SC provides an avenue for redress for fake encounter killings. Centre must build on it
After decades of insurgency,one of Manipurs deepest hurts might find judicial redress. Last week,a commission appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate six cases of alleged extrajudicial killings reported that all the encounters were fake. The panel had been set up in response to a petition filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Association,which cited 1,528 cases since 1979. For years,such encounters,allegedly staged by the police or by the armed forces stationed in the state under AFSPA,appeared to be shielded by an institutional pact of secrecy. Families of victims have battled the intransigence of the police,the state government,the lower courts,even the Centre. This institutional apathy has only deepened the sense of alienation among people in the state,who have always felt themselves to be on the margins of Indias polity.
As the court noted last Thursday,physical distance from Delhi does not mean emotional distance. Yet the counter-affidavit filed earlier by the Centre seemed to reflect just such a disconnect. Years of insurgency were dismissed as the activities of a handful of disgruntled elements who fuelled ethnic rifts to sustain their extortion rackets,which funded a luxurious life in foreign countries for their leaders. It is a fact that secessionist movements in the state have frittered away their ideological capital in recent years,operating more like petty gangs than political outfits,but the insurgencies of Manipur had stemmed from competing claims to land by different tribal groups,the Meiteis,the Kukis and the Nagas,among others. The affidavit also treats these ethnic rivalries as implacable divides. The Union government fails to recognise the deep-rooted insecurities of people who have felt marginalised,both politically and economically. Neither does it entertain the possibility that such insecurities may have been a factor in the insurgencies.
Militancy in Manipur is on the wane,with major Kuki groups having agreed to a suspension of operations and prominent Naga groups under a ceasefire. The ideology of the separatist movements has lost currency,but old hurts still rankle. The court has provided a valuable chance for redress. The Centre must build on it,if it wants to draw Manipur closer to the national mainstream.