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Dignity And Human Security In Manipur

In an order where human security is under constant threat and where basic human dignity is trampled on, there can be no national security.

The September 11 tragedy in the US brought the world into new security angst. The governments of the world came together to join the US led ‘˜War Against Terrorism’. But as there is no universal understanding of the term ‘˜terrorism’, 1 some governments are using this as pretext to aggressively push their own agenda in a highly self-serving and politically motivated fashion. This is quite conspicuous in South Asia, where the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir threatens the world with the prospect of nuclear holocaust. Internally, the Government of India’s national security mania is further heightened and the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was passed.

In this increasingly belligerent mood of the state, an assessment of its impact on the human security and dignified existence of the small ethnic communities in the Northeast’”which have been historically experiencing, for most part, only the brute side of the Indian state’”would be a worthwhile exercise. In this context, the paper intends to have a closer look at Manipur, arguably the most volatile state of the region.

POTA: Revisiting the Act:

Informed sources observed that the real intent of enacting the POTA, was not to address the act of terrorism per se but to neutralize the assertion of the ethnic, national and religious minorities which opposed the dominant Hindutva ideology of the ruling BJP.2 What gives credence to such a viewpoint is that not only are there existing laws to deal with the problem, but the stated objective of this new draconian Act and the way it defines terrorist act. The objective and reason for passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was ‘˜to control terrorist activity in the Northeast which witnessed insurgency since India’s independence and Jammu and Kashmir and the rise of religious fundamentalist militancy.’ The political overtone of the Act was obvious in the way it defined terrorist act in Section 3 (1) (a), which states, ‘˜Whoever with the intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India’¦do or abstain from doing anything’¦commits a terrorist act.’

The politically motivated overarching definition of a terrorist act includes ‘˜attempts to harbor or conceal’3 ‘˜terrorist’ as a terrorist crime. This had given ample scope for the law enforcement agencies to harass innocent civilians.

The politics behind the definition of terrorism is exposed by the list of ‘˜terrorist organizations’ appended under the Act’s schedule. The original list of terrorist organizations was provided by the Union Home Ministry and the Central Government reserved the right to add or remove an organization from the list.4 The list contained twenty eight organizations, out of which ten organizations were from the Northeast region. Out of these 10 organizations from the Northeast, six’”PLA, UNLF, PREPAK, KCP, KYKL and MPLF were from Manipur. It is interesting to note that these organizations were predominantly Meitei community based.5 Out of more than a dozen organizations of all ethnic hues listed as ‘˜unlawful organizations’ under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, the act of singling out these predominantly Meitei organizations as ‘˜terrorist organizations’ is highly intriguing. This kind of branding terrorist groups along ethnic lines leaves many observers guessing whether the Act was another ploy to ethnically polarize the state of Manipur.

National Security Concerns vis-a -vis Democracy:

In the name of ‘˜national security concerns’ the enforcement of various undemocratic acts in Manipur and other parts of the Northeast has been a part and parcel of the post colonial history of the Indian Democratic, Secular, Socialist, Republic. The impunity enjoyed by the armed forces under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) requires no additional laws as they can get away with almost anything and everything they do. Once an area is declared disturbed under Section 3 of this Act, it enables even a non-commissioned officer of the Armed Forces of the Union to search places, arrest persons, interrogate them and even shoot to death on ‘˜suspicion’ of disturbing ‘˜public order’.6 The armed forces are protected from any legal action for the acts committed under this Act.7

Since the inception of this Act, parts of Manipur have been declared disturbed under the Act. And the entire state has been declared disturbed since 1980 and the situation remains the same till date. The special power under the Act is routinely used by a large number of Armed Forces personnel stationed in Manipur. As a result, hundreds of suspected militants as well as ordinary civilians have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, extra-judicially executed; while cases of ‘˜involuntary disappearance’, rape and sexual harassment, etc are becoming commonplace.8

Even though the Supreme Court of India9 has, vide its judgment dated 27th November 1997, endorsed certain Dos and Don’ts, to be followed by the Armed Forces while operating under the AFSPA, they are followed more in breach than in compliance. Little can be done about this in the lack of a proper mechanism to address the compliance of the code of conduct. Even the National Human Rights Commission has been deprived of its jurisdiction over the Armed Forces.10

In a more recent order,11 on August 17, 2001, the Supreme Court allowed the Armed Forces to interrogate the persons arrested by them for collecting ‘˜operational intelligence’ before handing them over to the civil police and also allowed the Armed Forces to retain the weapons recovered from the militants without handing over to the civil police. This interpretation of the law has far reaching consequence to the human security concerns of the populace living under AFSPA.

Even though the AFSPA is the most notorious’”and understandably the most draconian’”and widely known law in Manipur, this is not the only ‘˜National Security’ law operating in Manipur. Some such laws documented by Human Rights Alert (HRA), an NGO working on human rights issues in Manipur, are as follows:

1. The Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911: Under this act, the district administration is authorized to stop public meetings ‘˜which are likely to promote sedition or to cause a disturbance of public tranquility in the proclaimed areas.’ Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur Districts were declared ‘˜proclaimed area’ under the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911 vide Government of Manipur Notification 2/8(6)/2K-H dated 26 April 2000. A subsequent order declared the entire state of Manipur as proclaimed area under this colonial Act.

2. The Punjab Security of State Act, 1953: Certain parts of Manipur valley is declared as ‘˜dangerously disturbed’ under the Punjab Security of State Act. Once declared as such, Section 10 of the Act enables the Government to impose collective fines on the civilian populations. HRA documents two instances where the District Magistrates imposed collective fines on the villagers for militant activities done in the vicinity of their villages.

3. Foreigner’s Protected Areas Order, 1958: Foreign nationals with a valid visa to India are prevented from entering Manipur unless a special permission is obtained from the Union Home Ministry of the Government of India. The Order is in operation for all times.

4. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967: Under this Act, 18 organizations in Manipur are declared as ‘˜unlawful’ organizations. Individuals alleged to be members or associates of these organizations could be arrested and detained without any evidence of him/her having committed any other legal offence. The Act is used daily by the police for counter insurgency operations.

5. The National Security Act, 1980: Under this law, a person can be detained without charges (preventive or administrative detention) for a period of up to one year. Routinely used for booking alleged insurgents or anti-nationals.

6. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Manipur Amendment) Act, 1983: The normal criminal procedure code of India is modified, in Manipur,12 as follows (a) Extending the period of Police investigation thereby extending the time of administrative detention; (b) Provide more impunity to law enforcement officials; (c) More stringent requirement for bail application. Moreover, prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC are perpetually placed in Imphal East and Imphal West Districts, thereby banning the gathering of five or more persons, which is likely to turn unlawful, and also carrying of sticks, stones, firearms or other weapons, or objects that can be used as weapons. People intending to take out processions for marriages or funerals are required to obtain prior permission from the D.C. The District Magistrates of the concerned Districts routinely issues an order to this effect every two months.

7. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985: The Act was allowed to lapse by the Parliament in 1995 but cases are still pending in Manipur under this act.

Violation of Human Rights: Some Recent Cases:

While appreciating the painstaking work done by the South Asian Terrorist Portal (SATP) group, one cannot help but have serious doubts on the credibility of the information and simplicity of the presentation and identification of a terrorist and a civilian. Experience in the field shows a clear pattern of the Armed Forces almost always branding a person killed as terrorist or killed in an encounter with the terrorist. And the civil authority is completely incapable of conducting an objective inquiry to ascertain the facts and know the truth. Some recent cases to illustrate this point are given below:

Dhirendra Case:

In the wee hours of the adjoining night of April 5’“6, 2002 troops of 17 Assam Rifles came to the house of one Thingnam Dhirendra at Kakwa Naorem Leikai, Imphal and took him away. According to Dhirendra’s mother, the captain leading the team was well acquainted with Dhirendra. But the following morning at 7.00 a.m. the AR personnel lodged an FIR with the Sekmai Police Station that Dhirendra was alleged to be a member of PLA, killed in a shoot out with them at the western side of Khonghampat, Imphal.

Dhirendra’s mother Th. Malika lodged a complaint with the Singjamei Police Station that her son was killed by the Assam Rifles after he was picked up from their house. Pressure was mounted on the Government of Manipur by the local community by forming a Joint Action Committee and started an agitation. The Government of Manipur instituted a Judicial Inquiry and appointed C. Upendra, retired District and Sessions Judge Manipur, to inquire the facts and circumstances leading to the arrest and subsequent killing of Dhirendra. The Commission could barely start its work, when the AR moved the Gauhati High Court, Imphal Bench on 15th May arguing that the State Government has no power to conduct such commission of inquiry on them.13 The same day the High Court stayed the Government of Manipur order constituting the Commission of Inquiry. Dhirendra’s case is no exception.

Pangei Incident:

On 9th April 2002 at Pangei Bazaar about five km to the north of Imphal, Miss Robita Chanu, 18 years, student of Naorem Bihari College and Mr. Khundrakpam Ashem Romajit Singh of Brighter Academy were allegedly killed in CRPF shooting following an ambush on the CRPF. CRPF flatly denies it. The next day the State Government announced a Magisterial Inquiry and appointed the DC Imphal East, as the Inquiry Officer to inquire into the incident and to complete the report within a month. The report is not submitted till date.

Sugunu Incident:

The same month in Sugnu, Thoubal district in the midnight of April 22’“23, 2002, in what was reported as a shoot-out by the BSF, A. Ngamlenthang Zou, 35, of Sugnu Zou Veng and his two minor daughters Mandeichun (10) and Nianggjuamnuan Zou (5) were killed. The Government agreed to conduct a magisterial inquiry on the killings of the civilian on April 24, but nothing happened thereafter.

Jane Alam Killing:

On August 2, 2002, Assam Rifles personnel reportedly shot down Md. Jane Alam of Hatta Minuthong, Imphal East, a 22 year-old computer student studying in Chennai who was on her vacation, right in front of her family members. The Assam Rifles called Jane an insurgent and alleged that she was killed in a shootout. The same day, the Government ordered a Magisterial Inquiry to find out the facts of the incident and appointed the DC Imphal East as the Inquiry Officer. The report was to be submitted within a month but no report has come out till date.

For the victims of gross human rights violations, the thumb rule is truth, justice and reparation. But under the AFSPA, even when the most basic and fundamental of all human rights’”the right to life’”is violated by summary execution of a citizen, the right to know the truth behind the incident is denied even to the State Government, let alone individual citizens.

Human Security in Manipur:

Being a part of the ‘˜Planned Economic Development of India’ for more than half a century, Manipur is left completely dependent on mainland India. In the past five decades the percentage of employment in the secondary sector has dwindled to less than half; while the tertiary sector expanded by more than double. With no corporate presence, the State Government is the single largest employer, accommodating a stupendous 93,000 employees. But today, in this age of disinvestments, the State Government cannot even pay their salaries. The Planning Commission has recommended drastic job cuts, to prune down the size to some 23,000. As it is, 4, 09,652 educated unemployed youths including 1, 05,367 female out of the State’s estimated population of 2,388,634, are officially registered as unemployed job seekers. Where would these people turn to for a source of livelihood?

Even though the Government’s call to the activists of the underground organizations to come back to the ‘˜mainstream’ continues, the reality today seems to be that rehabilitation is a hollow promise. For, the government is not even providing to those who have surrendered the basic requirements for food, shelter and clothing, leave alone providing alternative means of livelihood. There are also credible reports that surrendered underground activists are regularly used as mercenaries by the military for their counter insurgency operations. Six mothers of the surrendered underground activists finally approached the Manipur Human Rights Commission and the Commission had recommended to the Chief Secretary to provide the basic requirements of food, shelter and clothing to the surrendered underground activists. But despite repeated warnings from the Commission, the Government did not bother to even respond to the Commission.

On the contrary, the MHRC itself which is one institution trying to restore some semblance of human and fundamental rights to the people had to suspend its functioning since August 26, 2002. With the Government not releasing funds for payment of staff salaries since March 2002, clearly its existence was becoming unviable. Despite appeals from the civil society groups and student bodies, the Government has not fulfilled the basic needs of the Commission till date.

This statement reveals various elements of the militarist ideology. Patriotism was invoked and the army lauded. Foreign intervention was criticized and shown as hypocritical. And human rights violations were trivialized by equating them with traffic violations. And all this was used in an attempt to question the credentials of the media and to pressurize it not to report human rights violations. As we shall see below such pressures have been remarkably effective.

In a few cases, the armed forces have taken action against their personnel for human rights violations. In August 1988, an army lieutenant was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a woman in Ngaimu village, Manipur in January 1986. Often, the action taken is minimal. For instance, two army soldiers were dismissed from service and given one year’s imprisonment for raping a minor girl in Sibsagar district, Assam.

Conclusion:

In spite of this fairly comprehensive legal, institutional and administrative arrangement to safeguard and protect ‘˜National Security’ interests in Manipur over the year, the situation is getting from bad to worst. On the other hand, under these ‘˜security’ arrangements and policies, the people increasingly feel insecure and alienated from the authority. A fundamental principle that the policy makers of the region need to realize is that in an order where ‘˜human security’ is under constant threat and where basic ‘˜human dignity’ is trampled on, there can be no ‘˜national security’. Militarization and militarism only accentuate the threat to human security and ultimately national security as well.

The present state of human insecurity and indignity that mark people’s life in Manipur and the apathy of the authorities and the State are brought out sharply in the protest hunger strike of Irom Sharmila. This young Manipuri woman has been on an indefinite hunger strike since November 2000, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 from the State. She started her fast following the killing of 10 innocent civilians by the Armed Forces at Malom near the Imphal airport on 2nd November 2000. On the third day of her fast, the police arrested her on charges of attempting to commit suicide and was force-fed. In spite of constantly being shuttled between hospital and jail by the authorities and her dangerously deteriorating health, Sharmila’s spirit continues to transcend her vegetative existence and fight against injustice epitomized by draconian Acts like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. Sharmila’s endurance in fighting the injustice, which seemed to be growing day by day, on one hand, and the apathy of the authorities and the State exemplified by the refusal to revoke these Acts, on the other hand, mirror the tragic state of affairs in Manipur today.14

Notes & References:

1. UN Special Rapporteur on terrorism, who noted that the issue of ‘˜terrorism’ has been ‘˜approached from different perspectives and in such different context that it has been impossible for the international community to arrive at a generally accepted definition to this very day.’ The special Rapporteur also pointed out that ‘˜the term terrorism is emotive and highly loaded politically’ (UN Special Rapporteur on terrorism report contained in UN document no. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2001.31)

2. Balagopal. 2002. The POTA Politics, National Workshop on Security Law. New Delhi. The fact that this Act was passed by a government led by a political party whose government’s role in the recent carnage in Gujarat gives credence to such a viewpoint.

3. Section (3) Clause (4) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002

4. Section 18 (2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002

5. Given that the Meitei community, with a little more than a million population, is perhaps the community with highest per capita ‘˜terrorist organization’ not only in this country but perhaps in the whole world!

6. Section 4 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

7. Section 6 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

8. Later in the paper, a few examples of such cases are noted. However, the numbers of human right violations cases are too enormous to be accommodated in this paper. One can visit the following web site for these cases.

9. Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India, AIR 1998 Feb. 315.

10. Section 19 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1992.

11. Order dated 17-8-2001 of the Supreme Court of India, Criminal Original Jurisdiction, Criminal Miscellaneous Petition no. 4198 of 1999 in Writ Petition (Cril.) No. 550 of 1982, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India.

12. Manipur Gazette, Extraordinary no. 502 dated March 22, 1983 of the Government of Manipur.

13. This is an impunity enjoyed by the Armed forces under the Armed Forces Special Power’s Act.

14. As has been the general trend, mainstream media in the country choose to ignore the struggle of Sharmila and her people. However, the Asian People’s Network for Human Security (APNHS) has launched a campaign on her struggle. And a Hong Kong based human rights group, Asian Human Rights Commission, in collaboration with Human Rights Alert, Imphal, has put up a dedicated website on Sharmila’s struggle.

*The paper is written by Babloo Loitongbam

* The article was originally published at www.manipurresearchforum.org.

* The article has been published with due permission from the Manipur Research Forum.

* You may visit www.manipurresearchforum.org for further readings.

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