Bowing to a public outcry, Manipur has ordered a judicial probe into the alleged fake encounter that claimed a pregnant woman and a former militant here on July 23.
Sanjit’s body lies in a truck next to Rabina Devi’s, a pregnant bystander. She was killed a few metres away in police firing.
Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh announced this after returning from New Delhi on Wednesday. He also said six Manipur Police Commando (MPC) personnel, caught on camera during the “encounter” have been suspended.
“We want to ensure justice to the victims, hence the probe by a sitting or retired judge,” he said, adding that his government would prefer the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to handle the probe.
Chongkham Sanjit, 27.
* A former cadre of the People’s Liberation Army, he was arrested in 2000 but freed.
* Retired from the outfit in 2006.
* In 2007, he was detained under NSA and released a year later. Since then, he had been staying with his family and working as a hospital attendant.
A team of Manipur Police Commandoes was conducting frisking operations in Imphal’s Khwairamband Keithel market. They saw a suspicious youth coming from the direction of the Uripok locality. When asked to stop, the youth pulled out a gun and ran away, firing at the public.
He was finally cornered inside Maimu Pharmacy near Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade. He was asked to surrender. Instead, he fired at the police. The police retaliated and the youth was killed.
A local photographer at the scene shot a minute-by-minute account of the alleged ‘encounter’. The photographs clearly reveal that Sanjit
was standing calmly as the police commandos frisked him and spoke to him. He was escorted to the storeroom of the pharmacy. He was shot point blank and his body was brought out.
Promising “necessary action” against the guilty police commandos following the probe, the CM said his government would desist from giving the police a “free hand” in carrying out counter-insurgency operations.
Singh was non-committal about stepping down on moral grounds — pressure is also on Manipur DGP Y. Joykumar Singh to quit — but said the situation would be decided if curfew is relaxed in the greater Imphal area.
Curfew was imposed since 10 pm on Tuesday following widespread protests in the state capital.
The protests, spearheaded by Apunba Lup (meaning United Body), a conglomerate of various social and human rights organisations, is against the “encounter” deaths of the pregnant Th Rabina Devi (23) and former militant Chongkhan Sanjit.
Notably, the unrest across the Imphal Valley is reminiscent of what followed the custodial death of alleged militant Thangjam Manorama (32) in July 2004.
As in Manorama’s case, Sanjit’s killing has put the focus back on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA].
The AFSPA, legislated in 1958 for “disturbed areas” in the seven northeastern states, is in force in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and parts of Tripura. In the remaining states, it sanctions operational immunity to the armed forces within 20 km from the inter-state border.
In November 2000, Irom Sharmila Chanu, then 30, put the spotlight on this ‘draconian’ Act — the armed forces swear by it, but those at the receiving end say it gives them the “licence to kill with impunity” — by starting her indefinite fast.
The killing of 10 villagers by Assam Rifles personnel at Malom in Imphal West district triggered her fast that continues to this day.
A series of demonstrations — including the nude protest by a dozen women — following Manorama’s death made the Manipur government withdraw the AFSPA from the Imphal Municipal Area comprising eight assembly constituencies.
But as Babloo Loitongbam of the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert pointed out, the armed forces devised “joint operations” with MPCs to operate within the no-AFSPA zone. The police, notably, are not governed by the AFSPA.
The bulk of some 50 extra-judicial killings in Manipur till January this year have been attributed to such joint operations. The July 23 ‘fake encounter’ was arguably the first photographed case where the MPCs operated on their own.