He and a younger brother were watching Ajay Devgn-starrer Raju Chacha on TV when the 17 Assam Rifles men came for their sister, Doren Thangjam still remembers. “They all made us gather in the TV room while they searched the place. They took a knife from the kitchen. They asked my sister what her name was and then dragged her out. They shut the door but I could see from a gap in the door. They had tied a cloth across didi’s face and were throwing water on it while she screamed. Then they took her aside and she kept screaming. We knew she was being tortured but couldn’t do anything.”
It was July 10, Saturday, the time around midnight. What really happened that night is now out in an inquiry report submitted to the Supreme Court by the Manipur government. Even unveiling of that report has taken 10 years; Justice (retd) C Upendra Singh, who conducted the probe, submitted it to the Manipur chief secretary on November 22, 2004.
In the campaign against the draconian law AFSPA in the state, Thangjam Manorama’s name just follows Irom Sharmila’s. Her unexplained death in the custody of 17 Assam Rifles amidst allegations of rape had led to widespread protests in the state, eventually resulting in the lifting of AFSPA at least from Imphal city.
Apart from pointing out several inconsistencies in the paramilitary force’s version, Justice Singh gives a graphic account of the injuries in Manorama’s private parts, concluding that while neither of the two autopsies established rape, “it could not be ruled out”. The 32-year-old was found with eight bullet injuries, one of them in her vagina. According to a ballistic expert, she had been shot from a close range in her private parts, from around 1.5 feet. “I am completely at a loss to understand how the Assam Rifles personnel had chosen as target for firing the vaginal/genital organ of an unmarried girl,” Justice Singh said, adding that this may have been done specifically “to cover up” sexual assault.
A woman medical officer also told the inquiry commission that Manorama’s brassiere was found to be unhooked and it did not have a single bullet hole though there were many bullet injuries in the body parts which it covered.
Of the eight shots fired at her, the inquiry report concluded, five were sustained when she was not running, rubbishing the Assam Rifles claim that she had tried to escape.
“Not a single injury was found on either legs of the victim,” the report states. “On the other hand, most injuries will reveal that they were shot intentionally while the victim was in prone, lying, bending positions with an intention to kill and even after she was in a helpless condition.”
Concluding that the shots fired at Manorama were “unnecessary”, Justice Singh said he was pained to note that “a valuable life had been made to suffer harshly at the hands of reckless armed Assam Rifles persons”. In his deposition before the commission, Doren said they had seen Manorama being repeatedly slapped and pulled by her hair while being interrogated. He said that one soldier in civvies had inserted a kitchen knife into her undergarments, while her blouse was unbuttoned and pulled down. She was taken away in an official vehicle before being found dead the next morning on the roadside in Yaripok with multiple bullet injuries.
Manorama lived with her family in Irilbung locality of Imphal East district in Manipur. The AR accused her of being a “hardcore” member of the intelligence and IED wing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and being involved in several blasts and terror attacks in the state. If Doren still remembers the sight of Manorama screaming behind a locked door, he also can’t put behind her last words to him. “Before they took her, Didi told me to pick her up from the police station as early as possible.”
At the family home in Irilbung, there is not a single photo of Manorama with her family left. “We used to have lots of photos of us with Didi. Many journalists and NGOs have visited us over the past decade, each took away a photo,” says Doren. The only things that remain to remind them of Manorama is a framed photo on the wall and the loom on which she used to weave clothes. And the memories.