QUESTIONING WHETHER some men in uniform are alleged rapists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe three cases, including one in which armed forces personnel allegedly raped a teenager in Manipur, which is under the control of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Uday U Lalit asked the Centre to furnish names of five DIG-level officers of the CBI or officers of the rank of Additional Director General of Police for constituting the SIT.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who has been defending the Army in a batch of matters relating to 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur in the last 20 years, was requested to adduce the names on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the bench will also consider a few names for SIT members to be suggested by the state government and counsel for the petitioner, Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families Association.
All three cases taken up for investigation by the court pertain to alleged atrocities by the Army and the Assam Rifles. In the first case, a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped by two soldiers on October 4, 2003. The victim reportedly committed suicide a few hours later.
The other two cases relate to alleged custodial torture and killing of Manipuri village girl T Manorama and L D Rengtuiwan in 2004.
The bench went through the reports of the court of inquiry conducted by the Army and reports of the commission of inquiry carried out by the Manipur government. It noted that the state government was merely expressing its “helplessness” in proceeding with the cases on the pretext that Army and paramilitary personnel were involved, whereas the Army’s court of inquiry had accorded a clean chit to its men.
“Is there a tacit understanding between you (the state) and them (the Army) that you won’t enter their area to conduct any sort of probe,” the bench asked. “Here is a 13-year-old girl who worked in a rubber farm. There was no allegation that she was an insurgent. Two people come and rape her. She narrates her ordeal to her mother and a sister and then commits suicide. Have you (state government) decided that let Army come and rape anyone, what can we do?”
The court told A-G Rohatgi: “You may have alleged rapists in the Army…. Do you have people in Army who rape? It is an alleged gangrape in uniform — an aggravated form of crime.” The bench then summoned the Army’s court of inquiry report to examine how the incident was dealt with and the manner of probe they conducted.
When the bench perused this report, it regretted that the Army’s court of inquiry had more questions unanswered and failed to explain why the victim’s mother and sister were not examined, even though the dying declaration was given to them. “We are settled that this requires further investigation. Time-line is not an issue…. Bangladesh is still conducting prosecution and sentencing accused for the 1971 war crimes (by Pakistani army). All these cases are around 15 years old. They will be investigated further,” the bench maintained.
The court then asked Rohatgi and lawyer for the Manipur group, to give the names of senior officers for the SIT on Wednesday.
By a judgment in 2016, the bench had decided to probe 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters by security forces.