Report from Manipur
Atrocities committed by the Assam Rifles
Newsletter December 1989
|Credit : tadar blog|
While many national and international atrocities against women are reported in Indian newspapers, there is very little information about the situation of Naga women and men who are living in fear in the hills of Manipur. Under the guise of counter insurgency manoeuvres, the armed forces have acquired vast powers, specially under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. This act as amended in 1972 gives extraordinary powers to the armed forces in “Disturbed Areas”; Some of these powers are:
- To fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the extent of causing death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area.
- Arrest without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect an arrest.
- Enter and search without warrant any premises, to make any such arrest as aforesaid.
- No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to have been done in excess of powers conferred by the Act.
Since 1956, the Naga Hills as a whole have been declared a ‘Disturbed Zone’. Protected by the provisions in law, the Indian forces have let loose a reign of terror.
In 1956, Rev. Pelesato Chare was burnt alive by Indian forces in Phek district of Nagaland. In 1962, 12 men at Melikhu village were tortured and killed. In July 1971, four girls were tortured and raped inside the Gankeli Baptist Church.
The tortures, rapes and murders have continued with regularity, culminating in 1987 in what has come to be known as the “Oinam Incident.” On the 9th of July 1987, at Oinam village in the Senapati district, the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) raided the Assam Rifles camp and carried away arms. Instead of punishing the officers, who were responsible for the security of the camp, a counter operation codenamed, “Operation Blue Bird” was launched. 17 people were tortured and killed; 12 people including 6 babies died of starvation and lack of medical attention; more than 300 men and young boys were subjected to third degree methods. At least 10 women were raped or sexually molested by officers of the Assam Rifles.
The Armed forces behaved like an invading enemy, looting indiscriminately, to the extent of stealing shawls, utensils, fish, cash and paddy etc. A Naga Civil Rights Organisation’s estimate shows that the Assam Rifles have looted more than Rs 50 lakhs worth of goods and cash in 7 villages. The Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights is now suing the Assam Rifles for, among other things, exemplary damages to be paid to the families of those tortured to death, to women who were assaulted or raped, and others who suffered at the hands of the Assam Rifles.
REPORT FROM JUNE 1989
Diary of an activist. In the first week of June 1989, a fact-finding team sited Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamanglong districts of Manipur. While a complete report will be available in a few weeks, some salient features are reported here. While murder, torture and rape continues, these atrocities draw attention to the daily terror and violence faced by innocent villagers. The presence of the Assam Rifles in many cases is breaking down the community organisation and disrupting the economic life of the village.
- “After the Oinam incident in June 1987, the 21st. Assam Rifles came to the village and destroyed all the bridges across the river Barak so that we could not cross the river and tend to the paddy fields. We could not do the weeding operations or protect the fields from wild animals. Many families got only a small harvest which makes it very difficult for the family to survive. We could repair the bridges only after several months - after the monsoon was over.’
- “On 7th March 1989, attempted rape of Ms Ashiphro: An Assam rifles jawan, named lndra Bahadur came down from the camp and knocked on Ms Ashiphro’s door one night. She did not open the door because her husband was away at Imphal. The jawan started breaking down the door and when she tried to save the door by opening it, he tried to rape her. She raised a hue and cry at which he physically assaulted her and hit her on the head and legs. She was rescued by the villagers and had to be hospitalised for a week. Three months later, her leg was still giving her trouble. While Ms Ashiphro and her husband wanted to file a complaint in court, her father was forced by the Assam Rifles to make a compromise settlement. She was paid Rs. 1000 for immediate treatment. Long term effects of the injury are not yet known.”
On 9th June 1988, 3 Assam Rifles Jawans came to Oklong village and took away 5 members of the village authority. They were detained illegally and given electric shocks. From Willong village on the some day, 5 village authority members were taken away. The list continues to grow.
The village leadership is attacked and tortured in front of children. While the traditional community organisation is based on consensus decision making, respect for women and elders, the attack of the Assam Rifles on institutional bodies such as the village authority leads to a breakdown of the self respect of the whole village and the community. Humiliation of elders in front of the whole village is a method to brow beat the people. Attacks on women create terror and restrict their activities. In an otherwise peaceful agrarian society, it means that women are forced to observe new restrictions such as not going out after dark. In practice, this means they have to stop tending their fields early and return home. They also cannot go to faraway markets.
The daily life of people is full of fear. They do not know when they will be stopped, searched, kicked, falsely implicated in cases about which they do not know anything. The helplessness of the villages can be seen by what one person said, “The commanding officers treat us as animals and not as humans. We request him to try to talk decently to us.” We need to support the continuing struggle of the Naga peoples movement for Human Rights.
1. Naga Hills of Manipur: Under civilians or military rule. The co-ordination committee on Oinam issue.
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