‘Right to Justice’ Deprived by State: Case of ‘Manorama Vs AFSPA’ from Manipur, India
Recently, the Supreme Court of India, in a case related to Thangjam Manorama Manipur, (who was allegedly killed in 2004 by Assam Rifles, a security force of government) directed the Government of India to award 10,00,000 INR or £10,340.00 GBP as compensation to Manorama’s mother. But the serious concern is that in spite of such direction, the court could not spell any judgment against the culprits in the case of Manorama and other similar cases yet.
I visited Manorama’s house two months ago and met her brother and mother. My visit was part ofa solidarity visit where I participated in Asian solidarity events organized by May 18 Memorial, Forum Asia and Just Peace Foundation at Imphal, Manipur.
‘I don’t want to speak anything’ were the words of Manorama’s mother Thangjam Khumanleima, when it was conveyed by our local host, a human rights activist, Babloo Loitongbam, that we all came from various parts of India and from abroad to meet her. We were there for 40 minutes but she remained silent and appeared full of sorrow, despair and anger.
Manorama’s brother Thangjam Dolen talked to us. He described what happened on that night of July 10-11 2004, when soldiers of Assam Rifles knocked on the door, called Manorama outside of house, tortured her, and forcefully took her away. They alleged that Manorama was associated with PLA (People’s Liberation Army), an insurgent group in north east India. The denial by Manorama did not stop them. After few hours, the dead body of Manorama was found on the roadside. People came to protest as they noticed that there were bullet shots in her private parts and therefore suspected rape by the soldiers.
There were massive protests across Manipur. 10 women had staged a nude protest in front of the historical Kangla Fort with a banner reading “Indian Army Rape Us”. These protests had forced the state government to order for an inquiry under the Justice Upendra Commission. However, Assam Rifles went to higher court in August 2004 and petitioned that no inquiry can be made as the concerned soldiers were protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and therefore, as per the AFSPA rule, a prior sanction is required from central government. While the Higher court (Guwahati High Court) had passed an order in the year 2010 and upheld that an inquiry commission could be set-up and the State of Manipur is authorised to act on the report of commission , however the Government of India moved to Supreme Court against this order. Now, Supreme Court of India agreed to hear the petition but only ordered compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs (INR) to the victim’s family.
It is a case that witnessed massive protest. Still 10 years on, the order was for compensation, not justice. There are many such cases, of rapes, fake killings, torture, reported and unreported in the AFSPA imposed areas of North East Region of India (through AFSPA 1958) and in Jammu & Kashmir (through AFSPA 1990). AFSPA provided extra-ordinary powers of shoot on suspicion, search and arrest. It also provides impunity to armed forces with its section 6 where no criminal case can be lodged against any armed force personals without prior sanction from central government. Unfortunately, the sanction has not ever been provided, not even in a single case.
AFSPA is a draconian law. It is responsible for gross human rights violations by security forces and many national/international human rights groups including UN bodies have called for India to repeal it, but it is still surviving.
During the recent parliamentary elections in India, the state unit of Manipur of BJP promised to repeal AFSPA if voted into power. It has been 7 months now since the BJP has come to power, but AFSPA remains operational.
This scenario where the right to justice of common people has been deprived by ‘impunity’ granted to functionaries of state violence has only worsened people’s despair and made them disillusioned by the state. Now it is upon the new government of India and civil society, together with activists from all over the globe to work towards the end of culture of violence and to ensure repeal of AFSPA and restore the right to life, the right to justice.