RIMS sees light at tunnel’s end?
The Supreme Court’s recent permission to the Manipur Police Commando’s Havildar Thaou-naojam Herojit to testify during the ongoing probe in the 1,528 extra-judicial killings is bound to open up a new dimension and send shivers down the spines of many senior police officers. In his affidavit filed before the apex court, he had contended that he was part of fake encounter killings and carried out the executions upon orders of his superiors.
Herojit first shot into prominence on 23 July 2009 when he killed a former cadre of the PLA called Chungkham Sanjit in broad daylight in Imphal’s busy Bir Tikendrajit Road. The Assembly was in session then and chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who also held the home portfolio, announced on the floor of the house that he had been informed by then Director General of Police and now deputy chief minister, Yumnam Joykumar, that an insurgent was shot dead in an encounter and a gun recovered from his possession.
All was well until the Delhi-based magazine Tehelka carried a series of photographs showing the police taking Sanjit inside a pharmacy on BT Road, its shutters being lowered and later carrying out his body. That forced the chief minister to order a CBI probe into the killing. Soon Herojit and the six other policemen involved were placed under suspension.
Then on 25 January 2016, Herojit made a historic confession before a select group of media persons that he had killed Sanjit on the express orders of his superior, then Additional SP (Imphal West) AK Jhalajit. He also said that he had already shot dead 129 other persons in different fake encounters between 2003 and 2009. He had meticulously recorded the events through details like name, age, parentage, address, place of killing or arrest and code remarks such as “killed”, “done” or “arrest”. Those were recorded in three different diaries over the years and that was mentioned in his affidavit before the Supreme Court.
Herojit also mentioned that the CBI, during its probe of the July killing, had seized all the diaries from his quarters located at the Police Commando Complex at Minuthong, Imphal in the presence of members of his family. Neither did they obtain his signature on the seizure panchnama nor gave him a list of the diaries seized. Thereafter he was summoned on various occasions to the CBI office and questioned intensely over the contents of his diaries.
Then after his sensational revelation in 2016 he pleaded with the ASP of the CBI, one Shukla, to record that he was ordered to kill Sanjit, but his plea fell on deaf ears. Subsequently the trial court and even the High Court had refused to record his statement. Herojiit also said that he feared for his life after being transferred to the barracks of the “notorious” 7th Battalion of the Manipur Rifles where former underground cadres are housed. Then on 30 April 2016, the car that he was driving was rammed by a Tata truck bearing no number — he sustained multiple fractures and required 39 stitches.
The Supreme Court observed that the confession of Herojit could be recorded before any judicial magistrate in Delhi and accordingly the “vicarious liabilities” (the term refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment) can be fixed. And also the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure with the CBI over the slow pace of the investigation into the 90 fake encounter cases that it had ordered a Special Investigation Team to undertake on 14 July 2017. It was observed that the CBI had till date registered only 11 FIRs as per the records with the Supreme Court.
And according to Colin Gonsalves, the amicus curie of the Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families, Manipur and who is the original petitioner before the Supreme Court, the CBI is treating the FIRs as top secret as top secret although those are public documents. For instance, the names of the police personnel indicted in the FIRs are still not known and the FIRs were delivered to the residences of the respective judges through special messengers and the petitioner was still in the dark. The amicus curie also informed the Supreme Court about the slow pace of the CBI investigation stating that it had taken six months to register 11 FIRs and at this pace, it would take more than four years to register FIRs in all the 92 cases and almost 20 years to register FIRs in all the 1,528 cases. He also mentioned that the National Human Rights Commission, Judicial Enquiries and Commission of Enquiries had already submitted their findings in all the 92 cases.
Speaking to The Statesman, Babloo Loitongbam of the Human Rights Alert and the man behind it all in the Supreme Court said that the move by Head Constable Herojit Singh is a historic one and contended that if more policemen involved in such killings can come forward, then the entire police system not only in Manipur but also elsewhere will undergo a sweeping change. He also contended what with Herojit testifying himself before the court that he himself had done the killing then who is there to question his acts. Babloo was also critical of the reluctance of the investigating agencies to take cognisance of established facts that are public knowledge.
Herojit had a traumatic childhood at his Lamdang village home at the hands of militants who would harass his father for monetary demands almost as a routine affair. Then he joined the police commandos and became an encounter specialist or a police executioner killing more than 130 people as a matter of routine. The Army kills people for their gallantry awards and Manipur police personnel do so to make up for the payments made for recruitment, which supposedly runs into several lakhs of rupees. And if lucky they strike a jackpot once in a while when they lay their hands on the coffers of the insurgent groups.
But all said and done the days of fake encounter killings in Manipur seem to be coming to a closure with the Supreme Court breathing down heavily on the necks of the policemen and the Army. Even the CBI is not being spared on this aspect with the Supreme Court having directed its DIG and head of the Special Investigation Team to be present before it and present the status report in person. It is perhaps akin to the light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel, which began with insurgency in the late 1970s in Manipur, the state being declared disturbed in September 1979 and followed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
(The writer is the Imphal-based special representative of The Statesman)
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