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Death scored thirteen: Why Irom's fight against AFSPA is in 15th year

india Updated: Nov 06, 2014 08:50 IST

Elangbam Amul slaughters chicken for a living. He attacks the fowl as if he has a score to settle. Maybe he sees his father’s killers in those broilers, his childhood friends say.

The past for Amul, 39, is a blank. But everyone else at Heirangoithong on the outskirts of Imphal remembers what happened to his father, Elangbam Laljit, on March 14, 1984.

That afternoon, CRPF personnel emptied their guns on some 3,000 civilians watching a match at a local volleyball ground. The shooters were aware that members of other forces — Manipur Police and Border Security Force — were playing the final of a premier volleyball tournament.

The panic-stricken spectators were virtually trapped. The ground was flanked by an elevated road to the west, the river Nambul flowing along a gorge to the east, the local youth club building to the south and a bridge across the river to the north.

The CRPF, a probe panel said later, fired randomly at the locals to avenge the death of a colleague. A group of militants had earlier snatched the rifles of nine constables standing guard near the volleyball court and shot the tenth before melting away.

Laljit, a state secretariat employee, had son Amul on his lap as he sat on the roadside gallery that sloped down to the volleyball court. He caught a volley of bullets that brought the match to an abrupt end, but ensured his son was safe.

“Three bullets hit me on the legs and right hip. Before passing out on two tiers of bodies, I saw Amul screaming two-three feet away, his face splattered with his father’s blood,” Kshetrimayum Ojit, a mason who was 17 then, says.

When he came to in the hospital that evening, Ojit discovered he was one of 31 wounded, some never to walk properly again. Laljit was among 13 dead, including 10-year-old Soibam Dhanabati who shielded a younger boy to earn a bravery award posthumously.

“Heirangoithong is a classic case of how the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 gives security forces the licence to kill and how, besides taking the lives of innocents, it shatters the survivors and traumatises scores like Amul,” Imphal-based human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam says.

Activist Irom Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, has been on hunger strike for the last 14 years to demand the repeal of the controversial law which gives security forces sweeping power to shoot-at-sight anybody suspected of being involved in the insurgency in Manipur.

Amul — it was fashionable in Manipur then to name a healthy child after the Gujarat-based milk products brand — was never the same again. The incident erased his memory and his ability to study.

He works at a chicken shop where the money isn’t much. But, locals say, it is more honourable than the `2.5 lakh the family of each massacre victim and `1 lakh every injured received as compensation 25 years later.

“We fought for more but this is how the government values lives,” Ng Premkumar, who fought the case, says.

Kongkham Nipamacha, 68, secretary of an organisation that observes a memorial function at the massacre site, had taken voluntary retirement from the BSF before that fateful day.

“As a weapons training instructor, I knew the CRPF personnel used poison-tipped Yugoslav bullets. Justice will be done only if the lead actors in Manipur’s Jallianwala (Punjab, 1919) are punished,” he says.

For the moment, locals want the government to prevent the volleyball court from being turned into a community hall and restore Heirangoithong as the nerve-centre of volleyball.