Updated: January 28, 2016 12:00:34 am
The admission by Head Constable Herojit Singh to this newspaper that he had killed a 22-year-old unarmed man suspected of links with an insurgent group on the orders of his superior officer, is yet another pointer to the shocking state of policing in Manipur. Singh’s motive behind the confession may not be clear, but his claims must be investigated by an impartial agency. A fair and thorough probe, followed by necessary redress, alone can salvage the credibility of the government, whose legitimacy is constantly questioned by numerous insurgent groups. Criminal activities of state agencies will need to be punished to regain the trust of citizens.
Questions have been raised in the past about the actions of security agencies in Manipur. No doubt, these agencies work to enforce law under extreme duress. Manipur has a long history of insurgency and security experts routinely point out the state houses the largest number of terrorist groups in the country. Security agencies have been given the cover of exceptional laws, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to protect them from penal action and other legal strictures for extreme measures forced by extraordinary circumstances. Clear guidelines have been outlined by courts, judicial commissions and bodies, including the National Human Rights Commission, on how security forces and police ought to conduct operations. However, evidence suggests legal exceptions are misused and guidelines rarely followed. There are no easy solutions to a long-drawn-out insurgency, but rogue behaviour by personnel deemed to be law enforcers only further the lawlessness. Manipur’s brave civil society has highlighted gross human rights violations by security agencies innumerable times, but the state administration has rarely investigated these allegations fairly. The Santosh Hegde Commission, set up by the Supreme Court after seized of complaints of over 1,500 fake encounter killings in the state, investigated six cases and found these to be premeditated killings. The commission also stated that the security forces routinely transgress the legal bounds for counter-insurgency operations. Few complaints were investigated — the commission noted that of the 66 complaints received against Assam Rifles personnel in five years, only three had been disposed of.
Robust internal mechanisms within the forces can check errant behaviour by security personnel. Probes into fake encounter claims are debilitated by procedural infirmities and violations, some of which are deliberate. In the context, the Hegde Commission had laid down rules to ensure the independence of probing agencies and suggested supervisory mechanisms to ensure that justice is served to victims. Manipur’s insurgency cannot become a cover for trigger-happy security personnel and their civilian allies to spawn a rule of fear and terror.
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