In a startling admission, the first since his suspension over an alleged fake encounter in Imphal more than six years ago, Thounaojam Herojit Singh, a Manipur Police head constable and a gallantry award recipient, has said he shot 22-year-old Chungkham Sanjit Meitei, a suspected member of the insurgent group People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who was “not armed” when he was killed in July 2009.
“Yes, I shot him. I shot Sanjit Meitei. No, he was not armed,’’ 35-year-old Herojit Singh told The Indian Express. “I felt no remorse, no sympathy after I killed Sanjit. I felt nothing. It was an order and I had to simply carry it out.”
Herojit Singh alleged he was told by then Additional SP, Imphal West, Dr Akoijam Jhalajhit — he is now SP of the same district — to “finish him off”. When The Indian Express sought his comments on Herojit Singh’s claims, Jhalajhit sent a phone text message: “Regarding the matter I will issue a statement.’’
Manipur Director General of Police L M Khaute, Home Minister G Gaikhangam and Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh were not available for comment despite repeated attempts.
Asked why was he admitting to the killing now, Herojit Singh said: “Last month, when I was returning from a court hearing in the same matter, I was waylaid by a group of police commandos from my own police station. They took me to my own PS, the Imphal West police station, and kept me there for five-six hours. They kept asking me about my movements and what I had been doing. I am no longer safe. I am scared for my life… I no longer have faith in the system,”
The “confession” by Herojit Singh, who is one of the nine accused policemen in the case being probed by the CBI, contradicts the Manipur Police account submitted in court and to the CBI.
The case was transferred to the CBI in 2010. Sanjit’s mother Chungkham Taratombi, who lodged an FIR, had also petitioned the Gauhati High Court in 2009.
The incident was highlighted in a Tehelka magazine report which also published photographs that showed Sanjit being taken to the Maimu Pharmacy — it’s near Gambhir Singh Arcade on the busy BT Road in Imphal — on July 23, 2009, and his body being brought out a little while later. Thokchom Rabina, a pregnant woman who was a bystander, also died in the firing.
The official Manipur Police version stated: “On 23.7.2009 at 10.30 am, while police party was conducting frisking and checking near Samu Makhong, below the flyover, one unknown youth, when stopped for frisking, whipped out a small firearm and fired towards the police party and fled towards the east of BT Road. Due to the firing, one woman was hit on her head and succumbed at the spot. The police party chased the armed youth. The youth again fired towards them and towards public indiscriminately and in retaliation the police party fired some rounds in the air and chased the youth.”
“The youth ran inside Maimu Pharmacy. The police party surrounded the whole complex and entered the pharmacy under the command of Inspector H Devendra Singh (A2 — Accused 2) of CDO, Imphal West. HC Herojit Singh (A3) along with Rifleman Toyaima went inside and knocked on the door. The door flung open and the armed person opened fire toward their party. Their party immediately retaliated and in the retaliatory fire the armed youth was shot dead. One 9mm pistol was found clutched in his hand,’’ the Manipur Police said.
Herojit Singh has a different account of what happened that day: “The Assembly was in session then and I was posted in the area. I got a call from a friend that an owner of an iron rod-and-bar store called Sikander had received an extortion call. So I went to the store in Thangal Bazar to investigate. But the extortionists, who had visited the shop, had left. The store owner described them and I put it out the information on wireless. I gave instructions to my team and had all entrances to the Bazar area guarded so that they don’t escape. I initiated frisking and search operations.”
“Around 9.30 am, I went for a meal. On the way, I got a message on my wireless set that there had been a shootout in the area, so I rushed to the spot. I didn’t know that Rabina had already died. I arrived and asked my friend Toyaima Singh (Rifleman with Manipur Rifles and Accused 4 in the case) what happened. Four persons had been brought out of the Gambhir Singh Arcade. Toyaima identified Sanjit, and said that Sanjit had shot at the team. The others started roughing him up but I told them we better take him inside and talk.”
“We found a mobile phone on him. He had a number of missed calls. Then another call came and I put it on speaker. The caller said he had heard about the incident. He asked us to name the price and the place, that they would give whatever money we demand if we let Sanjit go. I don’t know who the caller was. Before hanging up, he told Sanjit not to worry, that they will continue negotiations with the police for his life, that nothing will happen to him,’’ Herojit Singh said.
“At that point, I came to know that my senior, Additional SP, Imphal West, Dr Akoijam Jhalajhit had come to the spot. I went to him and said, ‘Yes, we have caught a man… Yes, we have identified him’. I told him about the phone conversation I just had. Then Akoijam Jhalajhit told me, ‘This is very good, finish him off’. I was startled, I told him that this is not the right place for an encounter. He said ‘Toukhro’ (just do it). I again pleaded, there was a huge crowd of public at the spot by then and a lot of mediapersons. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the media, I will lead them away toward the Kangla Fort Gate’. He told me to just follow the orders and carry out the execution,’’ Herojit Singh alleged.
“So I went in. I told my juniors to guard the gate. There was nobody in the pharmacy but Sanjit and I. The pharmacy owner and a watch seller were standing outside the shop. I shot him six or seven times, all in the torso,’’ he said.
“I’m sure Sanjit must have known that I had come back to kill him. I am sure he knew that when I was about to shoot him. But he didn’t say anything. He didn’t have any arms (weapons) on him. Just the mobile phone we had found earlier. Then the others came and took away his body,’’ he said.