Chungkham Sanjit Meitei. When I heard that name on Wednesday, a series of images flashed across my mind: Two murders, grieving families, a toddler playing with a red plastic car, angry villagers, road blockades and protests.
It was August 2009. Sanjit, a suspected member of the insurgent group People’s Liberation Army, had been killed —rather murdered — a few weeks earlier in Imphal by the Manipur Police. The state, even though it is used to violence and bloodshed unleashed by the State and the ‘parallel State’ — the insurgent groups — was on the boil by the time I reached Imphal.
“They killed my son… he was not a militant. Such fake encounters anger the youth… push them to militancy,” his mother Chungkham Taratombi told me and angry neighbours raised slogans against chief minister Ibobi Singh, who has been in the saddle since 2002.
“In Manipur, young boys often get accosted by militants but that doesn’t mean they are members of these groups,” she added. That’s true: The people of the state are in the same boat as tribals in Chhattisgarh; caught between the security forces and the militants/Maoists, they have become collateral damage in this shadowy war between the State and the insurgents.
Now, six years later, the case is back in the news after Herojit Singh, a Manipur Police head constable, “confessed” before the media that he shot an unarmed Sanjit because his then boss Akoijam Jhalajhit — the current superintendent of police of Imphal (West) — ordered him to do so. Jhalajhit has denied the charge; and the Centre has asked for a report. It is important to remember here that the police don’t have the Afspa shield and the law is not applicable in the capital city.
Why is Herojit saying this now? He says he fears for his life. That’s not good enough an explanation; there is more to it than meets the eye in this murky world of security forces and insurgent groups. The “confession” also goes against the versions that the police gave in court and to the CBI. Herojit is one of the nine accused policemen in the case being probed by the investigative agency.
While the media is agog with Sanjit’s and Herojit’s story, it would be criminal to forget Rabina Devi, a 22-year-old mother who was hit by a stray bullet minutes before Sanjit’s killing. Who killed her and why? There are no answers. “Encounters and cover-ups are daily here… nothing... absolutely bloody nothing works in the police force. Whereas this is the department that actually runs the state, providing legal protection for corruption and killing,” writes senior journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee in Blood on my hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters.
The opening chapter of his book, Manhunts, recounts the way security forces are involved in ‘body shopping’ for meeting their month-end ‘targets’. Along with State-sanctioned killings, there are a large number of unknown, unnamed and unclaimed men and women who have been hunted down by the state for its officials’ advancement or gratification. That’s ‘body-shopping’. A visit to Imphal gives the feeling that anything can happen in this state. And, there is something in the city’s air: A mix of fear, uncertainty, anger and helplessness.
Manipur is a failed state. No one’s really interested in it. Insurgency and the killings will not end. In fact, they can’t. There are too many vested interests involved there: Promotions and political careers, and, most importantly, insurgency is a money-spinner and everyone, just about everyone in power, has their hand in the till. It’s Manipur’s one and only functioning industry.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal.)