DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The brutal May 10 assault of a young man in Imphal by policemen belonging to the escort team of the Manipur Assembly Speaker Th Lokeswar Singh simply because he was a bit late in steering his car to the side to give way to the VIP’s convoy is yet another example of excesses by security forces in the North-east. The victim, Arambam Amitabh, incidentally happens to be a Police Sub-Inspector himself and was driving back home that night with his wife and two children, aged six and one respectively. Arambam, a police gallantry award winner, was beaten up in front of his wife and children, even though he identified himself. He had to be hospitalised for treatment of severe wounds inflicted by the caning and beatings he received with rifle butts. The country witnessed images of Amitabh’s bruised body on tiol television.
Incidents such as this have actually been providing the much-needed oxygen to the insurgents in the region and sustaining their so-called ‘movements’. Every instance of excess by the police, the Army or the paramilitary brings in people onto the streets to raise their voice of protest. After the May 10 assault too, men and women from the locality where Arambam and his family lived came out and protested against the police brutality, even blocking the road for a while. Public angst against the state and the symbols of authority is what the insurgents want and Manipur has more than three dozen of rebel groups, several of whom are active. And yes, Manipur is also the only state in the North-east where frontline Meitei insurgent groups have not really entered into any peace dialogue so far with New Delhi although some Kuki rebel outfits have entered into a truce mode.
In an insurgency-ravaged state as Manipur, the least the state government and the Centre can do in such instances is exemplary action on the culprits to gain the confidence of the people. After all, in the battle against insurgency, people’s support is a must. The authorities need to realise that the Government needs the people to be on its side as much as the insurgents want them to be on theirs. Counter-insurgency is as much of a mind game as it is a do-or-die military exercise requiring skilled planning and execution.
On this occasion, however, the Congress government of Okram Ibobi Singh in Manipur has decided to protect the Speaker and his guards. There was not even an apology from the Speaker who, according to the victim’s wife Vanda, watched the event from the confines of his SUV. Nobody in the government thought it necessary to make a comment on the issue. The family filed a complaint at the police station within about three hours of the incident on May 10 but the police took more than 36 hours to register an FIR. So far, only the ‘leader’ of the escort party has been placed under suspension and the rest, around 12 to 15 other policemen, are freely going about their work.
The authorities have made a mockery of justice or the rule of law. An official of the Manipur Assembly has been quoted as saying two days after the incident that he had gone into the matter and found that the Speaker was not in that convoy that night or was not present when the incident happened. The question is this—if the Speaker was not there in that convoy, why were the escort vehicles blowing the siren and speeding at that hour in the night, endangering the safety of common motorists? Answers will come only after a thorough probe and that too only if such an investigation is conducted in a free and fair manner.
Life in Imphal, not to speak of the rest of Manipur, is tough to say the least. Parents have hardly any altertive other than spending huge amounts of money, at times at a heavy cost, to send their children outside the state for even a good school education, not to speak of higher education! All because the academic atmosphere is not conducive. The Government’s insensitive handling of issues leads to the most favoured form of protest in the state, that, too, at the drop of a hat—blocking the tiol Highway, the link to the rest of India. Therefore, one common sight in Imphal are serpentine queues for petrol and diesel, of course, at a cost higher than perhaps everywhere else in the country! Now, people are beginning to wonder if there exist a nexus between some in the government, the petroleum dealers and other vested interests in creating situations for highway blockades.
With the state government low on concrete action, the victim’s family and human rights activists met the visiting Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju on May 18 and briefed him on the case. The family has also moved the Manipur High Court seeking action on the FIR they had lodged and to ensure a free and fair probe. The only hope now lies on the judiciary. Well, there has been more tragic action meanwhile. On Sunday, Manipur Police commandos shot and killed an 18-year-old student and injured a few others, allegedly because the car in which the youths were travelling did not stop at a check point. At the end of the day, guns do the talking in Manipur as if it is part of a script that has no end.