Of late, the Supreme Court of India has tightened its grip on innumerable fake encounter killings which took place in our state of Manipur by coming out with rulings to give compensations to the bereaved families of the innocent lost ones. Fake encounter is nothing new to the people of Manipur for it has taken its form as a diabolic institution of sort. In fact, it has become more of a part and parcel in the collective psyche of the public of our state. Many innocent lives were lost during many histrionic events of fake encounters by state security and paramilitary forces which has been going on for years. At one point of time, bravery of a cop was considered directly proportional to the number of persons killed by him be the victims innocent or otherwise. With gradual tightening of the noose of Supreme Court on fake encounters, past or present, many cops of the state who were considered ‘top’ or ‘elite’ were stripped of their elite status in 2013. The crackdown by Supreme Court on fake encounters and those involved in it can be termed as a healthy trend for a just society where people can live without trauma and fear.
The confession by Gallantary Awardee Head Constable Thounaojam Herojit came as a divine intervention for delivering justice to those responsible for many fake encounters, if not all. The bold and heroic confession of Mr Herojit regarding killings of innocents in cold blood using fake encounter as the license to kill has cleansed everyone’s doubt and made it crystal clear that the umpteen deaths of innocents in the hands of state security and paramilitary forces did happen and is happening. The 23/7 killing of unarmed Sanjit inside Maimu Pharmacy, BT Road where the true lies were revealed by Tehelka group in the medium of photographs bears testimony to the institution called Fake Encounter. Now the ghosts of the past is coming back to haunt those responsible for all the fake-encounter killings which may uncover the big syndicate of fake encounters. In fact, fake encounter has remained a cruel institution in Manipur behind the veil of AFSPA, 1958.
Head Constable Herojit, as per his confession had killed more than 133 persons. He also confessed that he noted down all the details of those he had killed in his diaries. The confession by Herojit requires great audacity. In Manipur, as receipt of awards be it gallantry or otherwise were being given to the cops who kill the highest number of insurgents out of which many are innocent, the cops thus become trigger happy and cold blooded just for the sake of receiving awards or getting promotion. The recent intervention by the Supreme Court has mitigated this monstrous system to some extent.
Since the incident at BT Road which happened on 23 July 2009, Manipur government issued a notification on January 22, 2010 and Central government issued a notification on February 3, 2010 for handing over investigation of the FIR of City PS Imphal (W) to the CBI. Subsequently, a case was registered by the CBI on February 5, 2010. CBI had taken up the case for bringing to book whoever was responsible for the incident regardless of their ranks. Now it’s the beginning of 2018, nearer to a decade’s time but the investigation seems to be hovering around or kept in the deep freezer. The inquiry report of CBI after investigating into the broad daylight killing of Chungkham Sanjit had also earlier concluded that it was Head Constable Thounaojam Herojit who gunned down Sanjit, the unarmed captive. But no reports on investigation of the higher big-shots who ordered Herojit to kill Sanjit has come out so far.
CBI, headed by a Cabinet Minister is an autonomous body under the aegis of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions and was set up to deal with corruption and economic offences. Over the years since its inception it has established a reputation for itself in various facets such as impartiality and competence and demands were made upon CBI by the Supreme Court it to take up investigation of cases of conventional crimes such as murder, kidnapping, terrorism etc on petitions filed by aggrieved parties. Now its role has widened as one of the premier investigative agencies of the country with its jurisdiction covering every states of the country. The public expects the highest standard from the CBI both in terms of efficiency and integrity and keep their utmost faith on it. The central government may extend to any area of India (except Union Territories) the powers and jurisdiction of the CBI for investigation. The High Courts and the Supreme Court have the jurisdiction to order a CBI investigation into an offence alleged to have been committed in a state without the state’s consent as a part of protecting the fundamental rights of its citizens.
Along the way, the CBI’s performance has not always been smooth sailing and the agency was mired in controversy and criticism for dragging its feet and derailment of investigations as successive governments circumvent the guidelines and treat the CBI as another wing of the government. The public’s worry is that if CBI becomes a puppet of the government, then the matter of keeping the hopes alive for justice to emerge will be scuttled. Mention of a few may be made of Bofors Scandal, Hawala Scandal, 2G Spectrum Scam, Indian Coal Allocation Scam wherein the Supreme Court cited the CBI for tardiness in the investigation process. In 1997 a ruling by late Chief Justice of India J.S Verma listed many guidelines which, if followed, would have ensured the independence of the investigating agency. Here again, a sort of mystery arises as to why CBI kept mum on the diaries confiscated by from Herojit, diaries which contained sensitive infos on fake encounters in which he had made serial wise entries of the name of the victim, age, parentage, address, place of occurrence, date of the killings, remarks such as “killed” or “done” or “arrested” and the call sign code of the superiors who gave the order to kill. As per Herojits recollection, those diaries were seized by the CBI from him sometime in 2010 in the presence of his family and without taking his signature and without giving him a list of the diaries seized.
No doubt Herojit was a fake encounter specialist. However, he had confessed that he carried out all the killings under the orders of his superior officers. What’s done cannot be undone, but the public has a soft spot for him because of his bravery and courage in bringing out to the fore the dreaded system and dirty works in the echelons of the law enforcers as well as political hotshots. He’s in fact a beacon of hope in the struggle against fake encounters. Now, he is living a hellish life where every moment lurks with danger and threat of death posed to his life for suppressing of evidence and for preventing more skeletons from falling out of the cupboard. He also revealed that on April 30, 2016, at 8.30 pm a TATA pickup truck without lights and number plates deliberately slammed into his car about a kilometre from his house with the intention of killing him. Resembles the sequence of a Hollywood thriller movie to make a killing look like an accident as he continues to pose a threat to all his superior officers who routinely gave orders to him without hesitation and without citing the reasons for the extrajudicial executions of innocent citizens. However, he luckily survived even though he bore multiple fractures.
Many ask the question as to why Herojit revealed and confessed everything. The reason involves a lot of “maybe’s”. Maybe got sick with the rotting system of exploitation by the higher officials to the lower, the deceit, corruption and nepotism and has lost faith in the system. Maybe he got tired of looking back behind his shoulder every moment, maybe he got fed up with all the killings and bloodshed and want to lead the life of a good samaritan, maybe he has realised that he had been used as a pawn all these years just to meet the selfish needs of his superiors. Maybe his mind has been perturbed after all the killings he had done and is heading towards redemption from the evil deeds he performed. The irony is that he was never given a chance to appoint a lawyer of his choice and went unrepresented to the Supreme Court which comes as a shocker to the public. Even though he asked the CBI to have his statement recorded, and to produce his diaries so that he could give a comprehensive statement of how he was present at the place and time of a large number of fake encounters and also disclose the identity of the senior officers who had ordered the extrajudicial executions, the CBI seems completely disinterested and hell bent to cover up the enormous crimes that had taken place in the name of fake encounters. Now, the people are anxious whether political interference has compromised the CBI. If so, then the case of bringing down the house of syndicate of fake encounters will not materialise and justice for the bereaved families will never see the light of the day. We earnestly hope that the CBI takes up the case in the interest of the people and members of the bereaved families of umpteen innocents whose lives were taken in fake encounters.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])