//INDIA: Guarantee justice to join the national mainstream

INDIA: Guarantee justice to join the national mainstream

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates the President of India, Honourable Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, for her visit to the northeastern states of Nagaland and Manipur. The President visited Nagaland yesterday and will spend today and tomorrow in Manipur. During a speech at Dimapur in Nagaland the President urged the northeastern states “to put their best efforts to be part of the Indian growth story by harnessing their potentials, particularly through the Centre’s ‘Look East Policy'”. While becoming part of the larger ‘Indian growth story’ might be an attractive proposition for some in the region, many could consider the President’s call for national participation a crude joke given the state of affairs in the region. (left photo: Sharmila at her hospital bed in Imphal)

A general understanding of ordinary life in Manipur is good enough reason to argue and substantiate this point. During the past five years there is hardly a single day in Manipur where one of its citizens were not murdered extra-judicially, or abducted for ransom by non-state actors or criminals, or taken into custody by unidentified military, paramilitary or state police officers, or a case of brutal custodial torture is reported. During the same period not a single case was impartially investigated and the suspects brought to trial. The people of Manipur have more than two dozen cases to cite in which the security agencies operating in the state have demonised villages and its innocent inhabitants with rape, assault and torture accusing the villagers of having supported secessionist groups operating in the region. So far not a single incident, of which at least a few would amount to crimes against humanity, have been investigated.

Those who dared to speak against such incidents have been falsely implicated in criminal cases and many have been extra-judicially executed. The government of India has attempted to threaten or intimidate those who dared to speak about these violent incidents before international agencies like the United Nations Human Rights Council, or during the sessions of many of the UN Thematic Mechanisms, with consequences at home upon their return to India from Geneva. The reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, formerly the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders submitted to the United Nations substantiate this point.

The July 23 incident of 2009 where two persons, including a seven-months-pregnant mother and a surrendered militiaman were shot dead in full public view in the capital city of the state, Imphal, is yet to be properly investigated. Within hours after the incident, the Chief Minister of the state, Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh, made a false declaration to the state that the two murdered civilians were armed insurgents. The Chief Minister’s statement was not based on any evidence or investigation. The Chief Minister or the state administration took no trouble to withdraw the statement despite the murder being nationally condemned as a ruse to continue providing blanket impunity to the state police officers, many of them appointed after the Chief Minister and/or those who claim to be his agents accepting huge amounts of money as bribes. Today, the post of a Sub-Inspector of Police in Manipur State Police is publically auctioned for sale with ‘bribe tags’ ranging between 10-15 million rupees. The state government has not found it as its responsibility even today to offer the minimum, an apology to the families of blaming one of their relatives as a terrorist. The trial in the session’s case against nine police officers accused of murder in the July 23 incident is yet to commence since the hearing on the charge is to take place today and tomorrow, unless adjourned further and delayed, which is the notorious feature of the country’s justice system.

The security apparatus operating in Manipur, inter alia the state police, all its operational wings, the military and paramilitary units, that muster their operational logic and mandate from the central government’s accedence to the state administration’s request for additional security cover, which is in theory supposed to provide security to the person and property of the Manipuri’s have become today Manipur’s and thus India’s own nemesis. In addition to the riders against civilian prosecution in the Army Act, 1950 and The Assam Rifles Act, 2006, one central piece of legislation, The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 provides effective statutory impunity against investigation and prosecution for this massive and unruly state machinery. The AFSPA continues to be in operation in the state, despite calls for its repeal from within and outside the state, including those made by government sponsored Inquiry Commissions, of which at least one was headed by the present Vice President of India, Honourable M. Hamid Ansari.

No dreams of development and progress could sustain without a law abiding security apparatus that supports a justice framework, which nurtures the reign of the rule of law. A democratic environment provided by a republic depends for its survival upon some essential fundamentals, including a functioning, publically accountable and law abiding security apparatus. This is completely absent in all its cognitive and practical sense in Manipur. In that Manipur is the worst example along with the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. In other parts of the country the security apparatus faces similar, if not exactly equal concerns about its daily functioning.

On a parallel vein one could also find fault with the Government of India’s perception of what it means by the ‘Look East Policy’. A country that is constituted on the pillars of democracy and democratic norms has nothing much to emulate from most of the East Asian states, but for two relatively subtle examples of Japan and South Korea. Concerning an immediate neighbour of India, Burma, of which India had gone out of the way during the early years of military dictatorship in that country to promote and nurture the democratic movement in Burma, probably encouraged by India’s experience with the experiment that it successfully concluded in former East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, India has backtracked much to the embarrassment of everyone who believes in democracy and those values the concept of democracy implies, by publically supporting the military junta in Burma.

Counteracting the Chinese pressure or the refocusing of targets in the process of seeking better pastures for fossil fuels cannot be a tenable excuse for India’s support to the Burmese junta. Neither can be the Lee Kuan Yew induced Singaporean model be of any inspiration to Indian democracy. This realignment of policies, visibly starting from 1993 has resulted in placing India in the limelight to be viewed not as a champion of democracy and freedom, but as an opportunistic state that is forced to make drastic changes in its foreign and domestic policies fearing a Chinese economic invasion. That the Honourable President of India has suggested this policy as an incentive for the people of the northeast is like referring an insane person to a lunatic for treatment.

Should there be any incentive for the people of the northeast to join mainstream India, such request must be based on providing them the basic guarantees that India as a democracy could offer to its people. Of primary importance should be the emphasis in ensuring the fundamental guarantee of life with safety, and security from the excesses committed by the security agencies operating in the region. In that the central government cannot and must not depend exclusively upon the state administrations. Should there be a consensus to be developed to join the so call
ed national main stream, it must be based on a confidence building exercise that is sustainable and anchored on the tenets of justice, rather than a faint prayer for forgetting and forgiving. In that justice is a notion visible and experienced only when there is real justice and redress for grievances.

There can be no conversation when the table is set by threat and intimidation where only monologues exist. There would be no peace in the shadow of arms and violence committed with impunity. Silence fermented out of fear will only promote violence. The Honourable President, her Prime Minister and his Cabinet have much experience in the above propositions than anyone else that held power in New Delhi in the past 20 years.

Honourable President need not look anywhere else to find an opening to initiate the process of peace and confidence building. Ms. Irom Channu Sharmila, also known as the ‘iron lady’ of Manipur has been observing an indefinite fast for the past 10 years pleading for establishing sustainable peace in Manipur. The state administration, expressing its true character of fermented force has only found it appropriate, to imprison her in a hospital ward, force-feeding her through a nasal tube. The administration has released Sharmila yesterday, upon which she is continuing her indefinite fast in a tent in Imphal accompanied by other human rights defenders.

When Sharmila was detained, she was denied permission to meet anyone. In that Sharmila was under solitary confinement for the past decade without trial, a punishment that even the most hardened and convicted criminals in the country do not face.

If the Honourable President is honest in her intentions when the President addressed the people of the northeast yesterday, let the President’s Office prove it by initiating actions to withdraw the AFSPA from Manipur and let it be made clear to the people of Manipur through a public statement. Let there be independent investigations against all past and in every future incidents of human rights violations committed by the security agencies operating in the region.

Let the perception of justice prevail in action and spirit in the region than the dark veil of fear and repression.

Any affirmative action of the above nature will be the true incentive for the people in the region to expect that there is a larger and brighter future that the rest of India can offer by being part of the ‘larger Indian dream’. It would be also the most fitting birthday gift to Sharmila who will celebrate her 39th birthday on March 14, most probably once again in the solitary room at the government hospital in Imphal after being rearrested once the President departs from the region.