Exclusive: NHRC may declare 22 encounters in Manipur as 'fake'
Of 46 cases the commission heard in Imphal, 22 have been found to be not genuine. The panel is yet to rest its case on the remaining.
When the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) made its first ever visit to Manipur as a full Commission a fortnight ago, the members went through a critical process of conducting 44 hearings against complaints filed by victims of alleged fake encounters. The provisional results are shocking, though not quite surprising.
The members heard all the cases, two in the Full Commission (FC), 20 in one Division Bench (DB) and 22 in the other division bench. In the two FC cases, the NHRC had already declared earlier that the encounters were not genuine. The Commission is waiting for the state government to report on its compliance with its recommendations on providing relief to the next of kin.
Satyabrat Pal, NHRC Member, said: "On all the 20 (cases) in the Division Bench I sit on, we had either held earlier that the encounters were fake and had recommended relief or did so in Imphal after hearing the officers concerned." On the remaining 22 cases, the Commission is yet to come to a conclusion.
In short, the Commission appears to be confirming that there could be at least 22 cases of state abuse of human rights where the security forces in Manipur indulged in fake encounters. While this has not been made public yet, the findings and hearings of all these cases will be part of NHRC's annual report to be submitted to Parliament.
In one case going back to March 2005, a man identified as Lalnghaisan was shot dead by soldiers of the 19th Rajput Regiment in Churachandpur district of Manipur. The case was pending with the NHRC. According to a Ministry of Defence report, militants had fired on the soldiers from inside a house and then, in a counter attack, the soldiers entered the house and killed one person at close range. All the recoveries were listed by the army but they missed out something critical - spent cartridges. No proof was provided of fingerprints or swabs for gunshot residue, thus failing to prove that the soldiers were indeed fired upon.
In another case, the government defended the killing of a person with incorrect corroboration. The First Information Report stated that the alleged militant was holding a gun even after being shot, but his post-mortem report showed that the particular hand allegedly holding the gun was broken at the wrist. While the police claimed the victim was standing on a mound and shooting at the security forces, the post-mortem and ballistic report said the bullets entered the deceased’s body from above, which means he was on the ground and not at a height when shot by the police.
he government of Manipur and the security forces involved, including the Indian army, were contacted for their reaction on the findings of the NHRC, but none of the agencies responded.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of India set up a three-judge committee to examine a case alleging 1,500 fake - or staged - encounters in Manipur carried out by the Indian security forces. Led by Justice Santosh Hegde, the committee selected six cases and found that none of them were genuine. One of them indicted Major D Sreeram Kumar, who won the Ashok Chakra in 2009 (India’s highest peace-time gallantry medal), for what is now being called a fake encounter.
On the sidelines of its Imphal visit, the Commission also met civil rights activist Irom Sharmila, who, with her dogged determination, has kept the pressure on the state to act against rogue security personnel killing innocent people and getting away with impunity. The meeting lasted an hour and a half, during which she repeated her demand for the complete repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
AFSPA is a special Act that is intended to shield army personnel from unsubstantiated allegations, but many suspect that it also provides a cover for fake encounters.
Irom Sharmila’s interaction, which was recorded by the media (getting access to even meet her is rare), revealed disturbing elements of her lonely struggle. She told the Commission in no unclear terms that her supporters wanted her to fight alone but she was not getting enough backing. She revealed that human right groups were critical of her meeting her mother when she was admitted this year to the same hospital where she is detained. ‘They’, she said, held her for breaking a vow.
While Sharmila is determined to carry on her fight for justice, the culture of impunity is only getting stronger with the accused not facing trial for the offences committed. There is hardly any national outrage or a critical mass against scores of people being murdered routinely.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author of Che in Paona Bazaar.)
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