Militarisation and impunity in Manipur

Jiten Yumnam & Phulindro Konsam, Committee on Human Rights, Manipur, India

Manipur, which is situated on the border of Burma in India’s northeast, has witnessed low-intensity armed conflict ever since it was annexed to India in 1949, when the King Budhachandra was coerced into signing the Merger Agreement. The merger was rejected by local people as it was not discussed and ratified by the Manipur Legislative Assembly, which had been formed with an adult franchise in 1948. In response to people’s attempts to assert their right to self determination the government of India deployed its armed forces and subsequently enacted special emergency laws, the most notorious being the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958, which suspends fundamental rights, including the right to obtain a legal remedy for violations of other rights, including killing by state officers.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act declared Manipur a ‘disturbed’ area and legitimized full-scale military operations, permitting even a non-commissioned officer to extinguish kill on mere suspicion with guaranteed immunity. The extent of military deployment is such that at the height of anti-insurgent operations in the 1990s there were at least four divisions and 270 paramilitary companies stationed in the small state. Today a military camp can be found nearby every inhabited area of the region. In some parts, the area of land occupied by state security units exceeds that of the villagers. For instance, from Sangakpham Bazaar to Koirengei Duck Farm in Heingang Constituency, a distance of some 5.5 kilometres, the security forces have occupied some 470 acres of land.

There has not ever been a systematic assessment of the effects of militarisation on the people of Manipur. However, it can be said that three decades of suffering and humiliation at the hands of the military has greatly undermined people’s physical and spiritual integrity and threatened the survival of entire communities. The threats are variously direct–caused by extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention–and indirect–caused by confiscation of arable agricultural land, sacred cultural sites and hillocks in residential areas, or restrictions on fishing, farming and other activities in forests and wetlands.

Confiscation of land for military deployment is a recurring cause for great hardship and dissatisfaction, as in the case of the occupation of over 200 acres of land at Mahakabui village in Senapati District, which is now a massive Assam Rifles camp. Land is occupied without regard to its value or importance to local inhabitants. The 8th Assam Rifles have taken over the Chinga Hills, considered a sacred site by the Meitei people. Likewise, they have occupied a prime location inside Manipur University campus which was once the place of the royal palace of King Gambhirsing, and Tombisana School in the heart of Imphal town has been occupied by the Central Reserve Police Force. Elsewhere in the town, the Kangla Pungmayol, a cultural and historical site that was a traditional seat of Manipuri kings, was until recently occupied by the Assam Rifles. Even now the military is attempting to acquire another 120 acres of land at Luwangsangbam in Imphal East District, and at the Waithou Hills.

Where army camps are set up, villagers lose not only their land but also suffer many other restrictions that affect their livelihoods. The 7th Assam Rifles deployed at Thanga Karang and Sendra has completely banned fishing in Loktak Lake after dark, and strictly regulates it at other hours. It has also ordered people there off floating huts in the lake that allowed them the time and means to earn their livings from fishing. These are just the latest impositions on the local population, who were already displaced and denied compensation after a hydroelectric project was commissioned in 1984. Meanwhile, the Khunkhu village council and United North Eastern Tribal Village Authorities Council have consistently complained about troops from Leimakhong army base using a nearby area as a firing range. Intense artillery and small arms practice there has killed and injured villagers and their domestic animals. During firing practices of more than two weeks, villagers and their cattle are forbidden to move out of their houses. The villagers filed a petition to the Guwahati High Court in 1997 and the court in September 1998 directed the army to shift the firing practice location from time to time and pay compensation for casualties. However, the court order has not been respected, in violation of the Maneuvers, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act of 1938, which obliges compensation for loss of livelihood and damage to crops due to field firing and artillery practice.

The psychological effects of living within sight of an army camp or similar facility, common throughout Manipur and other northeastern states of India, also have not been properly studied. What can be said with certainty is that the heavy military presence precipitates a breakdown in local communication, making people vulnerable to suspicion and forcing communities to close themselves to the outside.

AHRC Urgent Appeal:
Karang villagers in Manipur suffer human rights violations during a recent military operation

UA-184-2005, 24 October 2005

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action in Manipur, India regarding human rights violations committed by the security personnel at Thanga Karang, Bishenpur District, Manipur.

According to the information received, members of the 73 Mountain Brigade under the aegis of 57 Mountain Division led by Major General Govind Dwivedi conducted a massive operation in Thanga Karang between 3 and 5 October 2005. It is alleged that there were as many as 3000 people at Karang during the operation, all of whom have now been confined to the area, where their welfare remains unknown. The fish-traps in the Loktak Lake were destroyed by the motor boats of the army, which has heavily affected the Karang villagers who sustain their lives through fishing activities. Also, there is no road communication for Karang villagers and they have been suffering from a lack of essential commodities following the army operation.

This major military operation is not the first to be held in Karang. For example, a massive operation was conducted in the Karang area in March 1999. Many human rights violations such as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture, forced labour and inhuman treatment were reported by the villagers…

The AHRC urges you to immediately intervene in this matter. Please request the Manipur state government to stop on-going military operations in this area and duly compensate the villagers for their losses. Please also request the Government of India to abolish the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, which affords excessive powers to security personnel…

Increasingly the military is being deployed in Manipur to protect unsustainable and exploitative government projects. The Loktak Hydroelectric Power Project, which displaced thousands of people in Thoubal and Bishenpur Districts without compensation and caused massive destruction to the Loktak Wetlands, is being protected by the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Forces. The Assam Rifles and Indian Reserve Battalion are guarding the Mapithel Dam of the Thoubal Multipurpose Project in Ukhrul District, the construction of which has been vehemently opposed by local people. Three people died in December 2005 when the Border Security Forces and Indian Reserve Battalion fired upon villagers demanding proper rehabilitation and resettlement after they were forced out of their houses by the Khuga Dam. And the Assam Rifles has publicly stated that they will protect the construction of Tipaimukh High Dam, which local people have opposed for over two decades.

The expansion of the military and related agencies in Manipur has created enormous problems for civil society. While the government complains that it has no money with which to support civilian institutions, it has blatantly pumped millions more rupees every year into the police and army forces stationed throughout the state. Meanwhile, the spaces for dissent have steadily shrunk.

Public resistance to the militarisation of Manipur began with the historic protests in the early 1980s against the killings and atrocities in Patsoi Langjing perpetrated by the Central Reserve Police Force, including the rape of a pregnant woman. As the legacy of atrocities has continued till today so also has the legacy of protest against injustice, which has been consistently met with violence.

The militarisation of Manipur must be taken seriously. The government of India must stop viewing Manipur simply in terms of military calculations. The idea that militarisation creates national security cannot be sustained: all that it reveals is a hardened denial of fundamental rights, and disinterest in the cries of people calling for justice.

As far back as 1997 the UN Human Rights Committee called upon the government of India to adopt a political, rather than military, solution to the conflict in Manipur. The people of Manipur would welcome the same. The fact that insurgent groups have only gained momentum and strength indicates that three decades of militarisation in Manipur have not worked. Listening and responding to the voices of the people of Manipur for a political solution would be a vastly superior alternative.

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