By David Buhril
The ongoing counter-insurgency military operations in Manipur have created unwanted sufferings and misery for innocent villagers in Tipaimukh sub-division of Churachandpur district. This can be traced to March-April 2004 under “Operation All Clear” by the Indian Army at Sajik Tampak in the neighbouring Chandel district. However, the operation failed to achieve its target of quashing the major valley-based militant groups like the United National Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Army or People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak.
Instead, the operation has driven the valley-based militants to the hills of Tipaimukh where the militants took the advantage of an underdeveloped and isolated area. There are no proper roads or public distribution system, no medical facilities and worst of all, no law and order. These areas are the ancestral home of the Hmar tribe. In their flight and quest for shelter, the militants started occupying villages in the areas. They started collecting tax from the poor villagers.
To thwart any attack from rival organisations and the advancing Indian Army, the valley-based militants started fortifying themselves by reportedly planting landmines in the villages and at key entry and exit points. But the main sufferers are innocent villagers who have stepped on the landmines. The militants have been exercising their own brand of justice.
A village official alleged that the militants were from the United National Liberation Front and the Kangliepak Communist Party. “They demanded everything which we must deliver in five minutes time. If we failed, we faced the brunt consequences. They used to herd all the villagers together at any time of their choice. We used to be severely beaten and tortured.” The villager, who is not being named for reasons of his personal security, also claimed, for the first time, that Hmar women had been raped.
The State machinery which designs such military operations as “All Clear” should understand how civil society could be affected as a result. Ordinary people have borne the brunt of terror by State actors and armed militants.
In the face of a breakdown of law and order, thousands of Hmar villagers have crossed into Mizoram as well as into different parts of Manipur and Assam. Village authorities in Tipaimukh sub-division say they have turned up cases of at least 20 alleged rapes, mostly of teenage girls. Some of these incidents allegedly took place last month, on 16 January. (The underground groups have not commented on this issue to date and the issue is being made public for the first time through this article.)
One young woman told Lalthansang Pulamte, assistant secretary of Sinlung Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Organisation, in Sakawrdai, Mizoram, where they have taken shelter that she and her friends were “raped repeatedly by gun-totting militants… This will always remain to be the biggest scar of my life. I wish I could die than suffer this way.”
Another victim said, “What has happened has happened. We thought we should hide and be silent about it. However, after sharing the pain and miseries with other victims and family members, we realised that we must speak out to tell the world how badly we were treated. We have decided not to be silent anymore. They cannot leave us just like this. Something must be done.”
Some of the victims, including girls reportedly as young as 13 and 15 years old, are reportedly psychologically disturbed as a result. The father of a victim said he wanted to take his family and migrate to “a far off place” but that they were “poor jhum farmers… how can we just migrate without any money in our hands. Where is the government?”
SIPHRO secretary, Lalremlien Neitham, says that his group is petitioning the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Women in New Delhi for help. “But the people in distress need immediate and urgent help” because the flight due to fear continues.
(The author is a human rights activist.)