FOR those hundreds of families, who have lost their near and dear ones at the hands of both central and state forces or have been involuntarily disappeared, the landmark decision by the Supreme Court on Friday to order investigation into 95 cases of alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur will be nothing less than virtually dismantling the AFSPA immunity shield of the military personnel. With the apex court categorically asking the CBI director to nominate five officers for forming a special investigation team to go through the records of all the controversial cases, lodge fresh FIRs, complete the investigation by December 31 this year and file charge-sheets, the move should give a ray of hope to the victims’ families that justice, though belatedly, will ultimately be delivered to those who fell prey to misuse of powers granted by AFSPA 1958 by the Army, Assam Rifles, CRPF, BSF and state police. Though it could not be guaranteed as yet whether or not the SIT would be able to comply with the court’s directive for filing the investigation report within the second week of January next, chief minister N Biren welcoming the court’s decree and assuring full cooperation of the state government should be helpful to the probe agency in expediting the process for exposing the trigger happy elements that compromised integrity and competency of the security forces, whose pledge at the end of the training session also included safeguarding the citizens. For the record, excesses committed by security forces in Manipur have ceased to some extent after the widely exposed killing of Chungkham Sanjit by police commandos after he was overpowered.
Random abuse of AFSPA in Manipur and consequences of its brutal impact could be comprehended from the existence of a number of human rights organisations, formation of the Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Manipur, frequent agitations decrying wanton and controversial killings, allegations about security forces planting weapons after elimination of unarmed persons, etc. Ironically, the pro-military Act had been the genesis for many security force officers and personnel getting rewards and service promotion regardless of the fact that their acts associated with winning these awards increased the number of widows, children left fatherless and mothers having none to care for them at advanced stage of life. Brutal nature of AFSPA could also be understood from the elderly women folk staging nude protest at the western gate of the sacred Kangla in the aftermath of extra-judicial execution of Thangjam Manorama Devi after her modesty was allegedly outraged, none other than the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh opining that AFSPA should be replaced with a more humane law and Irom Chanu Sharmila launching indefinite fast for 16 years, that ended only few months back. On account of Sharmila mellowing down from her stand without achieving the goal of freeing the people from the repressive Act despite her success in putting the issue under international limelight apart from winning enviable awards, people of Manipur were of the view that there would be no respite from atrocities committed by the men in uniform as long as AFSPA remains. However, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court is standing testimony that no one can take the law into their own hands. Interestingly, the court’s order could also be construed as posers over efficiency of the security forces, which think that AFSPA is a necessity in tackling internal security issue, though many national leaders have been claiming the Indian soldiers are well-prepared to take on the military might of any adversary nation.