KOLKATA — Manipur is on the boil after security forces shot dead a young woman and arrested another claiming both had links with secessionist guerrillas.
Yesterday Chandel and Bishenpur districts of the insurgency-wracked northeastern state witnessed massive demonstrations against the army, para-military and police. Protesters blocked roads and national highways plunging the region into chaos.
Security forces are accused of killing 30-year-old Meikham Devi in cold blood and arresting 65-year-old Toncaobi Devi because they couldn’t find her son.
The government insists that Meikham was killed during an encounter with army and Assam Rifles soldiers in which four People’s Liberation Army fighters were also killed. And its ‘explanation’ for the old woman’s arrest is that she refused to divulge the whereabouts of her wanted son.
The latest atrocities have outraged human rights groups and ordinary Manipuris who are demanding exemplary punishment for the men in uniform. Passions were inflamed when Meikham’s husband and relatives dismissed the official explanation saying that she was shot inside her house and not in an encounter.
Chingthui, her husband, said: "She was hiding under a cot with our two-year-old child in her arms when she was shot. My wife died on the spot and our child suffered a bullet injury." Apparently, most of the villagers had bolted themselves in their houses or fled when the encounter began. Security forces broke into Chingthui’s house and allegedly killed Meikham. But government says she was among the slain PLA militants from whom sophisticated weapons were seized.
In Bishenpur people are incensed by Devi’s arrest and have vowed not to lift the road blockade until she is unconditionally released and her tormentors punished. Local legislator N. Radhakishore lambasted the police for detaining the "innocent woman" for three days without filing any charges.
The MLA said he visited the woman in custody yesterday and found her ‘very weak’ because she had refused to eat food in protest against her arrest. Bishenpur district is also seething over the alleged molestation of a woman during a search operation by security forces earlier this month.
Activists say that security forces in the northeast consider themselves above the law and behave like an occupation force.