25 August 2004

Communal violence: Need for robust law on genocide

August 25, 2004
The Hindu


Communal violence: Need for robust law on genocide

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, AUG. 24. The Common Minimum Programme of the Manmohan Singh Government promises the enactment of a "comprehensive law on communal violence" but a group of eminent jurists, retired police officials and human rights activists is leaving nothing to chance.

Concerned about the legal vacuum which allows mass killings like Gujarat to take place, the group on Tuesday released a draft model law — The Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity Act 2004 — which, if enacted in its current form, will fix criminal responsibility on Ministers and officials for incidents of mass violence against a group of citizens in which they fail to exercise control.

Command responsibility

One of the pathbreaking aspects of the draft is that it tries to enshrine for the first time in domestic law the principles of vicarious criminal and administrative liability as well as the doctrine of command responsibility — both settled concepts in international humanitarian law.

If India had enacted such legislation — as it was supposed to do soon after it became party to the Genocide Convention in 1959 — it is possible that the Gujarat Chief Minister would have thought twice about allowing the "Newton's Law" to operate freely in his State following the Godhra incident. Or that Inspector K.K. Maisurwala would have insisted on sending an SOS wireless message to the police control room when a murderous crowd started attacking the Muslim residents of Naroda-Patiya. For in all such cases, the failure to "take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity" would have rendered the individuals concerned liable for prosecution.

Among those who helped draft the proposed law are Justices Hosbet Suresh and P.B. Sawant and activists Teesta Setalvad and Iqbal Ansari. Ms. Setalvad says the aim is to circulate the draft as widely as possible and to invite comments so that the Centre can move quickly on the legislative front.

Definition of genocide

The draft's definition of genocide is the same as that of the 1948 Genocide Convention, with for one difference: it adds the attempt to subject a group to "sustained economic or social boycott" to existing elements of the crime such as killing members of a group or causing them bodily or mental harm. Thus, the attempts by the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat to enforce an economic boycott of Muslims in the State would be covered by the definition. Crimes against humanity include murder, forcible eviction or enforced migration — such as what the Kashmiri Pandits have been subjected to — torture and the enforced disappearance of persons.

The draft envisages the establishment of a National Authority for the prevention of genocide, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and two serving DGPs. Acting on the basis of information from official or civilian sources, or even suo motu, the authority would have the responsibility of setting up a special court in consultation with the local High Court and tasking the CBI with the criminal investigation. The court, in turn, will appoint a special prosecutor.

Despite the CMP's promise on a comprehensive law against mass violence, no responsible Minister or senior UPA leader has sought to elaborate on what exactly the Centre has in mind. Legally, however, India is under an obligation to pass a robust domestic law on genocide which provides for not only effective penalties but also the establishment of trials by a "competent tribunal." Prof. V.S. Mani, who has argued the need for such a law in the past, says that such a law would be fully in keeping with the spirit of Articles 51 and 253 of the Constitution, which mandate Parliament to make laws for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention signed by the country.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

23 August 2004

What if... Godhra hadn't happened?

August 23, 2004

What If Godhra Hadn't Happened?
Would Naroda Patiya have burned, would Ehsan Jafri have been killed, the Best Bakery been destroyed and Bilkis Bano been raped?

Atul Loke

Sometime in the run-up to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, the UP police made a sensational discovery. A house used by RSS supremo Guruji Golwalkar had been raided and two locked trunks recovered. When B.B.L. Jaitley, the inspector general of police, opened the trunks, what he found shook him to the core. There before him lay a detailed district-by-district, qasbah-by-qasbah blueprint for the physical elimination of the province’s Muslims.

Jaitley took the trunks to Rajeshwar Dayal, the seniormost civil servant in the home department at the time, who promptly conveyed the gravity of the discovery to G.

Police raids at a house used by Golwalkar found blueprints for the elimination of Muslims

B. Pant. The documents "revealed incontrovertible evidence of a dastardly conspiracy to create a communal holocaust.... The trunks were crammed with blueprints of great accuracy...prominently marking out the Muslim localities.... Timely raids conducted on the
premises of the RSS had brought the massive conspiracy to light," recalled Dayal in his autobiography, A Life of Our Times, published in 1998. He sought the immediate arrest of Golwalkar on conspiracy charges but the chief minister, to Dayal’s disgust, prevaricated long enough for Golwalkar to go underground. Soon thereafter, Dayal was drafted into the Indian Foreign Service and the matter of the steel trunks was given a quiet burial.

That plan may never have been put into action but the clerical efficiency with which the RSS and its kindred organisations have sought periodically to target Muslims for attack suggests the parivar’s penchant for planning and organisation has continued down to the present. What happened in Gujarat from February 28, 2002, is a case in point.

Far from being a spontaneous mass reaction to the attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra the day before in which 58 Hindu passengers died, the killings across most of Gujarat seemed scripted. So well chosen were the targets that it is almost as if there was already in place a plan to do something dramatic as part of the ongoing Ayodhya agitation, probably in order to polarise the state on communal lines in the run-up to state elections that the BJP might have had some difficulty winning on the basis of its actual performance.

If Godhra hadn’t happened, would it have been necessary to invent it? I don’t know, but the Godhra incident itself is so shrouded in mystery that it is almost as if the official narrative which emerged within minutes and hours of the train being consumed by fire is an invented one, conveniently conjured up to provide the "rationale" for the pogrom which had simultaneously been ordained.

It is difficult to ask ‘What if Godhra had not happened’ when we still do not know what exactly happened at Godhra. The official account, as put out by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, is that a large Muslim mob assembled on the railway tracks outside Godhra station stopped the Sabarmati Express and launched a premeditated attack on coach S-6, killing 58 passengers. The official chargesheet says one or more members of the mob boarded the coach and poured some 60 litres of petrol inside before setting it on fire. This dastardly attack, according to the BJP’s narrative, in turn provoked a "reaction" throughout Gujarat which claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 Muslims. Had Godhra not happened, the Muslims would not have been killed. Action-Reaction. When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake. I regret what happened after Godhra, A.B. Vajpayee told the party faithful at Goa in April 2002, "Lekin aag lagayi kisne? (Who lit the fire?)".

These Newtonian certitudes begin to break down when we consider the holes in the official account. Passengers who were on board the targeted coach, and let there be no doubt that an angry mob was attacking S-6, have testified before the ongoing Nanavati-Shah Commission of Inquiry that they saw no one from the mob entering the coach and pouring petrol inside.

The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report makes it clear the liquid could not have been thrown from outside. It says no trace of petroleum hydrocarbons was recovered from the burnt coach, raising questions about the identity of the flammable material which destroyed the coach that morning. How the train caught fire, whether or not there was intent—and if so, on the part of who—are questions which nobody can answer. Why the BJP government never conducted a comprehensive scientific probe to solve the puzzles raised by the FSL report is a mystery.

Had Godhra not happened, would Naroda Patiya have burned, would Ehsan Jafri have been killed, the Best Bakery been destroyed and Bilkis Bano been raped? These questions are deeply problematic because they are tainted by the bankruptcy of the Sangh parivar’s moral arithmetic. When you have an organisation like the VHP whose cadres are capable of the most horrific violence, when you have a police force that is willing to let innocent citizens be attacked, and when you have chief ministers and prime ministers who offer post-facto justifications for genocide, it is a dangerous delusion to believe the Gujarat violence occurred because of Godhra. The Gujarat violence happened because the government wanted it to. Godhra was just the excuse.

Godhra has infected our polity in a particularly pernicious way because the incident marked the first time that revenge was elevated to the status of moral code and official policy in such a blatant and sustained manner. When Rajiv Gandhi justified the 1984 genocide of Sikhs with his callous throwaway remark about the earth shaking when a big tree falls, it evoked widespread revulsion. Mention 1984 and even the most die-hard Rajiv loyalist today appears to display a certain shabby shame-facedness at the idea that the killing of Indira Gandhi by two Sikhs or the motivated rumour of Sikhs distributing sweets could somehow justify the monstrous killings which followed. But the Sangh parivar and BJP leaders today continue to believe that Godhra fully justifies the mass killing of Muslims which followed. I am not looking for expressions of remorse or guilt. That would be foolish, apart from being quite irrelevant. What I want to see are some signs that the Indian polity has learnt the lessons of Godhra and after and will never again permit genocide. And what I see is simply not enough.

Siddharth Varadarajan’s edited volume Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, was published in 2002

22 August 2004

Let's not forget Godhra

Let's Not Forget Godhra

By Siddharth Varadarajan

22 August, 2004
The Hindu

When the Gujarat police arrested former tea vendor Usman Abdul Gani "Coffeewala" earlier this month, the Special Investigating Team probing the incident in which 58 persons were killed outside the Godhra station two years ago, described him, rather predictably, as a "key accused" in the case.

For the record, Coffeewala is now the 18th "key accused" in the case, allegedly a crucial part of the improbably large "inner circle" that hatched a "jihadi conspiracy" to kill activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad a few days before the Sabarmati Express pulled into Godhra on the morning of February 27, 2002.

Among the others to have merited the "key accused" status are Haji Bilal, Shoaib Yusuf Kalandar, Muhammad Hussain Kalota, Salim Jarda, Salim Panwala, Suleiman, Farooq Bhana, Nanhe Mian from Rampur, Mohammad Hanif Bhatuk, Razzaq Kurkur, Abdul Sattar Qalandar, Zabir bin Yamin Behra and Maulana Hussein Umerji. A total of 121 men, all Muslims, have been charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for their role in the Godhra incident. Of these, 94 are already in custody.

For the Sangh Parivar, Godhra is where it all began — the spark that lit the fire which ended up taking the lives of as many as 2,000 Muslims.

Investigation incomplete

But for all the emotional and political capital the Bharatiya Janata Party has invested in the Godhra incident, the Narendra Modi Government's investigation into the circumstances leading to the death by fire and asphyxiation of 58 passengers — many of whom were VHP members or supporters — has not got very far.

Two years on, the police cannot offer a credible account of how coach S-6 caught fire. They are clueless about what flammable substance caused the death and destruction that morning. And their description of the events simply does not square with the evidence that is accumulating before the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry.

Indeed the deliberate politicisation of the incident has led to the sacrificing of conventional investigative techniques.

Questions and leads raised by forensic evidence (that the flammable liquid could not have been thrown in from outside, for instance) and eyewitness testimonies are being ignored.

Is this just in case the investigation ends up deviating too much from the official script?

Which is of a "conspiracy" that was "pre-planned" to such an extent that three days before the Sabarmati Express left Faizabad, Maulana Umerji was able to divine that the ticketless kar sevaks would be boarding S-6 and no other coach.

Consider some of these contradictions:

After Coffeewala's arrest on August 4, police Sub-Inspector R.G. Patel said "he is a very important catch for us as he was a member of the group of people which assaulted the S-6 coach when it was being torched. These people had attacked the coach with lathis, spears and stones, thereby not allowing people to come out of the bogie."

But Raju Bishankumar Bhargava, who was Superintendent of Police in Godhra at the time, told the Nanavati Commission, inter alia: "I did not see any person from the Muslim community preventing the passengers in S-6 and S-7 from coming out of the coaches ... No passenger complained that he or she was stopped from coming out of those coaches."

The police say several of the "key accused" entered coach S-6 "forcibly" by breaking open the "back entrance" to S-6 and pouring petrol on the floor of the coach. But Maheshbhai, a VHP member from Dhanodia Vas in Mehsana district, told the Nanavati Commission: "While I had jumped out (of S-6) and fallen on the ground, I was not beaten by anybody ... Before jumping out of the coach I did not see any fluid on the floor of the coach near the place where I was sitting. While I was inside the coach, I did not see any flames." Savitaben of Manipur village, Mehsana, testified: "I did not see any person coming inside the coach from outside and pouring any fluid ... "

Another S-6 passenger, Babubhai Patel of Gamanpura, Mehsana district, testified: "I did not see any person in Muslim dress or with beard inside the coach. Nor did I see any such Muslim rushing inside the coach."

"I came out through the window of the third cubicle," said Dwarkabhai, also of Gamanpura. "The smoke was coming from the rear end of the coach. Till I came out of the coach, I did not see any flames. As long as I was inside the coach, I did not notice any fluid being poured inside the coach. I did not see any person sprinkling any fluid or putting fire on the coach setting the coach afire ... "

Based on eyewitness testimony, what is indisputable is that a mob consisting of residents from the nearby Muslim locality of Signal Falia, as well as individuals who might have run after the train from the station, stoned S-6. Several passengers also testified that burning rags were flung at the coach.

That this assault took place in the context of a running battle with some VHP members is also suggested by the testimony of Mohan Jagdish Yadav, an RPF constable on duty. He told the Commission about passengers and "outsiders" throwing stones at one another while the Sabarmati Express was on the platform.

Some questions

If the eyewitness testimony is correct and no one from the mob boarded the train to pour petrol or any other flammable liquid, how did the fire start? Could the burning rags have ignited the fire, a possibility that the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report discounts? And what accounts for the thick, black, acrid smoke which many S-6 passengers remember more than the fire? Is there a design flaw in the construction of Indian railcars that makes them fire prone? Was some flammable material already present in the coach, like gas or kerosene, which caught fire inadvertently? Was there an agent provocateur on board bent on causing maximum damage?

Instead of asking these questions, the SIT is insisting on going ahead with its conspiracy theory. Even if a POTA court convicts many of those accused — on the basis of confessions by approvers such as Zabir bin Yamin Behra — of taking part in the attack on S-6, if not being part of the "jihadi conspiracy," the overall evidence is so contradictory that these convictions are likely to get vacated on appeal.

As time elapses, it will become more and more difficult to launch a thorough, objective and scientific investigation into the Godhra incident. A dedicated commission of inquiry, a CBI investigation and a criminal trial outside Gujarat are some of the options that need to be considered seriously.

20 August 2004

Manipur: Insult upon injury

Frontline, Aug 28-Sep 10, 2004
URL: http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2118/stories/20040910006701000.htm


Insult upon injury


Students take out a protest march in Imphal.

IF ever there was a textbook case of how not to deal with a popular agitation in a State wracked by insurgency, it is the Manmohan Singh government's handling of the six-week-long crisis in Manipur. The Manipuris today only want to be treated with dignity and honour and there is little appetite for the `independence' insurgent groups are demanding. But by the time the Centre is through with them, the movement for azadi might well be on the ascendant. If its initial responses were that of apathy and indifference, the Centre appears now to have come around to the disastrous view that any gesture, which smacks of "conciliation" will only provide succour to the underground insurgents.

There is, thus, no longer any talk of a healing touch, of assuaging the Manipur people's sentiments, or even of punishing the soldiers and officers responsible for the custodial killing of 32-year-old Thanjam Manorama. Instead, the United Progressive Alliance government - or, more precisely, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee - has authorised the Assam Rifles to petition the Guwahati High Court demanding a stay on the proceedings of the Upendra Commission appointed by the Manipur administration to probe the Manorama case.

The Upendra Commission at work, on July 28.

The Assam Rifles' move comes days after Justice C. Upendra issued summons to the Commanding Officer of 14 Assam Rifles and three of his men to appear before the Commission for deposition and cross-examination. The summons have been ignored not once but thrice, incredibly, on the grounds that it is not safe for the Assam Rifles men to testify in an open court outside the confines of their own garrison.

Emboldened by the support it is getting from the Centre, the Assam Rifles is resorting to the British trick of `divide and rule'. At the time of going to press, it is emerging that the Assam Rifles coerced Naga villagers in the Senapati district of Manipur to stage demonstrations in favour of the security forces and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Villagers from Leiraoching to Motbung along National Highway 39 in Senapati district have alleged that 14 Assam Rifles coerced them into staging marches on August 21 and holding aloft placards with slogans such as `Assam Rifles, Friend of the Hill People', and `Save our Souls, Assam Rifles, protect our lives'. If these allegations are true, they suggest the security forces are trying to drive a wedge between the hill people, who are mostly Nagas, and the Meiteis of the Manipur valley. This at a time when there is an unprecedented level of ethnic solidarity in the State with Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis and the Zeliangrong joining hands to demand the repeal of the AFSPA.

Alongside these attempts by the security forces to evade the judicial process and muddy the ethnic waters, the Congress-led State government of Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh has begun an ill-advised crackdown on the leadership of the 32 civil society organisations agitating against the AFSPA. It is no secret that Ibobi Singh has taken this drastic step at the urging of the Centre, which has threatened to either replace him with Industry Minister Debendra Singh or else place the State under President's Rule. More than 30 leaders and activists of various organisations have been arrested under the draconian National Security Act (NSA). Under this Act, individuals can be detained for up to 12 months in order to prevent them from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security and public order.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Ibobi Singh government is also reportedly considering the imposition of a ban on the 32 organisations, even though all of them have only been involved in non-violent protests. According to the Manipuri press, among those arrested under the NSA are five activists who were part of the group of brave women who staged a naked protest outside the headquarters of the Assam Rifles in Kangla Fort, Imphal, on July 15, daring the soldiers to rape them. Thus, the Manipuri activists are discovering the transitive nature of draconian legislation: If you protest too much against one black law, you are likely to be arrested under another one. And the Centre, which has so far failed - either militarily to defeat the underground insurgents, or politically to start a dialogue process with them - has come up with the brilliant strategy of driving underground those who had so far doggedly remained overground.

Even now, however, it is not too late for the Manmohan Singh government to retrieve the situation. Specifically, there are three steps it needs to take - and to take urgently, without prevarication or dithering.

First, it must ensure that justice is done - and seen to be done - in the Manorama case. Swiftly. The Assam Rifles' version of events is so riddled with contradictions that the government should punish not just the soldiers involved in her murder but also those officers who have conspired to cover up the murder with a half-baked story about how she was shot while trying to escape. If that were indeed the case, why would the soldiers leave her body on a hillside for villagers to find the next morning? Since what the soldiers committed appears to be nothing other than murder, plain and simple, they should not be allowed to shield themselves behind the immunity provided by the AFSPA.

Second, the Manmohan Singh government must appreciate the depth of popular resentment against the AFSPA and examine ways in which the law can either be repealed in toto or modified drastically. Even from a security point of view, has the law - and the use of the armed forces - really helped contain and defeat the problem of insurgency? The AFSPA has been in operation in the whole State of Manipur since 1980, and in Tamenglong and the hill regions since 1961. But the number of insurgent groups has only increased, as have the sphere of their operations. In any case, it is never advisable to have a situation where the enforcers of the law are exempt from any kind of judicial oversight. In the best of situations, such exemptions breed disregard for the life and liberty of ordinary people. While upholding the constitutionality of the Act in 1997, the Supreme Court had stipulated certain safeguards in its implementation. But none of these safeguards is actually being implemented.

If the UPA government balks at the idea of "giving in" to the popular demand for the repealing of the AFSPA, it could fall back upon the via media of an expert group tasked to visit Manipur and look into the actual operation of the law on the ground. As long as such a group has as its members persons of outstanding integrity and independence, neither the people of Manipur nor the Army or the Centre should have any problem in implementing there commendations that flow from its exertions.

Finally, the Centre should think seriously about the proposal made by Rishang Keishing and four other former Chief Ministers of Manipur for the initiation of unconditional dialogue with the major insurgent groups in the State. If dialogue is being seen as the way forward in neighbouring Nagaland, and actually helped resolve the decades-long insurgency in Mizoram, there is no reason why attempts should not be made to bring about a political solution to Manipur's insurgency problem.

Above all, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - who represents Assam and the northeastern region in Parliament - can no longer afford personally to remain aloof from this first real challenge to his leadership. Manipur is passing through a critical juncture, but it has not yet reached the point of no return. The Prime Minister cannot afford to be a bystander any longer.

15 August 2004

A visible symbol of Manipuri hurt

August 15, 2004
http://www.thehindu.com/2004/08/15/stories/2004081501771600.htm/">The Hindu

Opinion - News Analysis

A visible symbol of Manipuri hurt

By Siddharth Varadarajan

SPREAD OVER 200 acres in the heart of Imphal, no place is more important than Kangla fort in Meitei cosmology. The pride with which Manipuris speak of the 2000 years of history present at Kangla quickly dissolves into anger at the continuing occupation of this historic place by the Assam Rifles despite repeated assurances from successive Governments at the Centre that the Army would be shifted out.

Seat of the royal family that ruled Manipur as an independent state before 1891, Kangla fell that year after Yubaraj Tikendrajit Singh rebelled against British attempts to encroach upon his sovereignty. In March 1891, an enraged mob of Manipuri patriots just outside the fort killed Lt. Simpson, who was part of a British delegation visiting Imphal to deliver an ultimatum to the king.

Under pressure from the people, the king ordered the arrest, trial and execution of the remaining four British officers, including J.W. Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam, and the senior most representative of the Raj in northeast India.

The British then launched a full-scale invasion of Manipur. The fort fell and the Union Jack was hoisted over Kangla with colonial troops taking up residence there. On August 13, 1891, a date now commemorated as martyrs day in the State, Tikendrajit and General Thangal were hanged.

When the British left, ownership of Kangla was transferred to the Defence Ministry of the Dominion of India and then the Union of India. In constitutional terms, the Manipur raja, Bodhachandra Singh, signed the instrument of accession to India in respect of foreign affairs, defence and communications on August 11, 1947. Later that year, Manipur adopted its own Constitution and held elections for its own Legislative Assembly in June 1948.

Residual bitterness

In September 1949, the raja was coaxed or coerced — depending on one's point of view — into signing a merger agreement with India, which took effect on October 15, 1949. On that date, Manipur became a "part-C state" of the Indian Union. The manner in which the merger was brought about has left a residual bitterness that the insurgent groups successfully tap into.

After sustained public agitation to have Kangla returned to the people, the State Government in 1986 developed a fresh site for the Assam Rifles. But instead of moving out from Kangla, another battalion, the 24th AR, was sent to the new site.

In 1992, the Narasimha Rao Government agreed to vacate Kangla and on the morning of August 13 that year, M.M. Jacob, who was Union Minister of State for Home, publicly flagged off a column of the Assam Rifles from Kangla.

Incredibly, the column returned to the fort at night. The whole ceremony had been a cruel and insensitive hoax on the people of Manipur. And the day chosen for this was, incredibly, the 101st martyrdom day of Tikendrajit.

Now, the UPA Government is promising finally to vacate Kangla by the end of the year. But people in Imphal are not holding their breath.


© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

Manipur: More than just Manorama

August 15, 2004
The Hindu

Opinion - News Analysis

More than just Manorama

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Manorama's mother, Thangjam Khuman Leima, at her residence in Imphal. — Photo: PTI

A LESSER man would have become cynical by now but not C. Upendra. An indefatigable casualty of the Indian legal expedient known as the `Commission of Inquiry', he is now heading his 10th judicial commission — an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrest and subsequent death of Manorama Devi.

As he patiently listens to witnesses — and waits for the soldiers who shot Manorama dead to appear before him — this retired Judge of the Gauhati High Court betrays not the slightest trace of doubt about the utility of his enterprise. This though in virtually none of the human rights violation cases he has inquired into in the past has the State or Union Government bothered to follow through on his recommendations.

On March 3, 1996, a group of CRPF jawans opened fire without provocation on a house in Naorem village in Bishnupur district killing a woman, Amina Devi, and injuring her baby daughter, Abem, who was then one year old. Mr. Justice Upendra, who headed the inquiry commission, recommended that the CRPF men be prosecuted under section 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) under the Indian Penal Code.

"If the persons responsible for indiscriminate fire resulting in the loss of life of innocent people on the mere pretext of self-defence or for apprehending a person... are left scot-free, it would result in anarchy," Mr. Justice Upendra wrote at the time.

Asked what happened to his recommendation for prosecution in that case, he says he was only informed that the jawans concerned had been posted out of Manipur, "to Kashmir I think."

When he was a sessions judge, Mr. Justice Upendra was asked by the Gauhati High Court to record the testimony of Naga villagers in and around Oinam village in Senapati district who said they had been tortured and terrorised by the Assam Rifles during Operation Bluebird in 1987. The testimony he collected from 22 witnesses formed part of a writ petition filed by Nandita Haksar and others in the High Court in 1990 alleging severe human rights abuses by the Assam Rifles.

After recording nearly 10,000 pages of evidence, the bench of Justices Bhukan and Shishak reserved their judgment. But before the judgment could be pronounced Justice Bhukan was transferred out and a replacement judge was never named. Justice Shishak has since retired.I went to Bishnupur district to visit Amina Devi's daughter, Abem, who is now nine. Her father, Sanatomba, married Amina's younger sister, Thoibi, and the family lives in a village also called Oinam. Abem still carries the scar of a bullet on her back but is otherwise a happy, if shy, girl. She is being educated at Government expense at an English-medium school. Sanatomba received a total compensation package of Rs.75,000 and a Grade IV government job. He has no idea what happened to the CRPF men who killed his wife. "I heard they were transferred but I don't think they were ever punished," he says. "We are not satisfied, but what can we do?"

Lawyers say the problem of impunity runs much deeper than the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which technically is meant to cover only the Army and Air Force. Nevertheless, the Assam Rifles, which is a paramilitary force created by a separate Act of Parliament but placed under the operational control of the Army, enjoys full protection under the Act. And other paramilitary forces like the CRPF enjoy de facto protection. Prosecutions are rare and punishments meted out in the few instances that guilt is recognised are rarely publicised, leading to speculation that the sentences are relatively light.


© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

Manipur on the boil

August 15, 2004
The Hindu

Opinion - News Analysis

Manipur on the boil

Most Manipuris only want the right to live in peace and with dignity, writes Siddharth Varadarajan after a visit to the northeastern State where the death of a young woman has sparked a popular protest.

PUT IT down to inexperience, indifference or sheer indolence but the tardy political reflexes of the Centre as the crisis in Manipur began unfolding last month marks the first real blot in the copybook of the Manmohan Singh Government. Nowhere in the world have a dozen women shed their clothes in front of an Army garrison in the middle of town and taunted the soldiers there to rape them.

That one searing act of defiance did more to erase the physical and mental distance between Manipuris and "mainland Indians" than 40 years of counter-insurgency operations and thousands of hours of `national integration' programming on radio and TV: the rest of India sat up and took notice. The national media rediscovered the Northeast. People everywhere asked what was going on in Manipur that had forced its women to take such a desperate and drastic step. But on Raisina Hill, the Government seemed unmoved. The Army and Intelligence agencies clung to the comforting view that the Statewide agitation against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was simply the handiwork of the insurgent groups and could safely be ignored.

No clear brief

When it was decided finally that the Centre should intervene, a junior and inexperienced Minister in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal, was sent to Imphal without a clear brief or mandate. Asked about Chief Minister Ibobi Singh's desire to lift the AFSPA from the whole of Manipur by August 15, Mr. Jaiswal said the matter was for the State Government to decide. He received a rap on his knuckles for saying that when he returned to New Delhi; it was not until the first week of August that senior Ministers at the Centre were prepared to say anything on the record about the AFSPA.

When they spoke, of course, they offered only platitudes, little succour and plenty of contradictory promises. The Act could not be lifted but the Assam Rifles could be withdrawn, said the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil. There was no question of withdrawing the Assam Rifles, said the Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee. But, soldiers guilty of human rights abuses would be punished, he promised.

In no hurry

As it turns out, the Centre seems in no hurry to ensure justice is done in the one case that triggered the current agitation: the arrest and subsequent killing of a 32-year-old woman, Thangjam Manorama Devi, on the night of July 10. The Army has submitted affidavits sticking to its original story that Manorama was shot dead while trying to escape. "She was wearing rubber chappals and a phanek (the tightly wrapped sarong that women in Manipur traditionally wear) when she was shot while supposedly trying to run," says Radhabinod Koijam, a former Chief Minister. "It simply defies all common sense to say that even if she tried to run away, the Assam Rifles had no option but to shoot her eight times. They say it was an open field. You mean to say the soldiers couldn't even chase her?"

Says a senior IAS officer: "Even a three-year old child will not believe the Army's story. Please wear a phanek and try to run."

"The Government should never encourage a situation where the security forces can simply arrest and then kill a person," a senior Manipur Congress leader told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. "I told the PM this is something which is very bad. Manorama may not have been a good girl — she may have connections with the underground — but that does not mean she should be shot."

Though the Manorama incident has been the immediate trigger for the Statewide popular movement against the AFSPA, ordinary Manipuris say the national media should remember the other cases as well. "There is a history to this kind of thing," says Aruna Piarisalam, a national award-winning woman entrepreneur for Manipur. "And now we are not going to put up with army rule any more."

Former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing, an elder statesman of Manipur who goes back all the way to the Nehru era, says that even if the Centre thinks the situation does not favour lifting of the Act, it should seriously think about dialogue as a way out. "The Act has been there for a long time but this is the first time I have seen such a major movement to have it revoked." Many of the abuses, he says, are linked to the fact that there has been no proper coordination of the security forces operating in the state. "If any force acts unilaterally, there will be a problem. If the AR [Assam Rifles] is going to launch operations or arrest people in thickly populated areas, they must take the help of local forces. Today, probably the only locals actively helping them are `surrenderees', who can be dangerous as guides because they can mislead and are not bothered about human rights consequences."

Gangumei Kamei, deputy leader of the Federal Party of Manipur and a former Law Minister in the State, was a member of the Chief Minister's Committee on Social Policy set up by the Rishang Keishing Government in 1996. Among the issues the committee examined was the workings of the AFSPA. "We evaluated the human rights situation caused by the operation of the Act, which we felt was draconian, but we also gave full consideration to the State's right to protect itself against insurgents," Mr. Kamei told The Hindu .

The committee's report, which was promptly shelved, recommended the AFSPA be kept in abeyance, that the Government push for a cessation of combat operations on both sides and launch a dialogue with the insurgents. "We linked the Act to the question of an overall settlement of the insurgency problem," says Mr. Kamei. "I'm still convinced that this is the only formula which will work. Insurgency is not necessarily a law and order problem. You have to have dialogue that is without preconditions from both sides."

Models for dialogue

According to Mr. Kamei, there are three models of dialogue available for the Centre. "The first is the indirect method, typified by the efforts of Jayaprakash Narayan in 1964 to reach a ceasefire with Naga insurgents. The second is the direct method, such as the talks with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) group. The third is the proxy method, represented by the initiative with the Hurriyat in Kashmir, when you initiate dialogue with the open sympathisers of the insurgents." The Centre, he says, should move fast.

Mr. Koijam has another suggestion. "I think the PM should send a fact-finding committee to Manipur to look into the human rights and security question, and also make holistic recommendations taking into account the lack of development and industry in the state." The team should also have an economist and a sociologist and generally consist of independent persons who enjoy credibility in the State, he says. Among the names to be considered could be Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, who are members of the Common Minimum Programme advisory panel, the noted anthropologist B.K. Roy Burman and journalist B.G. Verghese.

Whatever the insurgent groups may want, even today, the aspiration of most Manipuris is not for independence or secession but for the right to live in peace and dignity, without their civilian elected Government playing second fiddle to the Army. "Elsewhere in India, even generals move about in relative anonymity," a former Chief Minister says bitterly. "But in Manipur, every captain or lieutenant acts as if he owns the road."

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

13 August 2004

Armed Forces Act: Partial lifting many not help

August 13, 2004
The Hindu


Partial lifting of Act may not help

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, AUG. 12. The temporary lifting of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSP) from the municipal areas of Imphal is the product of an untidy compromise between the Union and State Governments which will provide, at best, only a respite to both.

Curiously, the constituency of Khetrigaon — from where 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was arrested by the Assam Rifles on the night of July 10 and subsequently killed, thereby triggering the current agitation — will continue to remain a "Disturbed Area" and the AFSPA will operate as before.

With the Army showing no signs of cooperating with the Upendra Commission probing the Manorama case — hearings have now been adjourned till August 18 because the Assam Rifles soldiers summoned are refusing to appear — the original wound will continue to fester.

The popular movement against the AFSPA is not confined to Imphal. Though it has been the epicentre, sustained protests have taken place in the valley districts of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts as well as in the hill regions of Ukhrul and Senapati. Meitei, Naga, Kuki and Zeliangrong organisations have all united around the common demand that the Act be revoked.

Fatigue on the street

The Congress-led State Government had promised the State-wide lifting of the law by August 15 but is now offering relief in only seven urban and semi-urban constituencies that fall in Imphal East and West districts. There is fatigue on the street. For some groups, the Manipur unit of the CPI for instance, the latest decision will be seen as offering the possibility of an exit with some honour. However, most of the 32 organisations spearheading the campaign will not settle for a partial victory when their real goal is to rid Manipur of de facto Army rule. By Thursday evening, many of these organisations had spoken. Most rejected the compromise "though the real test will be seen on the streets of the State on Friday," Pradeep Phanjoubam of the Imphal Free Press says.

"The agitation has been all over the valley. How will people outside Imphal react," Radhabinod Koijam, a former Chief Minister, told The Hindu earlier this week when asked about the possibility of the AFSPA being lifted in Imphal alone.

A critic of the Act, Mr. Koijam says the Manmohan Singh Government must re-examine its utility. Above all, he says, the Centre should offer unconditional talks with the insurgent groups operating in Manipur as the question of a "permanent solution" can no longer be postponed.

"Unless that is done, what is the point in keeping the Act and allowing the armed forces to commit human rights violations? The insurgency can be ended not by guns but by dialogue."

Joint plea against Act

On August 6, Mr. Koijam joined Rishang Keishing and three other former Manipur CMs — R.K. Ranbir Singh, R.K. Dorendro Singh and W. Nipamacha Singh — made a joint appeal to the State and Central Governments to give a call for dialogue. "Ultimately, the only answer is for the Central Government and the UGs (underground) to talk," Mr. Keishing says. "But the people should also put maximum pressure on the UGs to agree to the idea of dialogue as a way of reaching a settlement. It is not practical or feasible for any group to think Manipur can come out of India.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

11 August 2004

Dateline Imphal: Assam Rifles men fail to turn up for Manorama inquiry

11 August 2004
The Hindu

Front Page

Assam Rifles men fail to turn up

By Siddharth Varadarajan

IMPHAL, AUG. 10. The Manmohan Singh Government may insist that the Army is "fully cooperating" with investigations into last month's custodial killing of Manorama Devi but the Assam Rifles men involved are refusing to testify before the official Commission probing the incident.

After the Commanding Officer of 17 Assam Rifles, Colonel Jagmohan Singh, and four soldiers known to be present during Manorama's arrest failed to appear before the Commission today, the third day running, Justice C. Upendra, who is heading the inquiry, issued a sternly-worded summons warning each soldier that "if you fail without just excuse, neglect or refuse to appear before the Commission (on Wednesday), coercive measures will be taken to compel your appearance."

A paradox

The failure of the Assam Rifles men to depose has underlined a curious, almost Kafkaesque, paradox about the situation in Manipur. In a submission, which Mr. Justice Upendra had rejected in early August, the Assam Rifles had said that it was not safe for its soldiers to come and testify in an open court because of the threat posed by insurgents. The insurgents have already put a price on the soldiers' heads. But it is precisely because of the threat posed by insurgents that the Assam

Rifles are in Manipur in the first place. And, they have the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which ordinary Manipuris, agitated over Manorama's killing, now want revoked.

The Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla fort is just 50 metres from the State Guest House, where the inquiry is being held. "If despite the AFSPA, it is too dangerous for them to cross the road, then they have no business being here," a lawyer involved in the case said. "In Jharkhand, the warrant of a district judge is enough to send a Union Minister like Shibu Soren to prison," said Th. Kishan, a lecturer in English at Imphal's prestigious D.M. College. "But here, under the AFSPA, even a Havildar in the Army cannot be compelled to testify."

Despite repeated requests, Brigadier Pillai, seniormost Assam Rifles officer in Imphal, declined to grant an interview to The Hindu.

In its latest summons, the Upendra Commission has also asked for the names of the Assam Rifles personnel who took part in the operation to arrest Manorama and transport her to the spot from where she allegedly tried to flee and was gunned down, the arms and ammunition registers showing the entries for July 10 and 11 and the registration numbers of the vehicles used. "We have been asking for this information from the start but the Army is simply not cooperating," sources in the Commission told The Hindu today.

So far 23 witnesses had deposed before the Commission, constituted by the Manipur Government immediately after the killing of Manorama. Except for the period between July 24 and August 6, the Commission sources said, the Assam Rifles had been evasive. First, they refused to accept any communication, asking that the summons, delivered at Kangla Fort, be sent to another post at Keithelmanbi. There, the Commission staff were asked to send the summons to 99 APO. It was only after Mr. Justice Upendra telephoned the Commanding Officer and asked, "Is this cooperation or non-cooperation," that the first summons was accepted. But when the Assam Rifles brass realised the Commission was serious about deposing and cross-examining the soldiers involved, cooperation stopped.

Serious discrepancy

Explaining why cross-examination of the soldiers was crucial, the Commission sources said that there was a major discrepancy between the arrest memo, handed over to Manorama's family the night she was arrested, and the seizure memo, which the Army has since handed in to the Commission.

"The arrest memo records `nil' in the space where weapons recovered are to be mentioned. How come the seizure memo then says that all kinds of arms were recovered from her," they asked. And then, given the nature of bullet injuries sustained, a large amount of blood should have been present at the place where she died. "But there were no bloodstains there." Besides this, lawyers from Manorama's side should also have the right to question the Army's version of events, the sources said.

This is, incidentally, the 10th commission of inquiry into security forces excesses that Mr. Justice Upendra will be conducting. Asked how many prosecutions had resulted from the judge's earlier labours, the sources said they did not know.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

09 August 2004

Abu Ghraib & the Milosevic standard

9 August 2004
The Hindu

Abu Ghraib & the Milosevic standard

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Just as Slobodan Milosevic was prosecuted, charges can be brought against George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld for the commission of war crimes by their subordinates.

WHEN A United States court in 2001 ordered the Saddam Hussein Government to pay $6.7 million to two American citizens, David Daliberti and Bill Barloon, for the torture they suffered at Abu Ghraib prison in 1995, the ruling was hailed by neoconservatives as a landmark one. The Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) had been amended in 1996 to let victims bring tort claims against sovereign governments in a U.S. court. Daliberti and Barloon, who had been arrested after "straying" over the Kuwait-Iraq border and held for five months, filed a case alleging torture while in Iraqi custody. Ruling in their favour, U.S. District Judge Louis Oberdorfer said the treatment meted out to the two Americans — being held in cells with no water and toilet, being kicked and threatened with electric shocks to their genitals — was "more than enough to meet the definition of torture in the [TVPA]."

Emboldened by this judgment — and by the fact that the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003 would make it easier to enforce the ruling of an American court — Abdullah Alkhuzai, who had been tortured by the Saddam regime at Abu Ghraib in 1991, filed a suit under the TVPA against the former Iraqi President and `Chemical Ali'. In November 2003, notice was sent to the two men, who were in U.S. custody, and on June 14, 2004, a federal court awarded Mr. Alkhuzai $88 million. By then, however, the situation had changed. Abu Ghraib had become synonymous with torture by Americans. So even as Mr. Alkhuzai happily declared, "I feel the USA got my justice for me," the Bush administration intervened to make sure other Iraqis did not start getting ideas.

Within days of the award, the court was informed of the Justice Department's interest. "In light of the significant foreign policy interests of the U.S. related to the evolving situation in Iraq, and the legal consequences of various actions of the President ... taken in furtherance of those interests, the U.S. is currently considering its participation in this litigation," a notice filed by Assistant Attorney General Peter D. Keisler stated.

What are these "legal consequences of various actions of the President" that the notice refers to? Is this merely a reference to the administration's desire to use the assets of the erstwhile Saddam regime for Iraqi reconstruction rather than for compensating victims? Or could it be an elliptical reference to the torture of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. Occupation Authority and the fear that judgments of this kind could open the floodgates to similar claims by Abu Ghraib's most recent victims? Either way, the Justice Department declared last week that Mr. Alkhuzai's claim was null and void because notice on Mr. Hussein and `Chemical Ali' had been "improperly served." The wheels of justice had turned full circle.

Parallel with this effort to block tort claims against torture, attempts are under way to cover up the extent to which the U.S. is responsible for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions by either sanctioning or condoning the torture of Iraqi POWs and civilian captives. The report by Lt. Gen Paul Mikoloashek, released on July 22, blames the "unauthorised decisions of a few individuals" for the "abuse" of Iraqi prisoners and contradicts the earlier findings of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba that the abuses were "systemic and illegal." Courts martial are under way against individual soldiers but the sentences pronounced are remarkably light. In May 2004, two U.S. soldiers, Andrew Sting and Jeremiah Trefny, pleaded guilty to giving electric shocks to an Iraqi prisoner. They received 12 and eight months in prison respectively. Daliberti and Barlow got $6.8 million for being threatened with electric shocks. One wonders how much the Iraqi that Sting and Trefny electrocuted might be awarded if he were to move Judge Oberdorfer's court under the TVPA. And one wonders how the Justice Department would react.

As these trials proceed, no one seems interested in finding out at what level the torture was sanctioned. Above all, there has been little debate about the command responsibility of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush in failing to take steps to prevent the torture and killing of Iraqi prisoners. What makes the absence of a debate all the more surprising is the existence of a voluminous paper trail of official memos that indicates the connivance of the Bush administration in devising legal arguments to justify the torture of prisoners captured in its so-called war on terrorism. The memos, generated by the U.S. Justice Department and the Pentagon between January 2002 and April 2003, suggest systematic attempts were made to push the envelope on "aggressive interrogation" of captives.

Of all the memos, the one written on August 1, 2002, by Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, makes for the most disturbing reading. Parsing a U.S. court judgment under the TVPA in Mehinovic vs. Vukovic, Mr. Bybee disputes "the court's determination that a beating in which `Vuckovic hit plaintiff Subasic and kicked him in the stomach with his military boots while Subasic was forced into a kneeling position' constituted torture. To be sure this beating caused Subasic substantial pain. But that pain pales in comparison to the other acts described in this case. To the extent the opinion can be read to endorse the view that this single act and the attendant pain, considered in isolation, rose to the level of `severe pain and suffering', we would disagree with such a view based on our interpretation of the criminal statute."

What Mr. Bybee was telling the White House was that inflicting "substantial pain" on a prisoner during interrogation would not constitute torture since torture requires "severe pain." Is it all that improbable that armed with this advice, the message went down to footsoldiers like Trefny and Lyndie England at Abu Ghraib that it was all right to hurt their captives?

Elsewhere, Mr. Bybee said that "even if an interrogation method were to violate USC 2340 [the U.S. Torture Statute], the statute would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President's constitutional power to conduct a military campaign... [since] the information gained from interrogations may prevent future attacks by foreign enemies." Mr. Bybee also comes close to the crime of conspiracy to commit torture: "Even if an interrogation method might arguably cross the line drawn in Section 2340 and application of the statute was not held to be an unconstitutional infringement of the President's Commander-in-Chief authority," he advises, "we believe that under the current circumstances certain justification defences might be available that would potentially eliminate criminal liability." Among these: the "standard criminal law defences of necessity and self-defence."

It is astonishing that despite the existence of such documents — and only censored versions of these memos have been released — there is no clamour within the U.S. to bring charges against Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld for the commission of war crimes by their subordinates.

Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), had no such documentary evidence when she indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 on four counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war. The crimes concerned the death of 340 Kosovar Albanians at the hands of the Yugoslav security forces. Paragraph 84 of the indictment states that "in as much as he has authority or control over the VJ (Yugoslav army) ... Slobodan Milosevic, as president of the FR of Yugoslavia ... is also criminally responsible for the acts of his subordinates." Para 88 states, "A superior is responsible for the acts of his subordinate(s) if he knew or had reason to know that his subordinate(s) was/were about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts..."

Ms. Arbour's indictment of Mr. Milosevic was a political one but the logic about command responsibility is robust. The Statute of the International Criminal Court uses similar language but then neither the U.S. nor Iraq is a party. Ms. Arbour is now the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The body has no legal teeth but the former ICTY prosecutor has added to its impotence by not speaking out against Washington's attempts to hush up the torture issue. On July 29, Dr. Halima Warzazi, outgoing chair of the U.N. subcommission on the protection of rights, made an impassioned plea that the world remember Abu Ghraib. What, she asked, had been the reaction to the photographs of torture by those whose job it was to detect and condemn flagrant violations of human rights? Ms. Arbour, who has that job, and who spoke after her, preferred silence on the issue.

With U.N. bodies powerless, the only place Abu Ghraib's Iraqi victims can seek justice is in the U.S. itself. Criminal prosecutions can perhaps be filed under the Torture Statute and War Crimes Act and tort claims under the TVPA.

Soon after he ordered the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush publicly declared that those who mistreated prisoners would be considered war criminals. On March 23, 2003, he was asked for his reaction to the Iraqi capture of U.S. soldiers. "I expect... the POWs ... to be treated humanely. And — just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

The U.S. legal system, and beyond that, the American court of public opinion, owes it to the world to turn Mr. Bush's promise into reality.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

Dateline Imphal: Manipur situation turning volatile

9 August 2004
The Hindu

Manipur situation turning volatile

By Siddharth Varadarajan

IMPHAL, AUG. 8. The ongoing Manipur-wide mass agitation against the
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is likely to escalate this week with
the 32 organisations spearheading the campaign calling upon all
Government offices to shut down indefinitely from Monday. Also being
contemplated in the run up to the August 15 `deadline' for revocation
of the Act: a complete `ban' on public transport, traffic on the
highways and the arrival and departure of flights. The aim, one of the
leaders of the agitation told The Hindu , is to cut off Manipur from
the `mainland' until the Centre agrees to withdraw the draconian law.

Though essential services have been exempted from the bandh call, even
a partial shut down of Government offices will mean a huge erosion of
authority for the Congress-led O. Ibobi Singh administration.

Disciplinary action has been threatened but public sentiment on the
issue is running so high after the custodial killing last month of
Manorama Devi by the Assam Rifles that Government employees will find
it hard to defy the movement's call. This is, after all, a State where
even Marwari and other shopkeepers whose forefathers migrated here
from elsewhere in India, downed their shutters to stage a noisy dharna
against the AFSPA on Saturday.

After flirting with the popular demand for revocation of the AFSPA and
promising some relief by August 15, the Chief Minister appears now, in
the face of the Centre's steadfast refusal for any change in the
status quo, to be having second thoughts. A close aide of the Chief
Minister told this reporter on Sunday that "the conditions prevailing
in the State at the present time are not conducive to the lifting of
the Act."

Until last week, it seemed as if Mr. Ibobi Singh was thinking of
defying the Centre and removing the tag of `disturbed area' from all
or some parts of Manipur, thereby rendering the AFSPA defunct. Under
the Act, the Centre can over-rule the State.

On the street, there is a general expectation that the situation will
rapidly deteriorate once the August 15 `deadline' comes and goes.
Asked what form the mass movement would take, one of the leaders of 32
organisations campaigning against the APSPA told The Hindu , "Until
now, people have only been calling for withdrawal of the Act, and of
the Army. The next stage will be to call for independence."

State officials share this assessment, arguing that the insurgent
groups are taking advantage of the Centre's apathy to further their
own demands. "The situation is very, very volatile," said one senior
officer. "I hope the Government has a plan. I hope they can offer the
people something before August 15."

05 August 2004

Centre in no hurry to compromise on Manipur

August 5, 2004
The Hindu


Centre in no hurry to compromise on Manipur

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, AUG. 4. The intensity and speed with which the political movement in Manipur against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has erupted has left the Manmohan Singh Government floundering for a response.

Senior Ministers acknowledge the situation in Manipur is grim, with large demonstrations and violent protests against the conduct of the armed forces taking place nearly everyday. There is a perception that something has to be done quickly to assuage sentiments there and improve the human rights situation. But at the same time, the UPA Government is under pressure from within and without to avoid taking any step that might appear to be a concession to "extremism". "The Centre has to be very firm regardless of public pressure," highly-placed sources told The Hindu on Wednesday. "There is no way that we can give in to the demand that the AFSPA be repealed. Because if we do, there are bound to be similar demands from elsewhere."

Draconian law

But Manipuri leaders are unconvinced. "If the UPA Government is committed to the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), how can it defend the AFSPA which is far more draconian?" is a question many MLAs from the State ask.

Compromise proposals have been made by academics and analysts familiar with the Northeast — including the "conditional lifting" of the AFSPA, provided Manipuri civil society groups agree to cooperate with the law and order machinery, and amending the Act to prevent soldiers below the rank of major from making arrests — but the Centre does not appear to be in a hurry to explore these possibilities.

Interim measures

Official sources do not rule out "interim measures" such as the establishment of an official panel to probe the workings of the AFSPA and the conduct of the armed forces in Manipur, but say the Act itself will not be repealed under the present circumstances.

Indeed, senior officials said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was upset with Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh for adding his voice to the demand for repeal of the Act and camping in Delhi rather than returning to Imphal and taking measures to calm the situation.

In his meetings with Manipuri political leaders over the past few days, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil is also understood to have reiterated this stand. "Patil told us there could be no revocation of the AFSPA until peace and tranquillity returns to the State," an MLA allied to the Ibobi Singh-led coalition told The Hindu. He added that the Centre did not seem to understand just how uncertain the situation in Manipur now was. Asked whether public opinion in the State would accept a partial lifting of the Act — one proposal doing the rounds is to remove all towns from its purview — the MLA said the time for half-measures might well be over. "At one time, people were demanding partial lifting of the Act but no one in Delhi listened. Now they are demanding its complete withdrawal. I am not sure how exactly the situation can be defused".

Rape suspected

The custodial killing last month of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles has fuelled popular outrage across Manipur cutting across political and ethnic lines. The Army says she was killed while attempting to escape but locals have questioned why 16 bullets were fired into her. On Monday, Dr. Ksh Manglem, who conducted a second post-mortem in the case, testified before an official commission that Manorama had been shot in her genitals. This disclosure has lent credence to the public perception that soldiers might have raped her, and then shot in such a way as to destroy the evidence.

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