On April 12, the Central government filed a curative petition with the Supreme Court, seeking recall of two orders given by the Court on July 8, 2016 relating to impunity enjoyed by the Armed Forces for killing innocent people under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Supreme Court had ruled that AFSPA did not give impunity to the armed forces to carry out killings of innocent people. It had directed that all allegations of killings of innocent people in fake encounters in the state be probed. However, the court is yet to pass an order on which agency should investigate these cases.
The July 8 judgment was the outcome of a petition filed in 2012, by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, a group of family members of those killed by security forces in fake encounters in Manipur. The petition had documented 1,528 fake encounters in Manipur since the 1970’s and pointed out that action had not been taken against the army personnel involved in even one case.
The Supreme Court had ruled that “there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court” even in what is declared a “disturbed area”. It had observed that “If members of our armed forces are deployed and employed to kill the citizens of our country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are ‘enemy’ not only the rule of law but our democracy would be in grave danger. …. Every death caused by the armed forces, including in the disturbed area of Manipur should be thoroughly enquired into if there is a complaint or allegation of abuse or misuse of power.”
The Central government’s petition comes at a time when the Supreme Court is scheduled to decide which agency will investigate the fake encounters, on April 18, 19 and 20. The Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association had sought a probe by either the Central Bureau of Investigation or a Special Investigation Team set up for the purpose.
The Attorney general representing the government of India, Mukul Rohatgi has argued that the order would “be detrimental to the morale of the armed forces”, hamper the functioning of the Army and its “ability to respond to insurgent and terrorist situations.” The government’s petition has declared that in Manipur the situation is one of “war” and “insurrection”, and “actions taken by the armed forces in such a situation cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny”.
The petition of the Central Government reveals the utter cynicism and contempt of the Indian state for the people of Manipur. The Indian state justifies rape, torture and murder of innocent people by the armed forces in the name of upholding the “morale of the armed forces”. The same state which justifies the terrorist rule of the armed forces, also imposes periodic elections on the people, and advertises this as a victory of “rule of law” and “democracy”.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 is a draconian act that gives the armed forces the right to shoot to kill, rape and plunder, abduct, arrest and torture people, raid, search and loot their homes and belongings, on grounds of mere suspicion, without any provocation or justification. The armed forces personnel cannot be tried in any civil court of law and enjoy complete immunity for their crimes against the people.
The Indian state has always dealt with the people of Manipur and other peoples of the North East in a typical colonial imperialist manner, by crushing their just aspirations through force of arms. The struggle of the people of Manipur for their rights has been portrayed by the Indian state as “secessionist” and a “threat to the national unity and territorial integrity”, to justify the bestial brutalities of the armed forces against the people.
The demand for the repeal of AFSPA and an end to the state terror in Manipur has been a persistent and long-standing demand of the people of Manipur and of democratic forces in the country. However, each and every government at the centre, regardless of which political party it has been led by, has consistently refused to fulfil this just demand, citing the same time-worn excuse of it being a “disturbed area” and that requiring the armed forces to respect human rights and be subject to the rule of law would upset their “morale”.
In fact, the denial of national rights, democratic rights and blatant violation of human rights is the cause for Manipur being a “disturbed area”. The longstanding and continuing movement for democracy and national liberation in Manipur, which is called “insurgency” by the Indian ruling class, is the result of, and in response to the denial of rights and the brutality of the state.
The demand for immediate repeal of the AFSPA and withdrawal of the armed forces to their barracks is entirely just and the necessary first step towards a lasting solution to the problems plaguing Manipur.