Hundreds Go Missing In Manipur

Over 300 people disappear every year in Manipur; most are victims of extrajudicial killings. Dead bodies are brought to the morgue in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, with a terrible regularity. Generally found in isolated, remote locations, the bodies often bear marks of torture and murder. They are disembarked in a horrifying state, mutilated, sometimes already decomposing. The overwhelming majority of these bodies will never be identified nor claimed by families. They will be hastily examined, and then disposed off by the municipality. They will not be given any names, their stories will not be written, and miniscule records of their passage in the morgue will be kept. In an ultimate denial of their humanity, no religious rituals will be performed. They are the unnamed victims of a 60-year conflict that ravages Manipur and has claimed around 20,000 lives since separatist outfits took arms in the 1950’s. Every year, over 300 people go missing in the North Eastern state of Manipur. The pattern is recurrent. Late at night, security forces break into homes, arrest “suspects”, and take them (often blind-folded) to a place of detention. Some days later, a body is found. Sometimes, people are shot dead while going to work, school or to the bank, and their belongings robbed. On such occasions, the security generally alleges that the deceased was killed in an armed encounter.  Most of these cases go unreported. When families attempt to file a complaint, they are often intimidated and discouraged from taking the case further. If cases are ultimately filed, they are not investigated by state agencies. Hence, Manipur, along with Jammu & Kashmir, accounts for the highest number of extrajudicial killings in India. But so far, none of these cases have been investigated or have resulted in any successful prosecution. As a result, people in Manipur live in a state of fear. National and international human rights organizations and activists have been denouncing the culture of impunity prevailing in Manipur for years. In a 2008 report, Human Rights Watch pointed out that the “the situation in Manipur is nothing less than a breakdown in the rule of law.” The militarization and culture of violence plaguing Manipur mainly results from the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, legislated in 1958  (AFSPA) in Manipur. Under this act, security forces are unaccountable for their actions, and are given the right to arrest, detain and kill civilians on mere suspicions, without any evidence on hand. Military and paramilitary forces in Manipur have exploited the impunity provided by the AFSPA.  This has created an entrenched culture of silence in Manipur against human rights perpetrators, be they state forces or separatist outfits. The Act has been opposed by several activists in India, as being in complete violation of fundamental constitutional rights. But the state has often retaliated in the harshest possible way. Thus, on 14 September 2009, Jiten Yunman, a leading human rights defender who repeatedly spoke out against the Act, was arrested and imprisoned. Also, on 5 November 2010, Irom Chanu Sharmila, one of the most famous advocates for the cause, marked a decade long hunger strike in protest of the Act. She too has been repeatedly imprisoned by the state. To restore the rule of law in Manipur would require a complete shift of paradigm from the state. A considerable start would be for the government to start investigating and prosecuting the extrajudicial killings. In places like Manipur, when inhumanity has taken hold of society, with life being given so little value, it is crucial that justice be restored. Only then, the culture of violence and impunity has a chance to be overcome, and dead bodies will be treated with respect and humanity.   In the face of such a dreadful portrait, it is easy to imagine the courage that Mercy, our Community Correspondent from Manipur, required to shoot the video. Yet, Mercy says the feeling that was dominating her while shooting this video was not fear, but anger and frustration. Every morning, while reading the newspaper, Mercy used to come across the faces of the “missing persons”, whose names and pictures were listed on the last page of the newspapers. Moved by these unknown faces and by their untold stories, she felt the urge to investigate, to recover part of their journey. She approached three families whose son or husband had disappeared, but all of them were resolutely silent, overwhelmed with fear and hopelessness. Some were devastated, and reacted violently when she asked for their interview. Mercy encountered a similar silence from the officials she attempted to contact. In the post mortem department, some confessed they felt disheartened when seeing these dead bodies thrown away without identification. But all of them refused to be recorded, and warned her that she would not be allowed to shoot any images. After long hours waiting, Mercy snuck into the morgue, and shot the images for the video. At the sight of the decomposed bodies, uncovered, lying on the ground, unattended, Mercy felt profoundly angered. She was upset by the lack of respect with which these bodies were treated. Her video is the expression of her revolt. If you want to take action, you can fill sign the online petition to support Irom Chanu Sharmila in her struggle for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. You can also send an appeal letter from the Asian Human rights Commission website, demanding that the illegal arrest and disappearance of Longjam Suresh, that took place on 18 February in Manipur, be investigated.

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