill areas, is the appeasement measure usually undertaken by the security forces to subdue the hue and cry following the extra-judicial killing of an individual by resorting to the prevailing local custom of mankad. According to this local custom, whenever someone violates the custom and tradition of a particular tribal community, mankad allows the ‘˜wrong’ to be ‘˜righted’ by offering a feast to members of the offended village by the offending party along with a negotiated sum of money proffered as compensation.

The security forces, especially the army authorities, have learnt to take advantage of this local custom by offering mankad to the offended community whenever an extra-judicial killing is perpetrated by them after which the lips of the community are permanently sealed. In this way, any semblance of protest against such atrocities is silenced. Over and above the rampant instances of extra-judicial killings in the state, cases of arbitrary detention and torture are routine.

In almost all these cases of detention, denial seems to be the key word of the security forces. The claims of the victims are silenced with fear of reprisals or they are left persisting with their own versions and any protests or agitations arising from the same are left unattended by the authorities concerned to be forgotten in due course of time.

Failure to act

The demands of civilian populations of the state to repeal the draconian laws and the recommendations of  international bodies to review and repeal AFSPA and the failure of the Indian government to take any action on the recommendation of the Jeevan Reddy Committee to repeal AFSPA has elicited the comment: ‘The Indian government has not only ignored the pleas of ordinary Manipuris and UN human rights bodies to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, but has even ignored the findings of its own committee. This reflects the sort of callousness that breeds anger, hate and further violence.’

*The article is written by KS Subramanian.

*The author was part of the Independent Citizens Fact-finding Mission to Manipur in November 2009, in the wake of heightened tensions in the state since July 2009. Other members of the team were Sumit Chakravartty, Editor, Mainstream, Kavita Srivastava, PUCL National Secretary, and Vasundhara Jairath of Delhi Solidarity Group. Dr K S Subramanian, IPS (retd), belonged to the Manipur-Tripura cadre and is currently Visiting Professor, Jamia Millia University, New Delhi. The author would like to thank numerous informants in Manipur for providing him the data used in this report and for discussions. He does not wish to name them.

*The article was earlier published November 2009.

(Courtesy: Infochange News & Features)

*You may read the article at

Enhanced by Zemanta
Number of Views :1321

Related Sites:

*The Sangai Express- Largest Circulated News Paper In Manipur
*E-Pao! :: Complete e-platform for Manipuris

Share |

*All postings on this website are provided “AS IS” from the source duly mentioned at the end of the post. It comes with no warranties, and confer no rights. All entries in this website are the views/opinions of the writers and don’t necessarily reflect the view/opinion of ManipurOnline.

Leave a comment