On 23rd July 2009, the Manipur police claimed to have had an encounter with a ‘PLA cadre’ Sanjit, as a result of which Sanjit died. While this version was widely contested by the local people who claimed that Sanjit was murdered in a cold-blooded manner, a set of sequential photographs depicting Manipur police commandoes overpowering an unarmed Sanjit, taking him inside a shuttered down chemist shop and then coming out with his bullet ridden dead body, published in the Tehelka magazine, left no doubts about the nature of the killing. The Manipur administration, however, reiterated their stand that Sanjit was a member of the banned PLA and was armed and that he initiated firing and died in retaliatory firing from the police.
Recently, the person, Head Constable Herojit who had allegedly ‘fought back’ Sanjit leading to his death and was later awarded a gallantry medal, had spoken to the press that he had killed an unarmed Sanjit on orders from his higher up. His confession reiterates the claims of civil society groups that Sanjit was unarmed, that a gun was planted on him and that he was killed at point blank. While Herojit waited for six years to come out with the statement, in the meantime the ASP who allegedly ordered the ‘encounter’ has been promoted to an SP, and Herojit has been decorated with an award. Significantly, Herojit has claimed that the then ASP had also told him that the Chief Minister and the Director General of Police had given the “go ahead”. Though the CBI who conducted an inquiry into the case has charge-sheeted nine policemen, none is arrested till now. As for the superior officers or higher ups no action was initiated by the CBI. Herojit’s statement in this context exposes the dirty reality of many ‘encounter deaths’ and shows that there is a clear hierarchy at work, wherein the higher ups are protected and the lower ranked officers are tried if there be a pressing case like Sanjit’s. This brings into focus the need for application of the principle of Command Responsibility, and prosecution of the officer who ordered the killing, and his higher ups who had sanctioned it.
The admission by Herojit may be a rare instance, but it brings to light the policy of the Government in armed conflict areas either declared Disturbed or bereft of it as Imphal has been since 2004,and the sheer routineness of such heinous crimes. The irony of Herojit’s admssion is the reason he gives for speaking out: that he no longer feels safe from the police. He kept silent till the time he thought that his crimes and violations of laws would be covered up by the force which is de jure supposed to uphold laws and apprehend violators. As a result he shows no remorse and merely takes shelter by claiming he was acting under order of his officer. It shows how the hierarchy and command structure turns soldiers into heartless brutes in armed conflict areas.
The incident of daylight killing of Sanjit rattled the Manipuri civil society, which was accompanied by one more murder: a seven months pregnant passerby Rabina Devi, accompanied by her two and half year old son on her way to a doctor, who was shot dead. Meira Paibis and Apunba Lups, the women led civil society groups of Manipur organized state-wide protests demanding justice. Despite a case pending in the High Court and the CBI inquiry, the attitude of the government was, however, reflective of an opinion shared by the then Chief Secretary of Manipur DS Punia, to a delegation of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations on December 16, 2009. In response to a question about how government views the killing of people like Rabina Devi, Mr Punia stated that one “can’t really differentiate between the people and the ultras”.
The case of Sanjit is still on in the Gauhati High Court. If Herojit is not swiftly removed from the scene as feared by some sections of the media, his statement would be a major input for punishment of the guilty. However, this lone case would not be able to rectify the 1528 documented fake encounters recorded between1979-2012,and the rape, torture and other atrocities committed by the armed machinery of the central and state governments. In light of Head Constable Thounaojam Herojit Singh’s admission, what is really called for is a major rethinking of the policies of the state in carrying out prolonged military suppression when faced with popular uprising, as well as dismantling the regime of legal immunity by among other things revoking AFSPA and doing away with provision of prior sanction even under other laws which protects the perpetrators against prosecution and conviction for their heinous crimes, and which leaves the aggrieved debilitated, in their pursuance of the onerous task of getting justice against a State whose legal and other instrumentalities are designed to protect the perpetrator/s.
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, therefore, demands:
1. That Herojit Singh be taken into custody and his statement recorded before a Magistrate; and
2. The principle of ‘Command Responsibility’ be applied to suspend the SP of Imphal West District and to charge him as an accused for this crime.
Deepika Tandon & Moushumi Basu
01 February 2016