The Many Inversions of Justice and Accountability in Manipur

The authorities who chose not to act despite knowing about the horrors in Manipur too are guilty, but who will hold them to account? 

O horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee! 

Macduff’s words keep echoing, again and again, every time another skeleton tumbles out of the Manipur cupboard, after the horrific parading of naked women and the gruesome murders on May 4. The savages leading a mob of about a thousand will pay for their sins of depravity (I hope). Ironically, the paymasters are those in authority who took no action against them when they could, and are today shedding crocodile tears and indulging in meaningless platitudes and whataboutery. Not only are they guilty of inaction, but also of brushing the horror under the carpet. In that, they are complicit. They too are guilty, but who will hold them to account?

Government didn’t know?

It is impossible to believe that nobody in authority in the State of Manipur knew of the horror until the video surfaced last week. Consider this: An armed mob, about a thousand strong, burns houses and hutments in village after village barely 30 km from the capital city of Imphal. That’s less than the distance from one end of Delhi to the other. The area where the women were paraded and ravaged was barely three km from a check-post. That’s less than the distance from one end of the Central Vista to the other. Are we to believe that the people in authority didn’t know what was happening? What did they do apart from remaining silent and failing to react? Emulate Nero? Intelligence failure or stupidity?

It has now come to be known that the women and men were with the police when the savages took them away. They were about two km away from the best police station in India 2020. Are we to believe that the police didn’t know what was happening? If they knew what was happening, what did they do? Did they inform ‘higher-ups’? If yes, what did the ‘higher-ups’ do? If not, why not? Are the police equally guilty, if not complicit? We will never know.

Conspiracy of silence – Part 1

Very conveniently, internet was shut down under government orders. If nothing untoward was happening, what was the need to shut down the internet? It is obvious that the government was aware of the horror and wanted to set up an iron curtain. Had the events of the day been made known, and the illegal shutdown not taken place, the video would have possibly surfaced the same day and compelled an indulgent government to act. Consider the larger implication of this conspiracy of silence: a civil war-like situation was generated and prevailed for several weeks in Manipur leaving about 150 dead, more than 300 injured and wounded, and more than 50,000 rendered homeless. Not a word of condemnation, not a word of anguish and pain. Speech is silver, but silence is golden, I suppose.

And now, the whole world knows about the parading of naked women, the gang rape and the murders, something that the government in Imphal just about 30 km away was blissfully unaware of.

The conspiracy of silence continues with an attempt to shoot the messenger. Twitter has been told to take down the offending video (how did it surface?) and we know what will happen if they don’t. Barkha Dutt, an award-winning journalist has been also been served with some objectionable order by the concerned authorities. Hush.

Also read: Manipur Video: What Connects 3 Kuki Women Stripped, Paraded Naked to Manorama and Bilkis Bano?

Deafening silence – Part 2

About two weeks after the horror, somebody mustered the courage to officially report the incident to the police in Kangkokpi district on May 18. The police took the complaint on record and that’s it – nothing else. Ho-hum, these things happen in a civil war-like situation, so what’s new? Well, if there is a civil war-like situation in the state, shouldn’t the home minister of the state do something about it? Or is it for the chief minister to act? What if the home minister and the chief minister are one and the same, as in this case? Who should take the blame? Well, somebody has to take the blame, isn’t it, and the buck must stop somewhere, but where? Maybe it should stop with the person who tore up the resignation letter. Pretty nasty thing to do. Somebody wants to resign, or so it seems, and he is prevented from doing so. Where is freedom of action? How can anyone compel somebody to remain a chief minister if he doesn’t want to? Anyone can be a deputy chief minister, but chief minister? Heavens!

Finally, the complaint cum zero FIR registered on May 18 reached the jurisdictional police station in Thoubal district after more than a month on June 21. It is registered and thank god for small mercies. Do you remember champion wrestlers had to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court to have their complaints registered as FIRs?

The law does not say that after an FIR is registered, the police is duty bound to investigate the report, let alone investigate dispassionately and impartially. So, the FIR having been registered, the police was not legally obliged to investigate and, if it was, it was entirely at its own pace. Consequently, nobody in the police station in Thoubal district thought it necessary to investigate and the FIR remained dormant until a video of the horror surfaced, almost a month later.

The police have now, Tarzan-like, swung into action and arrested a handful of savages. Perhaps, having no faith in the police, other women have taken the law into their own hands and have burnt down the house of the prime accused. They probably got this idea from the bulldozer justice that is being dispensed in different parts of the country, except that the women didn’t have a bulldozer with them. Maybe they will get arrested for arson on the grounds of national security or after being branded as terrorists. Anything is possible.

What next? Fact finding is impossible. The truth will never come out. Deeksha Dwivedi, a practising lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, wanted to ascertain facts about the carnage in Manipur. Guess what? She has been threatened with arrest and had to petition the Supreme Court for a restraint order. The arrested accused – how soon they will get bail is a matter of conjecture, but they will, or at least a show of compassion. Remember the rapists and murderers in the Bilkis Bano case? After getting freedom, they will be garlanded and given laddoos for teaching women a lesson, beti padhao.

Justice Madan B. Lokur is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India.