In the wee hours of September 21 2018, the Manipur Police launched a midnight blitzkrieg in the campus of Manipur University. Scores of students and even members of the teaching staff were arrested. The State police have clarified that they were acting on the basis of an FIR lodged by the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Kangajam Jugindro Singh. The FIR (FIR number: 223(9) 2018) accuses members of the teaching staff of the University along with several students of the Manipur University Student Association on various charges such as attempt to murder (IPC 307), kidnapping (365 IPC), Criminal intimidation (506 IPC), extortion (384 IPC) Criminal conspiracy with Common intention (120B IPC) have been pressed against the accused. But in a rather bizarre interview given by the complainant Kangajam Jugindro Singh he has denied that he formally lodged a complaint at the Singjamei Police station, Imphal West district.
To put the event of September 21 in perspective it is worth mentioning that the students of the University have been protesting from 30th May 2018 for the removal of A.P. Pandey the then Vice Chancellor of the University now who is now placed under suspension pending inquiry. As the crisis unfolded in the University the state remained a silent spectator stating its inability to intervene in the matter directly at the University was converted into a Central University in 2005 ( w.e.f. 13/10/2005). The state’s delay in facilitating a solution to the crisis irreparably harmed the career and prospects of many students. But the event of September 21 marks a U-turn on the government’s noninterventionist policy. Waking up from its deep slumber it suddenly sprang into action in the wee hours of September launching a Blitzkrieg at the Boys hostels of Manipur University.
Why the midnight Crackdown?
The state has argued that the motive behind the midnight crackdown was aimed at restoring normalcy in the University. The police in a press conference insisted that due procedures were followed in the process. But students present at the Boys hostel on the night of the event contest this claim. When police Personnel entered the premises of the boy’s hostel no reasons whatsoever were provided for the arrest. This is a violation of section 50 of the CRPC (Criminal code of procedure) which states that a Person arrested is to be informed of the grounds of arrest and of the right to bail. Rather than achieving its objective the police crackdown has further aggravated the situation in the University and proved counterproductive. Following the arrests, the Joint Students’ Coordinating Committee (JSCC) has declared a total shut down of the Manipur University until normalcy is brought in the campus. JSCC is an umbrella of four student bodies comprising of All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Manipur Students’ Federation (MSF), Kangleipak Students’ Association (KSA) and Students’ Union of Kangleipak (SUK).
A hangover of Counterinsurgency policing tactics
What worries concerned citizens of the state is not that the fact that the police arrested the agitating students and the teachers named in the FIR (FIR number: 223(9) 2018). But the manner and the modus operandi of the state in effecting those arrests. There are a number of laws and legislation at the state’s disposal to establish its actions as rational. One can get easily lost in the maze of the State’s bureaucratic jargon and proceduralism. Even if the state could argue that it was authorized to use necessary force to effect the arrest of the accused students and teachers according to section 46 of the Criminal procedure code; measures such as firing tear gas and rubber bullets at students will only add fuel to the fire. It is a standard counterinsurgency policing practice in an insurgency-torn state like Manipur to launch operations in the wee hours of the day to utilize the element of surprise. The midnight Blitzkrieg at Manipur University which uses this same logic points to more disturbing trends. The incident has become a lesson in how not to tackle student unrest.
It is worth mentioning here that in a writ petition filed by the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) in the Supreme Court as per article 32 of the constitution (Right to constitutional remedies) in 2012 (Writ Petition (Criminal) No.129 of 2012] various members of the Manipur police forces are currently facing charges of human rights violations and fake encounters. The CBI has been probing a shortlist of about 95 cases of alleged fake encounters. This shortlist has been culled out of a long list of 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters in Manipur, based on the writ petition filed by EEVFAM in 2012 seeking justice for victims and survivors of extra-judicial killings in the state. The AFSPA has been instrumental in building a climate of impunity amongst armed forces who are part of counterinsurgency operation since section 6 of the AFSPA grants protection to armed forces acting under the act. The act provides that no prosecution, suit or another legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. The definition of ‘armed forces’ provided in section 2 of the AFSPA 1958 is as such; armed forces’ means the military forces and the air forces operating as land forces, other armed forces of the Union so operating. A close reading of this definition makes it clear that under no circumstances the legal immunity enjoyed by the armed forces extend to the Manipur state police.
Returning to the Writ petition of EEVFAM (Writ Petition (Criminal) No.129 of 2012) the CBI has now filed about 40 FIRs and three charge sheets according to the latest report (this has been covered extensively by Anoo Bhuyan of the Wire.in). The FIRs began to name security personnel, but they were all at low levels of office, mostly from the Manipur police and not the armed forces – the FIRs were naming only low-cost trigger puller like constables, sub-inspectors, subedars and havildars. As long as only junior personnel were being named, the armed forces fraternity was unperturbed. It is only when Major Vijay Balhara name appeared in one of the FIRS that the army pushed back hard filling a counter-petition. The point that I am trying to make here is that substantial numbers of Manipur police personnel are named in the FIRS and the Charge sheet filed by the CBI. Why is it so? Even if the state police is armed with laws such as the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and a host of other laws it doesn’t enjoy the legal immunity accorded to the armed forces under AFSPA.
But some members of the Manipur police force seem to be in the wrong impression that the legal immunity accorded by AFSPA extends to them. The root of this cause can be traced back to the setting up of the Unified command structure for counterinsurgency operation set up under the Ex-Chief Minister of the Congress party Okram Ibobi in October 2004. The army’s divisional commander functioned as the security adviser to the then Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh. While performing counterinsurgency duties under a single Unified command some members of the State police were under the false assumption that they too enjoyed the legal immunity that was given to the armed forces. It seems that the state police while conducting counterinsurgency operation was functioning in a legal limbo. These unforeseen consequences of state policies have deeply affected the policing culture in the State. What happened at Manipur University in the wee hours September 21 can best be described as a hangover of the counterinsurgency modus-operandi where a more humane approach to policing has taken a backseat thereby further driving a wedge between the law enforcement agencies and the people.