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 Liberty is Security
Security forces to safeguard or to spread terror?
The Telegraph, India Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ashok V Desai
Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force officered by the army is used for static duties like guarding sensitive places and operating against local insurgencies, entered the house of a lady, beat her and took her away. Hours later she was found naked with bullets in her body. In Gujrat, security forces kill civilians. These forces have destroyed our democratic freedom in some parts of India; talk to the Kashmiris and Manipuris, or to young girls from Mumbra driving into Gujarat. And what has happened to them will happen to us unless we discipline our security forces, writes Ashok Desai in The Telegraph.

The facts relating to Thangjam Ningol Manorama alias Henthoi are well known. A posse of soldiers from Assam Rifles, including Havildar Suresh Kumar, Riflemen Ajit Singh and T Lotha and unidentified others entered the house of Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old woman, in Imphal, together with others at midnight on the night of July 10 and 11. Their names are known because they gave her family a kind of receipt for taking her away. They first bolted the door of the house so that the family could not interfere, and beat her outside the house for three hours. Then they took her away. At 5 PM the next afternoon, her corpse was found naked and riddled with bullets. Whether she had been raped or not could not be ascertained because she had been shot through the vagina.


The official spokesman of Assam Rifles said that Henthoi was shot when she tried to escape while leading the soldiers to a PLA hideout. He said that when she was arrested, a wireless radio, a hand grenade and incriminating documents were found on her. Her family, from whom she was snatched away, denies it, and the receipt it was given does not mention any of these possessions.


Incidentally, Assam Rifles is a paramilitary force which is officered by the army but used for static duties like guarding sensitive places and operating against local insurgencies. It was raised as Cachar Levy in 1835 when the British were penetrating the north-eastern hills and facing hostility from local tribesmen; it set up armed encampments and guarded caravans. After independence, India has raised huge paramilitary forces for anti-insurgency and support to state police. Assam Rifles has been expanded to 33 battalions? Over 15,000 men? And been deployed for static duties in the northeast. It is Assamese only in name; a high proportion of the men are north Indians. Manipur has been up in arms ever since the abduction and killing of Henthoi.


Women stripped their clothes and demonstrated, daring the soldiers to rape them. In the days that followed, there were demonstrations every day. Government offices were attacked; in return, the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. People defied curfew and came out and formed human chains. They boycotted Indian goods. Hospitals had treated 415 injured people till August 17. On Independence Day, Pebam Chittaranjan Mangang, set himself on fire against the atrocities of the armed forces and killed himself.


The major demand of the agitators is the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives the soldiers and the police arbitrary powers to arrest and torture people. For AFSPA to be applicable for now, the state government has to declare a certain place a disturbed area. On August 12, the government declared that the Imphal municipal area was no longer disturbed. The Central government can still apply AFSPA to Imphal. But Ikram Ibobi Singh, the chief minister, sent Rishang Keishing, a former chief minister, to Manmohan Singh, and asked the Prime Minister not to act in haste. Till now, the Prime Minister has not acted at all.


At 4 AM on June 15, the police shot up a car travelling from Bombay towards Ahmedabad and killed all four passengers. One was a 19-year-old college girl from Mumbra near Bombay, Ishrat Jahan Raza. Another was a 32-year-old Malayali born a Hindu but converted to Islam, Javed Ghulam Sheikh. The other two are unidentified; no one claimed their bodies. The Gujarat police claimed that the four were going to assassinate Narendra Modi, and that the two unidentified persons were Pakistanis.


At this point I run out of words for unlike in Manipur, the killing of the four did not cause even a ripple in Gujarat. No human chains were formed, no strike was declared, no policemen were attacked, no one asked for the powers of the police to be curbed. And yet what happened in both places is uncannily similar. Security forces killed people, and claimed ex-post that they were terrorists. Let us not ask whether they were right or not; for the answer must inevitably be a guess, and the guess will be highly correlated with our political beliefs. If we think that Manipur is rife with terrorists who want to secede from India and must be confounded at all costs, we will believe Assam Rifles in Manipur; if we think that Gujarat is a frontier state facing a grave threat of covert action from Pakistan

This article was published in the The Telegraph on Sunday, December 14, 2008. Please read the original article here.
Author : Dr Desai is an economist, and is the consulting editor at The Telegraph, Calcutta.
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