Out damned spot, I say!
In the manner the ghost of the alleged systematic custodial killings during 2009-2012 by a unit of the Dimapur based 3-Corps Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, 3-CISU, is returning repeatedly to haunt this Indian Army formation, it is difficult not to be reminded of Lady Macbeth’s exclamations in the disturbing Act 5 scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Out, damned spot, I say!”
The 3-Corps is arguably a formation with the largest spread of land area under its command, stretching across Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, therefore touching three international borders. It is also one which has thrown up a very large number of Army chiefs, including the last three.
The tipping point of some consciences within the 3-Corp establishment apparently came after an alleged spree of cold-blooded killings in 2010, in particular of three Manipuri men, Phijam Naobi, R.K. Ranel and Th. Prem, reportedly picked up from Dimapur town in Nagaland. The bodies of these three were recovered from a jungle just across the Nagaland border in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, with tell-tale signs of severe torture on their bodies, including nails driven into their skulls.
An elder brother of one of the three men lodged an FIR with the Dimapur police, but when the police did not show much interest in investigating the crime, the brother took the case to the Guwahati High Court, which directed a special investigation team of the Nagaland Police headed by a Superintendent of Police be formed to pursue the case, but even this probe dragged its feet inordinately.
The Army all along has been claiming no knowledge of the three murdered persons, not to talk of arresting or killing them. However, the “damned spot” returned to haunt and in a sensational development yesterday (August 1), a copy of a letter from the Army archives came in the possession of a veteran journalist activist, Yambem Laba, who has been following the case closely. The letter, signed by Col. Shrikumar of the 3-CISU, dated June 30, 2010, is a citation recommending a captain, Capt. Rabina Kaur Keer, for award of Sena Medal (Gallantry) for busting a terrorist ring, apprehending and killing three of them. Unfortunately, the three bear same names as the three whose bodies were recovered from the Karbi Anglong jungle.
A few weeks earlier, nervous unease within the 3-Corp establishment had again become apparent when Lt. Col. Dharamvir Singh of the 1st Para Regiment (Special Force), who was also attached to the 3-CISU, was “arrested” by the Army on July 1 from his quarters within the Army’s M-Sector outpost in the heart of Imphal, right next to Imphal’s Zero-mile milestone, where he was taking up residence with his wife and two young daughters. Dharamvir Singh had in September 2016 written a letter to the Corp commander inquiring about the progress of the Karbi Anglong bodies case but was reportedly made to withdraw the letter on the assurance that the matter would be brought to its logical conclusion.
When nothing was heard from or of her husband after his arrest, Dharamvir Singh’s wife, Ranju Singh, took the help of some local women to hold a press conference on July 3 at the Manipur Press Club, and made her husband’s disappearance public. The Army promptly issued a rebuttal to the press, claiming the officer was only being escorted back to his original post at Dimapur as his temporary assignment at Imphal was at an end. The rebuttal also charged that the officer had brought his family along to his post without prior permission from his superiors.
When her husband still did not show up, Ranju Singh filed a Habeas Corpus writ with the Manipur High Court on July 5, and upon the direction of the court, Dharamvir Singh was produced before the court on July 11. Accompanying him were, again upon the direction of the court, the officers who “arrested” him without warrant, Lt. Col. Nanda and Maj. Rathod, against whom an FIR had been earlier lodged with the Imphal West Police by Dharamvir’s wife. She later also said her husband was tortured during detention. The officers were subsequently charged “under section 346/365/363/120-B IPC and 27 Arms Act for wrongful confinement, kidnapping and concealing with criminal conspiracy by using arms.” The Army denied this and reiterated Dharamvir was only being escorted back to his original post.
However, just as Lady Macbeth trying exclaimed “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him,” the 3-Corps case too turned even messier. On July 28, the affidavit filed by Dharamvir’s wife on behalf of her husband to the High Court came in the possession of English daily Imphal Free Press, and the paper flashed its contents the next day. The affidavit charged a lot more blood spilled than those of the three bodies found in the Karbi Anglong jungle.
The picture that emerged from the affidavit is one of systematic arrests, tortures, extra-judicial executions and extortions, perpetrated by a 3-CISU team. Apart from the three men killed and dumped in the jungle, there was also the mention of a Manipuri insurgent leader belonging to the PLA, G. Jiteshwar alias G.M. Chanjou alias Gypsy, picked up from Dimapur town, killed and buried behind the unit’s mess. Another Manipuri boy, Thangjam Satish, studying in St. Dominic’s College, Shillong, who was reported missing since February 5, 2010, by his family, the affidavit says was picked up from his rented accommodation in Shillong and killed along with an unnamed companion by the same CISU team behind their mess. It also mentions of a lady and child who were picked up from Dimapur town but released on the payment of a ransom of Rs. 1 crore by their family.
The affidavit also called for all officers associated with the 3-CISU from 2009 to 2010 to be questioned and paraded before surviving victims for identification of their involvement in unlawful detentions and violent crimes perpetrated under the umbrage of the 3-CISU.
Lady Macbeth’s despairing lament yet again comes to mind: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!”
This horrifying picture of brutality and inhumanity, if established, is probably another warning of what power without accountability that draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, under which the military in Northeast and Kashmir functions, can do to the souls of men and women given it. This must be the “Heart of Darkness” that Kurtz stared into before going mad.
(A slightly shortened version of this article under a different heading was first published in The Tribune, Chandigarh)
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