On the 23rd of July, 2009 an ex-PLA youth, who had been living a normal life for some time was brutally murdered in broad daylight, in cold blood, in Khwairamband bazar in Imphal by Manipur policemen. Another in th elong line of murders committed by uniformed personnel.
This was not the first such incident and surely it will not be the last. The para military and the army have to fill their quota of insurgents eliminated and they will continue to do so in similar cowardly manner. But next time they will ensure that there are no cameras present. They will revert to killing insurgents, ex-insurgents, and innocents stealthily. The New Delhi magazine Tehelka had published pictures of the murder in its 1st August issue. Only then there was large scale revulsion, which included even our Prime Minister.
However, after the dust and the din is settled it will be the uniform that will continue to have free use of bullets. No one in the Government would like to disturb the status quo where the forces can do what ever they want under the AFSPA. There is nothing to separate them in actions from the insurgents, who are just as blood thirsty. However, it is not expected for a disciplined force to behave in brutal and callous disregard of laws and human rights.
Ever since 1956 at least such brutalities perpetrated by the armed forces have been common. In 1956 Dr. Haralu, an 82 year old popular Naga doctor, was walking near the Kohima Cemetery, Nagaland with his 5 year old grand daughter when he was needlessly shot and killed by an Army patrol. No suitable action was taken as it was felt that it would demoralise the forces. No such thought was given to the people who were nauseated by this brainless and wicked performance. Since then there have been innumerable such incidents of rape and carnage and no salutary action has been taken against any armed forces offender.
Nandita Haksar, the fearless human rights lawyer, has detailed many such atrocities in her excellent book "Naga File".
Illusion of perfect peace: Picture of fields taken from Maibamlokpaching>>In Novmber 1987 while destroying cannabis fields in Ukhrul district of Manipur I met a lady constable from Manipur Armed Police, who were helping us in these operations. She had a closely cropped hair style, wore sun glasses and always appeared very upset. With great difficulty a heart rending story was blurted out. She was from a village near Kamjong, which is to the east of Ukhrul and not the Khamjong on way to Pallel, and was a close relative of a prominent insurgent. Her village used to be raided frequently by the Army and Assam Rifles. One night when she was just sixteen years old the soldiers raped her, killed her fatehr and permanently maimed one of her brothers. For a while she had thoughts of revenge, but her family compelled her to escape to Imphal and persuaded her to hide as a police woman.
I have written about this episode in my book on the North East called "Lands of Early Dawn."
There are innumerable other such incidents. Will the Prime Minsiter open up all of them? Can he guarrantee that these shocking brutalities will not be repeated? Is he at all interested in making more than a few sympathetic noises? Or is he hoping that public memory is short and they will forget such incidents? I can assure him that no one has forgotten any such incident. And there are many.
Five or six years or so ago there was that shooting incident in and outside the Medical College at Imphal. On a January morning an impatient CRPF soldier wanted to relieve himself but all the toilets were full. In impatient, indisciplined and typical anger of a uniformed man he kicked open a door. The youth inside retaliated by beating him up. The result: there was indiscriminate firing that killed several including an Arunachali student from the medical college, who had just come back from home leave, and was ringing up his parents to inform them that he had arrived safely. He was shot in the PCO!
In 2000, a little beyond Imphal Airport, 10 people standing at a bus stop were killed in an unprovoked brutal firing by Assam Rifles. One of those killed was an 18-year-old National Child Bravery Award winner. This is the notorious incident that led the brave lady Irom Sharmila to undertake a fast that still continues today.
Many people think that it is in the self propagating interest of the armed forces to have such incidents. For, there will be protests and some mayhem which will require to be repressed severely. Thus these goons in uniforms will not allow peace to prevail for more than a few weeks, before another human rights violation leads to a cycle of protests and suppression and demands for more funds for the forces! Just as it is happening in Kashmir, where the atrocities are even worse and don't get noticed as much. No soldier or bureaucrat or politician has the courage to stop these brutalities, which are one of the reasons that fuel insurgency.
These are only a few of the incidents. There are many more in other parts of the North East. Each has left an indelible blot on people's minds. Each such incident only feeds the insurgency, even though people of the Norht East are disgusted with the insurgents as well. Remember that heart rending sight of Metei ladies protesting naked outside the Kangla fort in the autumn of 2004? It revolted every one- except soldiers, bureaucrats and politicians. They just devised new comfort arguments to justify whatever they had been doing and will perpetrate in the future. That is why that why the Manipur Police had 74 gallantry awards out of the 212 that were distributed all over India on Independence Day this year. (Indian Express, 24th of August, 2009)
For the past few years the people of Manipur, by and large, were turning against the insurgents. Their fight would have been easier had there been no atrocities by the forces. As long as there are atrocities, it will be difficult to stop insurgency. Will there be no end? Is there no leader principled enough to put a stop to this? Till then this beautiful land will continue to hear agonising screams. Chongkham will not be the last.
The same nightmarish experiences are being heaped often in Kashmir too.