It is not every day that we get to talk about the occupation of a sacred hillock by Assam Rifles within the campus of Manipur University lest we be painted as forces inimical to the para-military organisation which boasts itself as friends of the hill people. Thanks to Chief Minister N Biren Singh for reminding us that there is still a Assam Rifles post inside the sanctum sanctorum of Manipur University, a place for scholars and intellectuals.
Speaking at the Northeast seminar organised by Assam Rifles and Manipur University at the City Convention Centre, Palace Compound under the theme “Future Ready Manipur – Looking Beyond Ethnicity & Insurgency”, Chief Minister N Biren Singh appealed to Lt General PC Nair, director general of Assam Rifles to initiate the process of vacating the Assam Rifles camp from the Manipur University (MU) campus.
CM Biren said that all infrastructure at the new place will be provided by the state government. Well and good, not only on MU campus, CM Biren is negotiating for shifting of the Army base at Koirengei near his home.
What he does not seem to understand is the age-old fascination of Assam Rifles for commanding positions or hillocks in the valley area in locating their camps. In the late 70s and 80s, the general area in Langthabal and Singjamei constituencies had been the hotbed of insurgency movement in the state and most of its leaders were drawn from this area. That is specifically why Assam Rifles had chosen the hillocks at Canchipur and Chinga.
Even after the massive anti-Armed Forces Special Powers Act movement in 2004 and subsequent withdrawal of Assam Rifles from the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal city, the AR posts in and around Imphal including Canchipur continue to hang on.
On 15 July 2004, 12 MeiraPaibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, then the headquarters of the Assam Rifles, carrying banners with messages painted in red. “Indian Army Rape Us”, read one. “Indian Army Take Our Flesh”, said another. The women were protesting against the brutal killing of ManoramaThangjam, a 32-year-old woman who had been picked up by Assam Rifles personnel in suspicious circumstances four days prior.
Manorama’s bullet-riddled body with gunshot wounds to her private parts and thighs was found near a paddy field hours after she was taken away from her home. Semen stains reportedly found on her clothes in a forensic exam suggested she had been raped. A judicial commission set up to look into the case painted a scathing account of torture that Manorama allegedly suffered in her final hours.
The anti-AFSPA movement ignited by the Manorama incident led to lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies on November 20, 2004 and restoration of the Kangla Fort over to the state government by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Yet, the Assam Rifles posts in and around Imphal or in the valley areas remained.
As regards the AR Canchipur post, successive leaders of the Manipur University Students’ Union had been demanding removal of the post from the University campus for several years and no government leader had been able to deliver it to the students.
When AFSPA was removed from the Greater Imphal area, all these camps of security forces and Assam Rifles should have packed up and left as they had no further business to be there in the first place.
Now that the law and order situation had improved in the Imphal valley, the Centre under Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s stewardship had removed the applicability of AFSPA from some more areas in the state and other states of Northeast. Now, it is up to Chief Minister N Biren Singh to see if he could make AR move from Canchipur. He has now the mandate and political will needed to pursue such a demand.