Silent Widows of Manipur

In Manipur, families of victims of fake encounters wait hopelessly for compensation.

Fake encounters have been rampant all over the state of Manipur ever since the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 was passed in ‘disturbed areas’ of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. One of the clauses of this act gives an officer of the armed forces the power to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law”, against “assembly of five or more persons” or possession of deadly weapons.

Hundreds of married women are made widows every year as fake encounters continue through the state. “It feels like there are more widows now than women with husbands.” says our Community Correspondent Mercy Kamei. Almost all of these widows are financially insecure. Not only do they have to take care of themselves, but also look after their children and in-laws. Up until a few years ago, they were too afraid to speak out against these horrific unjust acts. If the government believed their husbands were insurgents, there was nothing they could do about it, and they retaliated, their own lives would be in danger too. There have also been instances where women have been paid to keep quiet about what happened to their husbands.

After Tehelka and the BBC began shedding light on this issue, however, widows have become braver.  They have begun to file cases against police officers involved in killing their husbands in fake encounters. Getting compensation, though, has proved to be almost impossible. They sell vegetables and run small shops to earn whatever money they can, but it’s hardly enough to feed their families. The Extrajudicial Execution Victims Family Association was formed last year and comprises around 200 widows. These women are trained to mobilize themselves in order to get justice. They are also a great source of support and inspiration for each other in their troubled times. Irena, who we see in the video, is slowly getting back on her feet. She has rented a space for a small shop, but the income that shall be generated through it will not be adequate.

“It’s like killing one’s own people.” says Mercy. “If the government gives them an order to kill someone, the police have no choice but to obey.” This summer though, India Today reported judges from the Supreme Court saying that “Trigger-happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of ‘encounter’ and get away with it should know that the gallows await them.”

Manipur is reported to have the highest number of fake encounters after Uttar Pradesh. This amounts to over 100 innocent people losing their lives, over 100 families torn apart every year. Frustrated, Mercy asks, “What is the government’s propaganda? What is it trying to prove by killing innocent men? By creating so many widows?”

– Rajyashri Goody

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