“He had gone out on his scooter to buy something, but then he never came back. After four days we found his scooter abandoned at a temple gate and the police gave us his dead body,” said Edina Yaikhom, whose husband was killed in an encounter in Manipur in 2009.
Edina was just 29 years old when she got the news of her husband’s death from a local news channel. Her husband, Anand Ningthoujam was killed for allegedly being an insurgent. “I was traumatised by the news. I suddenly became a widow of a ‘terrorist’. My 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter lost their father too soon in their life. I was helpless. My husband was a very nice man, he just became a victim of police atrocities,” says Edina, while talking to The Logical Indian.
“I cried for months and was in the hospital paralysed for more than a year. It took me so much time to recover from that state, but then I realised that I was not alone. Almost every day the newspaper had news of some mother or wife losing their close ones,” laments mother of two children, Edina.
Edina is just one out of the hundreds of people in Manipur who have lost family members in extra-judicial executions or fake encounters. According to reports, there have been more than 1,528 alleged cases of fake encounters in Manipur between 1979-2012. Manipur was first categorised as a ‘disturbed area’ in 1980. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was withdrawn from seven Assembly constituencies in 2014 but is still in force in other parts of Manipur.
Fighting for justice
The Logical Indian spoke to Babloo Loitongbam, the executive director of Human Rights Alert, an NGO, and a member of Execution Victim Families Association Manipur (EEVFAM), which represents the families of the victims and Manipur based Human rights defenders. In the 1980s, Babloo was preparing for UPSC in Delhi where he faced racial discrimination. “People used to call me ‘chinki’ and in general made fun of people from the northeast. As a student it encouraged me to become a member of organisations fighting for the human rights,” said Babloo.
“It was the same time when the situation was worse in Manipur. Massacres, encounters were always in the Manipur news. It was home calling for me, I came back to Manipur to fight for my people,” he added.
As soon as Babloo went back to his state, he started to mobilise other Manipur based human rights defenders. Then he, along with other activist formed, EEVFAM.
In 2004, they started to meet families of the victims and encouraged them to speak about their woes. “The society was treating them as the culprits, and they were being subjected to harassment and abuse. It was the time when we decided to make victims as activists. They were the first voice that was needed to be heard by the people of the country”.
The organisation then started to document all victims’ traumatic experience of human rights violations in the state. In July 2009, families of the victims got together in a mass gathering and shared their pain and sorrow. “We all listened to each other’s story. The young widows and old mothers all narrated their story on the same day. Women and children alike were crying. It was a heart-wrenching moment for all of us,” said Babloo, father of two daughters.
Babloo recalls that meeting as “catharsis”. He says it was the first time the families were crying in public. It was the opening of the wounds and also the start of the healing process as well.
The legal battle
In 2011, the organisation filed a public interest litigation(PIL) in the supreme court to seek justice for the families of the victims.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI inquiry in the case. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) then constituted a five-member team to examine 97 such cases between 2000 and 2011. The court is scheduled to review the progress and CBI’s report on July 2, 2018.
“This case is a hope for the people to fight against the power. I think the legal battle is at least a silver lining for all of us,” said Babloo, over a telephonic conversation with The Logical Indian.
“The entire process is a mark of the first victory in the ongoing battle that the families of the victims and many Human right defenders, with the support of NGOs and organisations, are fighting. The court’s order for an investigation into the case is a symbol of holding the state culpable for the human right violation,” added Babloo.
The struggle continues
There have been several reports that claim that families are now being threatened for voicing their case. According to Babloo, Samila, who is also a member of EEVFAM, was threatened by people who want her to not fight her case. “In April 2018, paramilitary and state police personnel vandalised Salima’s house. They also threatened her and warned her that they were keeping a close eye on her,” says Babloo, who is also one of the petitioners.
He also claims that the investigation of the case has not been transparent and that the status report of the case should be public or at least given to the petitioners.
According to Babloo, the families here are not just fighting the legal battle but at the same time are facing a hostile attitude from the side of the government.
Edina who supports her family by running a grocery store, says “I don’t earn more than Rs 7000 a month. I can’t expect any help from the government, as they branded my husband an insurgent hence I am not eligible for any government scheme for widows.”
The Logical Indian appreciates these unsung heroes who are fighting for transparency and justice.