What did not come much to the notice of the media in the Northeast last week was a Supreme Court directive to the CBI’s special investigation team (SIT) to file a supplementary FIR naming the officers involved in the alleged extra-judicial killings and staged gunfights by the Army, Assam Rifles and police in Manipur over the years. A bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice UU Lalit asked the SIT to file supplementary FIRs in the existing FIR that would include the names of officers or commanding officers of the units concerned, and told the National Human Rights Commission to assist the CBI team. The apex court said the judicial inquiries and the Gauhati High Court’s findings have named the commanding officer of the unit of the Assam Rifles battalion (involved in the alleged shooting) or the officer who shot “but these personnel have not been named in the FIR”. The court was hearing a PIL seeking a probe into as many as 1,528 cases of extra-judicial killings in Manipur.
This is serious. That over 1,500 extra-judicial killings took place in a State battling militancy of myriad hues over the past six decades or so, and which is home to the largest number of militant groups in the Northeast, paints a grim picture of a democratic system refusing to evolve into a functioning democracy. The point is this: if non-state actors have taken upon themselves the task of staging ‘revolutions’ by bloody means to prove that they do not adhere to the Indian Constitution and have no business to live within the framework of the Indian nation-state, and in doing so if they have no qualms at all in even butchering innocent civilians, even then a democratic state must rise to the occasion to trace the root of the malaise and stymie militant-ist tendencies and actions within the framework of democracy, and not resort to random picking up of innocent people and shooting them down on mere suspicion of them being militants. Extra-judicial killings might be okay in the scheme of things of despotic dictators, but they are a serious aberration in a democracy if we call ourselves as one. The state cannot morph into a terror machine. It must rather visit the root of the problem and find solutions there; it must strengthen its intelligence grid, apart from empowering the policing system or the security apparatus, in order to prevent terror from being unleashed on innocent people. At the same time, innocent relatives of militants cannot be intimidated. This is not a banana republic yet.
The pictures of senior Manipuri women stripping in front of Kanga Fort – then headquarters of the Assam Rifles – in Imphal in 2004 to protest the brutal rape and murder of Manorama Devi by Assam Rifles personnel on the mere suspicion of her being a militant, still unnerve us. It was an international breaking news, bringing to sharp focus the degeneration of a counter-militancy grid into a bestial killing machine with no respect for any democratic norms – nay, norms of human civilization. Therefore, what the Supreme Court has asked the CBI to do in the instant case deserves a huge round of applause. The officers involved in each and every extra-judicial killing must be named and shamed.
When there’s No Debate
In an illuminating newspaper article yesterday, eminent sociologist and former JNU professor Dipankar Gupta drew parallels between two of the greatest priests of non-violence of the last century – Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King. Yesterday was the day when, 50 years ago, King was shot dead by fanatics, just as Gandhi was. But, as Gupta has enlightened readers, what many may not know is what King said when he visited Cornell College in 1962. Gupta writes: “Indian parliamentarians may not heed this advice; but King did. When he visited Cornell College in 1962, King said, ‘Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate…’ Therefore, no communication, no debates, no democracy!” Gupta’s accusing finger is at Indian lawmakers, both in Parliament and state assemblies. Issues are not debated and deliberated upon with aid from the faculty of reason, homework, and concern for the constituencies they represent. But perhaps they represent themselves alone, none else. Hence the boisterous scenes we witness in our legislative bodies, with lawmakers behaving worse than street fighters, exceptions apart. They do not raise issues; they shout non-issues, slamming the door hard on every bud of discussion. When there is disagreement, there is impulsive walk-out; worse, speakers often face missiles in form of pen, paper, placards. Total pandemonium is the rule of the game, not any meaningful debate – of the kind witnessed during the formative years of our Republic.
At Cornell College, King was giving the world the mantra of communication: the more we communicate keeping our heads cool, using our faculty of rationale, the more we grow as citizens in a democracy. After all, democracy is an exercise of deliberation despite the plethora of disagreements. It is this fact of democratic life that has evaporated from the minds of our lawmakers as they reduce themselves to butts of ridicule in public eyes. This must make their heads churn now. Or never.