Nagas in Manipur face harassments and threats
By: T. Siamchinthang
In 1958 the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act was enacted, giving the Governor of Assam or the Chief Commissioner powers to declare an area “disturbed” if the whole or part of these states “is in such a disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of Armed Forces in aid of the civil power is necessary. Different areas of Assam and Manipur were declared “disturbed” under these provisions at various times. After the division of Assam, the Act was amended in 1972, making it applicable to all seven northeast Indian states and union territories, including Manipur. The amendment also empowered the central government to declare an area “disturbed” without consulting the state government.
After the amendment, the government, through the Ministry of Defence, immediately used these powers to declare the Naga-inhabited hill areas in northern Manipur – namely Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong district -“disturbed areas” under the Act. This categorization continues until today.
The Act has now been uninterruptedly in force in northern Manipur for longer than a decade. The new state government, elected in February 1990, has proposed to discuss with the central government a phased withdrawal of the application of the Act from certain areas in Manipur. But it has advised against its withdrawal from hill areas in which the NSCN are active. This includes the Senapati district, covering Oinam.
Security forces operating in northeast India have for several decades had special powers to deal with insurrection, notably under the 1958 Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act. In areas declared “disturbed” under Section 3 of the Act, security forces have sweeping’ powers to arrest people on suspicion without warrant, and to shoot to kill on sight. The security forces have immunity from prosecution. Senapati district, in which the Oinam combing operation took place, is one of these areas declared “disturbed” in Manipur.
Amnesty International believes that the broad provisions of the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act not only facilitate human rights violations but can also encourage violations because those responsible need not fear they will be held accountable for any action taken under its provisions. The security forces operating in the northeast appear to be aware that they will enjoy such immunity from prosecution. One member of the Assam Rifles reportedly told D. Kanmi from Khongdei Khuman, a prisoner whose torture testimony is given in Section 3, that even should the prisoner die the Assam Rifles could not be held accountable.
Moreover, although the Assam Rifles are only supposed to act “in aid of the civil power,” they have in fact exercised absolute powers in certain areas outside any form of control by state officials responsible for maintaining law and order and upholding basic safeguards. Some of these state officials, including the Superintendent of Police, were themselves detained by the Assam Rifles. In a memorandum written shortly after the Oinam incident to the then Home Minister of ‘India, the then State Government of Manipur concluded that:
“The Civil Law has, unfortunately, ceased to operate in Senapati District of Manipur due to excesses committed by the Assam Rifles with complete disregard shown to the Civil Administration. The Assam Rifles are running the parallel administration in the area. The Deputy Commissioner and Supt. of Police were wrongfully confined, humiliated and prevented from discharging their official duties by the Security Forces. The Chairman, Hill Autonomous District Council was forced to proceed on foot from National Highway up to Oinam village and confined during night and thereby prevented from discharging his official functions. Whereas the acts of certain misguided elements need to be condemned strongly, we can hardly afford to term the entire population as anti-national as is being projected by the Assam Rifles. This is an extremely dangerous trend which must be avoided at all costs. We shall request you to kindly use your good offices to restore the rule of law in the affected areas
In his report following his visit with the Chief Minister of Manipur to the villages, the Joint Secretary for Home, K.P. Singh, noted that:
“The Assam Rifles authorities have been behaving with the Civil Administration in an extremely contemptuous manner and treat virtually every civil functionary as anti-national. This has led to virtual collapse of Civil Administration in the area as the Govt. Official visiting’ the area are scared of torture/harassment at the hands of Assam Rifles.”
How this affected villagers seeking protection from local officials against abuses by the Assam Rifles is illustrated by the sworn statement of N. Sekho (see Section 3):
“…I and the other villagers told the Director General of Police that our lives were in danger and we needed protection from the Assam Rifles. The Director General told us that he was helpless against the Assam Rifles.”
Assam Rifles closed of f the area around Oinam during combing operation, making it difficult for local politicians and independent observers, such as human rights groups and the press, to obtain first-hand information about what had happened. Several local politicians and representatives of student groups, who tried to visit the area were detained, despite obtaining prior official permission to travel there. Some were reportedly tortured and forced into signing documents denying that they had been detained or tortured.
Solomon Veino, a 35-year-old man originally from Phuba Thapham village, had worked for the Congress Party since 1986. He is a District Trainer at the Department of Political Training, All India Congress Committee (Senapati District). On 23 July 1987 he and Thio Daniel, President of the National Students Union of India (Senapati District), obtained permission from the Senapati Deputy Commissioner to visit Oinam and neighbouring villages the following day. Solomon Veino, Thio Daniel and four journalists accompanying them were stopped by the Assam Rifles before reaching Oinam. The journalists were ordered to return home but Solomon Veino and Thio Daniel were taken to the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the 4th Assam Rifles, Major General Kukrety, at the Oinam army post. On 8 April 1988 he testified before the Chief Magistrate, Imphal:
“That the DIG Assam Rifles (Manipur Range) (D) and two subordinate officers, surrounded me and started beating me, kicking me till I fell down on the ground. When I fell down on the ground they made me stand up again and again started beating and kicking me. When I was unable to stand they took me inside their camp and made me sign a paper thanking them for a cup of tea and their kind hospitality. I was compelled to sign on this and also on a blank paper at gunpoint.”
Both men were then detained for five days, tied to a pillar in a sitting position before being handed over to the Kangpokpi police Station on 1 August 1987. They were kept at the police station until 9 August before being transferred to the Central Jail Imphal. They were released on bail on 17 August. Before their release by the army, however, they were made to sign a certificate and letters to officials denying that they had been arrested, detained or harassed. In his statement before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal, on 8 April 1988, Solomon Veino stated:
“I was made to sign various documents, letters to the Prime Minister, another letter addressed to the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court and a letter addressed to the DIG Assam Rifles (Manipur Range), and a certificate stating that I was not arrested, detained or harassed. Some Assam Rifles personnels made me write a letter to the DIG Assam Rifles (Manipur Range) stating that the Manipur Chief Minister, and three MLAs have links with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the four journalists who had accompanied me were anti-government.”
Four members of Naga student organisations, Chokriveyi Venyo, Z. Neikuo Lhousa, Keviletuo Khiewhuo, and L. Lohe, were prevented from proceeding to Oman and said that when they returned to Kohima joined by Artax Shimray, the president of the All Naga Students Association, Manipur, they were arrested, beaten up and detained. Their affidavits contain allegations of abuses by the Assam Rifles consistent in pattern with allegations of abuses suffered by other detainees.
They were detained until 12 August. During their detention they were blindfolded, interrogated, beaten and one had chilli liquid poured down the nostrils. In his sworn statement Z. Neikuo Lhousa, the 25-year-old vice president of the N.S.F., reported that on the night of 7 August he was:
“…subjected to torture and interrogation by the… personnels arid I was forced to stand on my toes throughout the night… I was beaten and tortured again on the 8th August ’87… by the Assam Rifles personnels resorting to boxed on my head, pouring chilli powdered liquid inside my nostril, poked me severely on my stomach and ribs with lathi, causing me to vomit several times… I heard the Assam Rifles personnels beating and torturing Mr. L. Lohe, Mr. Z. Neikhuo, Mr. Artax Shimray, Mr. Pradeep Lana and Mr. Keviletuo throughout the night.”
On 11 August, Z.N. Lhousa, Chokriveyi Venyo, and L. Lohe, president of the Mao Naga Students Union, were brought before (D), the DIG of the Assam Rifles. He made light of their torture. Lhousa reports in his sworn statement that when he told the D.I.G. what had happened to them, he replied saying: “I am very sorry that my jawans have roughen(ed) you up.”
Before their release they were made to sign a declaration stating that they had not been arrested, detained or tortured by the Assam Rifles. On return to Kohima the members of the N.S.F. team required hospital treatment. Z. Neikuo Lhousa said he needed hospital treatment from 12 to 24 August f or injuries received in detention.
The Lepaone Naga Union wrote on 10 September 1987 to the Minister of Home, Delhi, to complain that both local journalists and those writing for the national press were prevented from visiting the area. The Sentinel reported on 5 October 1987 that editors of local papers had been threatened by the Assam Rifles that if they published unfavorable reports against the army they would lose their advertising rights. The area remained sealed off to journalists who sought to come on their own initiative. In an article of 9 December 1987 in The Statesman, Arup Chandra described how he visited Oinam and the surrounding villages:
“disguised as a doctor since ordinary civilians are still not allowed to enter the area except with clearance from the Assam Rifles. All vehicles, including those belonging to the police, are usually stopped at Koidei village on the road leading towards Oinam by Assam Rifles men. They seek permission of the commanding officer over the wireless whether the vehicle should be allowed to proceed.”
He also reported that some of the villagers he spoke to were too afraid to give their names for fear of being harassed or killed by the Assam Rifles for speaking to the press.
This fear had been borne out earlier, in October, when a television team from Delhi visited Oinam. K. Hoshi, a 33-year-old farmer, who had helped accomodate and feed the television team and who had answered their inquiries about the alleged abuses by the Assam Rifles said that he was later arrested by the army and beaten on account of this.
Nevertheless, some accounts of what had happened during “Operation Bluebird” appeared in the press. Later in the year the Assam Rifles made attempts to manipulate press coverage in favour of the security forces. Major General Kukrety, General Officer in Command of the Manipur sector of the Assam Rifles, organized a press conference at Oinam at the end of December f or journalists working for the national press. One of them was a reporter from the Times of India who, in a report of 27 January 1988, described how he had “expected a very hostile reception by the predominantly Pangmei Naga residents of Oman and the villages around in view of the reported stories of atrocities, molestation of women and destruction of houses in the area by the security forces…” Instead, he said his delegation, including three journalists and the Inspector General of the Assam Rifles, was greeted by over one thousand villagers and by smiling Naga girls presenting them with flower garlands and Naga
There is evidence, however, that villagers attending the press conference described above were forced to do so. Mr. Ng. Longkha, a villager from Oinam,. stated in an affidavit that on 29 December the villagers were ordered by the Assam Rifles to attend the cultural function for the benefit of the news media and that a statement, in their name, denying they were abused by the Assam Rifles, was read out against their wishes:
“the C.O. had said that anyone refusing to obey the order would face dire consequences including physical torture. That, out of fear, I decided to leave other works and attend at the said post, and took my children and my wife to the said post at about 8am on December 30th, 1987. That several hundred persons from our village attended at the Oinam 21 Assam Rifles post by morning and I did not know of anyone from our village who disobeyed the C.O.’s orders.. .a student.., was made to conduct the gathering and that draft speech given by the Assam Rifles was read out by him in the name of the villagers gathered there.., at the end of the dance and folk song programme, which was forcibly given by all the villagers the Assam Rifles officers made speeches.., the officials spoke with emphasis that both sides i.e. the Assam Rifles and the villages have suffered loss of lives and other hardship in the past and that it was time to forget all that had happened and should not make any sta
tement about atrocities, but should compromise. That no one took these speeches seriously as we were even at that very moment, being closely watch and forced to act against our wishes with threat to our lives.”
The Manipur state government’s response to reports that the Assam Rifles – which are under the control of the central government in New Delhi – had committed grave abuses in Oinam was divided. In a memorandum from the Council of Ministers signed by Rishang Keishang, the then Chief Minister, and presented on 8 September 1987 to the then Home Minister of India, Buta Singh, the State Government expressed doubts about the Assam Rifles’ claims:
“The presumption could be that they were tortured while in custody and subsequently with a view to cover up the crime shot dead alleging fake encounters and or attempt to escape from their custody.”
A fuller quotation from that memorandum is given in Section 2.3, which describes allegation-s that the Assam Rifles had tortured villagers and had arbitrarily detained and interrogated people, including a member of the Legislative assembly.
By contrast, the Governor of Manipur, General K.V. Khrishna Rao -who is an official appointed by the central government -was reported to agree with the account of the Assam Rifles. The Governor is a former Army Chief of Staff, and press reports indicated that he had given considerable backing to the Assam Rifles through Major General Kukrety, General Officer in Command of the Assam Rifles N Sector. The latter had once been the Governor’s vice chief in the army (Sunday, Calcutta, 20-26 September 1987). Both men dismissed the allegations made by the Council of Ministers’ memorandum, maintaining instead that local politicians, including the Chief Minister, had been aiding and had links with the insurgents.
On 24 August 1987 the Manipur Chief Minister met the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, and reportedly informed him of the allegations against the Assam Rifles. Between July and October prominent citizens, politicians and various local organisations also complained to the centra1 Government: they included Solomon Veino, a member the (ruling) Congress Party, Benjamin Banee, a member of the Legislative Assembly, members of the Manipur North Autonomous District Council, the Poumai Naga Union, the Baptist Convention and Poumai Naga Women’s Organization and the Manipur Baptist Convention Executive Council. Other organizations that expressed concern to the Union Home Minister were the Naga Students Association, Manipur, Lepaone Naga Union and the People’s Progressive Council. A memorandum was also sent to the President of India by the Manipur People’s Party.
In 1988 Rishang Keishing resigned under pressure of dissident members of his Congress (I) government. The new Chief Minister, R.K. Jaichandra Singh, said that he was open to negotiations with the NSCN, but the new Home Minister of Manipur, Tompok Singh, voiced a hardline policy, saying:
“The only solution to end the insurgency is to liquidate the self-styled leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). And for this, we have decided to give full support and cooperation to the Army.”
Apparently condoning the actions of the Assam Rifles, described these as “understandable.” When he visited Oinam, he reportedly urged the villagers to withdraw the cases brought against the Assam Rifles. This is how the village headman, Th. Raoping, described the minister’s action:
“at the village the minister was told about atrocities committed and the continuing harassment and threat from the military in detail through written and verbal submission. That the Minister speaking to us said… it was natural for the army to react in anger when they suffered death and killed the villagers. And that the Minister told the villagers to forget the past and cooperate with the army as that is the only way to peace. That the Minister told the gathering that Human Rights [organisation members] who filed cases against the army in the High Court were Tangkhul students in Delhi and Gauhati who do not know anything and have made baseless charges. And that we cannot win the cases, and should tell the man Rights [organisation) to withdraw them.”
On 9 September 1987 the Union Home Minister, Buta Singh, visited Manipur. According to report in the Sentinel, 5 October 1987, he spoke to the Assam Rifles but did not meet with the villagers who complain of abuses:
“the most strange part of the investigation is that Mr. Singh persistently refused to meet the opposition political parties who had levelled serious charges, or the suffering villagers. Mr. Singh also never went to the affected villages. Instead he left Imphal after having dinner with the Assam Rifles personnel.”
During subsequent judicial proceedings brought against the Assam Rifles by a private group, the Naga peoples Movement for Human Rights, representatives of the eminent denied all charges of abuses against the Assam Rifles. The government maintained that actions by the force were within the limits permitted by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (which grants the security forces immunity from prosecution).
The Indian government’s response to the evidence of human rights abuse in Oinam fell far short of the minimum requirement to impartially investigate such grave abuses as torture and extra judicial executions, the need of which the UN has repeatedly emphasized (for the relevant International standards.
The Assam Rifles also tried to discredit local politicians who had spoken out against the abuses through making false statements implicating them in criminal activities or linking them to underground Naga organisations. Various members of the Legislative Assembly, including Benjamin Bariee, a Naga politician from Oinam, and Mr. Luikang, the Minister of State for Education, were singled out for such treatment.
For example, L.K. Kasaso, a member of the Manipur North Autonomous District Council, who had been detained at Oinam along with Mr. Liba after signing a memorandum to the Prime Minister (see section 3.2.2), said in court that:
“on 28th July ’87 we were ordered to write on blank papers the words being dictated to me by the C.O…. On reading the few lines I found Mr. Benjamin and Luikang charged with many crimes against the state and the citizens by harbouring and donating money to the underground people.”
Likewise, L. Johnathan, a construction worker, who had also been one of the twenty people to sign that memorandum to the Prime Minister, was arrested on 30 August and detained at Oinam camp where he was interrogated and said he:
“was forced to write whatever I know… Finally a major told me to write whatever he says otherwise my life would be in danger…I was forced to write that Mr. Luikang, Education Minister, Manipur is constructing a building at Maram Bazar costing rupees 1,300,000 only by collecting money from the public, his bus is used for transporting the underground people from Imphal to Mao and from Mao to Dimapur, Nagaland. That, about Mr. K.S. Benjamin Banee, M.L.A., Manipur I was dictated that Benjamin Banee is collecting money from the public towards the construction of roads but that the donated money had been given to the underground people instead of the money being utilised for road construction.”
Solomon Veino, a member of the Congress Party who tried to visit Oinam in July and was detained by the Assam Rifles (see Section 3.2.1) reported that during his detention he was forced to write a letter to the DIG Assam Rifles (Manipur Range) saying that the Chief Minister of Manipur plus three members of the legislative assembly had links with the NSCN and that the four journalists who had accompanied him and Daniel to Oinam were “anti- government”. Veino subsequently submitted an affidavit to the Gauhati High Court about this.
L. Peter, 35-year-old secretary of Ngari High School, who was arrested and detained on 28 July 1987, stated ‘that:
“on 15th August ’87, I was ordered to write bio-data and having written it was taken to the Major. But the Major flatly rejected along with all unbearable insulting words. The Major prepared his own statements implicating Mr. Meichilung MP, Mr. Luikang, Edn. Minister Manipur, Mr. Mingthing, Chairman Hill Areas Committee, Manipur, Mr. Benjamin Banee MLA. Mr. Arthur, MLA, Mr. Pao, Mr. Lipa in all sorts of crime against the state in the nature of supporting the underground people by contributing money, feeding food, calling meetings, killing innocent people in collaboration with underground people, taking public donations for their own constructional purposes etc, and I was forced to sign over it before an Executive Magistrate, Senapati District, Manipur.”
Villagers were also forced to make incriminating statements. On 7 September 1987 the Assam Rifles ordered the villages of Thingba Khullen, Thingba Khunou, Koide, Purul and Oinam to each send 100 men and 100 women to the Oinam army post. When the villagers arrived they were transported to Imphal. In a sworn statement, R.Wakhao, a resident of Oinam and youth leader said:
“That, I was also taken down to Imphal in their vehicle on the 7th Sept. ’87 along with more than one thousand mostly youth members and village elders from Oinam and its neighbouring villages for proposed rally/procession of the 8th Sept.’87. We were kept at Mantripukhri Assam Rifles Camp and made to do many rehearsals including shouting of slogans such as BENJAMIN BANEE. .MORDABAD [death to, LUIKANG… MORDABAD, M.P.P…MORDABAD, ASSAM RIFLES…ZINDABAD [long live), ASSAM RIFLES…BHAI .BHAI [brothers) etc. etc.”
According to the’ press the forced procession was meant to coincide with the visit of the Prime Minister and other ministers to Imphal on the 8th October. However, the procession never took place as the Deputy Commissioner in Imphal forbade it.