Rights

CBI Widens Encounter Investigation After Confession By Manipur’s Killer Cop

Herojit claims the orders to eliminate people came from the top.

Herojit's confession was the first time a member of the security forces in Manipur admitted to routinely staging executions. Credit: Grace Jajo

Herojit’s confession was the first time a member of the security forces in Manipur admitted to routinely staging executions. Credit: Grace Jajo

Imphal: A year after a police commando’s public confession that he shot dead an unarmed 22-year-old here, the Central Bureau of Investigation is reinvestigating the case – beginning with the role of a superior officer, A.K. Jhalajit.

In July 2009, Sanjit Meitei was killed in an encounter inside a pharmacy on BT Road, a busy market thoroughfare in Imphal. In 2010, a CBI report falsified the police version of events, and charged head constable Thounaojam Herojit, plus eight others, with crimes including conspiracy and murder.

Last January, Herojit hit back, admitting that he killed Sanjit but under direct orders from Jhalajit, then an additional superintendent of police. Revealing details he had withheld from the CBI, Herojit said the order to kill came down the chain of command – implicating the state’s top police and elected officials.

In an interview in March, Herojit spoke further to this correspondent, detailing a career as a police executioner – and claiming to have killed over a hundred others before Sanjit, his final victim. It was the first time in the 30-year history of Manipur’s counterinsurgency that a policeman had admitted to routinely staging executions.

Herojit had the support of an unlikely ally: Sanjit’s mother, Chungkam Taratombi. The day after his press conference, she reportedly sent an application to the director of the CBI, asking for renewed investigation.

There was no immediate response from the CBI, and his statement was not admitted as new evidence in the trial of the police constables. This week, however, an eight-member CBI team led by investigating officer Vijay Kumar Shukla returned to Imphal to revisit the case.

The team recorded the statements of Herojit and of Sanjit’s mother, but also of Jhalajit, now designated commandant of the 2nd India Reserve Battalion (Manipur Police). The pivotal part of Herojit’s confession concerns Jhalajit, who allegedly gave the order in 2009 to kill Sanjit, saying ‘touthok-khro’ (finish it).

When Herojit hesitated – considering the busy daylight hour, the crowds, and the media which had already gathered – Jhalajit allegedly told him: ‘Just do it. I’ve taken the trouble of getting the consent of the CM and the DGP.’

Sanjit’s mother, Chungkham Taratombi, appealed for the new information to be investigated and legally heard. ‘Herojit’s disclosure gives us a ray of hope,’ she said, ‘that those responsible for killing my son will now get punishment.’

The chief minister at the time, Okram Ibobi Singh, is still CM today. The director-general of police (DGP) was Yumnam Joykumar, who retired to begin a political career, but was denied a BJP ticket for the upcoming state election.

Many aspects of the BT Road encounter remain mysterious, including the death of Thokchom Rabina, a 23-year-old pregnant mother who was killed the same morning, apparently in the cross-fire that preceded the encounter.

Weeks before his final killing, Herojit received a promotion and a police gallantry medal from the Governor of Manipur. Credit: Special Arrangement

Weeks before his final killing, Herojit received a promotion and a police gallantry medal from the Governor of Manipur. Credit: Special Arrangement

Jhalajit has reportedly been summoned by the CBI to Delhi for further questioning. According to the Imphal Free Press, he was granted interim anticipatory bail by an Imphal court on February 17. He did not respond to a request for a comment.

The CBI mission this week, and its questioning of Jhalajit, suggest a new interest in how ‘fake encounters’ may have been authorised up the chain of command – even, according to Herojit’s testimony, as far as the chief minister.

The news also comes two weeks before Manipur’s assembly elections, which begin on March 4. The Congress, well-entrenched and near the end of its third term under Ibobi, faces an aggressive challenge from the BJP. The election has been preceded by months of instability and political provocations.

An escalating exchange between tribal groups and the ruling party has led to an abrupt redistricting of the state, to shots fired at the CM’s helicopter, and a road blockade that cut off access to the state capital for three months. In early January, Ibobi managed to avert the imposition of president’s rule.

The chief minister’s record on human rights may prove to be his Achilles heel – especially if the CBI moves to investigate how high the culture of ‘touthok-khro’ really goes.