New Delhi: On March 20, 2011, the son of Imphal residents Irom Chitra and Lokendra Singh, Irom Roger, died from the injury caused by a bullet shot at him from a close distance on a city road. Following a probe into the case by the CBI in January, a lower court in Imphal charged the accused, N. Ajay Meeitei, son of the present chief minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh, with committing homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to five years in jail. Since January 7, Meetei has been lodged at the state’s Sajiwa central jail.
Recently, N. Ajay’s counsel has filed an application in the Manipur high court seeking his bail. Roger’s mother Chitra, through Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Singh Bains, filed a counter application on May 12 objecting to his bail plea. Bains said there is also a plan to file a simultaneous plea in the Supreme Court.
Following the petition at the high court, there have been media reports about Bains and New Delhi-based social activist from Imphal Binalakshmi Nepram alleging “threats and pressure” from a militant group and the state police respectively. While Bains has written a letter to the Union home secretary about the threat, received through a WhatsApp call, and has also lodged a complaint with the state police, Nepram has issued a press statement saying armed policemen harassed her aged parents at her house in Imphal when she was not present.
Reacting to this, the state police have told local media that the visit to Nepram’s house was to seek her statement following Bains’s complaint to the Imphal police.
Meanwhile, Roger’s parents have arrived in New Delhi, seeking an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apprise him of the case details and ask for his help in getting justice for their son.
In an interview to The Wire, Chitra looked back at her “six years of struggle” for justice.
How old was your son when he died?
He was 18 years and six months then. He was doing an undergraduate course from Bangalore and was visiting home. He was my only son.
Can you recall for our readers what happened on March 20, 2011? Did he know N. Ajay from before?
My life changed the day he was killed. Since then, both I and my husband have been leading a traumatic life; there is threat to our life, a lot of pressure on us to withdraw the case from various quarters. We are still waiting for justice.
Roger didn’t know Ajay from before. It was the day of Holi (locally celebrated as Yoashang festival). He took the car to roam around the city (Imphal) with four of his friends. The minister’s son (N. Biren was then minister for youth affairs and sports in the Congress government) was also on the same road, in a Bolero car, ahead of him. There were two girls on a two-wheeler behind the Bolero. He was not giving them way, also not to my son. My son honked a few times. The minister’s son stopped his car midway and came out of it angrily. He then took out his gun and shot him. He fled the scene while my son died on the way to hospital.
I was at home then and rushed to the hospital on getting the news. By then he was gone. I found him lying dead on a hospital bed.
What did you do then?
My husband thereafter filed an FIR [in the Singjamai police station of the city]; a joint action committee (JAC) was formed to seek justice for Roger. The JAC demanded action from the state government, refused to take the body from the hospital and demanded the minister’s resignation. There was a huge public uproar against it. The then chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh [N. Biren was then seen as very close to Ibobi before he fell out with him and switched over to the BJP] gave a statement on the floor of the state assembly saying that the Bolero Ajay was driving was given to his father (by the party) as the party’s spokesperson (N. Biren later became the spokesperson for BJP too). A day after giving that statement, he again said in the assembly that Ajay came out of the Bolero and shot at Roger sitting in a maroon-coloured Alto car. The public outrage led the chief minister to announce that he would transfer the case from the state police to the CBI for a proper probe into it. The JAC then agreed to take the body for the last rites, two days later, on March 22.
When was the case handed over to the CBI?
Though the chief minister announced it, the case was not referred to the CBI. In April end that year, I came to New Delhi and with the help of some well wishers, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the then home secretary and then home minister P. Chidambaram [on April 28, 2011], gave them the details of the case, pleaded with them for their cooperation to order a CBI investigation and deliver justice to my son. They intervened; the CBI took up the case in May 2011.
In 2012, the CBI submitted a chargesheet against the prime accused Ajay. It, however, didn’t accuse him of murder, only of possessing arms. [All the four other associates of Ajay present in the vehicle were discharged by an order of the sessions court, Imphal West, in May 2012 on the grounds that the charges submitted by the CBI before the court lacked sufficient evidence.] This weakened the case.
On January 6, following an order of the (Imphal West) sessions court, which found him guilty of committing homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 (2) of the IPC, Ajay was arrested. Though the quantum of sentence was to be pronounced on January 11, it was delayed to January 20. Ajay was finally sentenced to only five years. I was heartbroken but accepted it silently somehow.
So why have you chosen to file a fresh petition in the Manipur high court and the Supreme Court?
That was because just four or five days after N. Biren became the chief minister [of the BJP government], a bail application was moved in the high court [on behalf of his son]. I went to the state office of the CBI to enquire if it would file a counter application to stop his bail because the CBI was handling the case. The CBI SP I spoke to said they will write to the CBI director in Delhi about it. It was clear that they were not planning to do anything immediately to stop it.
I thought of fighting it myself, by filing an application in the high court to object to the bail, and wanted to hire a local advocate but no one seemed willing to accept the case. So I approached social activist from Manipur in Delhi, Binalakshmi Nepram, to help me hire a Supreme Court lawyer. That’s how Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Singh Bains took up the case.
Recently, Bains complained of receiving threats from a militant organisation in Manipur asking him to drop the case. He had also written to the home secretary seeking security cover when he was visiting Imphal to file the petition in the high court.
Yes, that’s what I got to know. He came to Imphal on March 17 to collect the case history and the relevant documents. I handed him the copies of the FIR, the judgement, etc. He said he received the militant threat on March 22, two days after he reached back to Delhi. [Bains said the caller identified himself to be from PLA or People’s Liberation Army, active in Manipur and identified as a terrorist group by the government of India.]
The Manipur police is often accused of acting as the personal force of politicians in power. There are many allegations of human rights violations against them. What was your experience?
Just a day after Roger’s shradh [held on the 14th day after a person’s death), after midnight, armed policemen came to my house and demanded that I open the gate to the house which was locked from inside. I refused and told them to come during the day. I suspected it was to pick the copies of the then chief minister’s two statements made in the state assembly, which I collected, as it would help strengthen the case. I wrapped the documents in a plastic bag, crawled out of my room with a knife and quietly dug a hole in the courtyard, put the papers in it and covered it with mud and then put a flower pot on it, and crawled back to the room and waited for the policemen to leave. I was so scared. They hung around outside the house; I saw four police vehicles.
The next night, they came again at the same time. I again refused to open the gate.
After the second time, I went to the police station and met the SP. He asked me, why didn’t you note down the vehicle numbers? I asked him back, how could I have done that in the dark? The very next day, I made many copies of those documents and put them in safe places.
I am still in trauma because wherever I go, police cars tend to follow me. I am struggling for the last six years to get proper justice for my son. But I am not giving up. I have nothing personal against the present chief minister N. Biren, I wish him luck, but I have a right to seek justice for my son.
There have also been media reports about threats and intimidations through the state machinery on your relatives and friends who are helping you in the case.
None of my relatives are with me now because they are afraid. I stand alone. On May 14, a group of armed policemen came to the house of a distant relative of mine, Ningombam Birjit, after midnight and picked him up. It was because he was helping me file the petition in the high court against the bail application. Two days before that, when Birjit returned from a visit to Delhi, he had been followed by armed policemen from the Imphal airport till a place near his house. Since May 14, Birjit has been kept in police lock up.
Then I heard that armed policemen arrived at the family home of Binalakshmi too when she was not present.
Do you hope for justice?
Yes I do, from the higher judiciary. I also have a lot of hope from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh in this regard. I have sought an appointment with the prime minister to personally relate to him the details of the case and the trauma I and my husband are undergoing. I heard he is a good man, so I hope he will hear me and help me get justice. As I said before, I have nothing personal against the chief minister of Manipur, it is just that I have a right to seek justice for my son who was killed. I have also submitted a memorandum to the home minister on May 19, seeking his cooperation with a mother who is looking for justice for her son.
Note: On May 22, the Supreme Court heard a petition filed by Irom Roger’s parents alleging that they fear for their safety in Manipur as the father of the accused, N. Biren, is the state chief minister. They alleged that Biren is using state machinery to threaten them. A vacation bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Navin Sinha issued notices to the Centre and the Manipur government seeking their responses to the accusation by May 29.