On 18th December 2014, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to pay Rs. 10 lakh as compensation to the family of Thangjam Chanu Manorama Devi. PUDR recognizes that this is a small step but cannot be a substitute for actual justice. Reacting to the SC Order, Manorama Devi's younger brother Thangjam Dorendro and Manorama's mother, Thangjam Khumanlei stated that though the SC ruled the incident as a staged encounter, their demand was not for compensation but justice.
Manorama Devi was picked up on the night of 11th July, 2004 from her home in Imphal by soldiers of the Assam Rifles on charges of being a member of the banned Peoples Liberation Army. She was tortured, raped and subsequently killed in their custody. Following massive protests in Manipur, the State Government of Manipur ordered a commission of inquiry into Manorama Devi's murder the very next day. In August 2004, the Assam Rifles filed a petition before the Guwahati High Court stating that the Manipur Government had no authority to appoint a commission to inspect into the acts of the armed forces. Invoking Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the Assam Rifles asserted that initiation of legal proceedings against personnel of the Armed Forces required the sanction of the Central Government.
On 31st August, 2010 the Guwahati High Court Division Bench passed an order that the commission is valid and State of Manipur is at liberty to deal with the report of the commission in accordance of the provisions of Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952. Again, in 2011 the Union of India approached the SC against the 2010 order. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also sought to implead itself in the case and demanded Rs. 10 lakh as compensation to be paid by the Ministry of Defence. Now, in the recent order dated 18th December, 2014, the SC has agreed to hear the Centre's appeal against the 2010 Order and has directed the Union to pay Rs. 10 lakh as interim compensation to Manorama Devi's family within four weeks of the order.
This tragic incident needs to be understood in light of the impunity which the Armed Forces enjoy in India. PUDR has reiterated that crimes including torture and sexual violence have found sanction with the operation of not just draconian laws like AFSPA but sections in other acts like the Army Act, BSF Act, CRPF Act etc. Provisions in these Acts aid the Armed Forces and become a tool for the Indian Government to suppress people's movements. The victims of military violence in these areas do not have access to judicial remedies because criminal courts lack the sanction to prosecute members of the Armed Forces. The Army's own record in dealing with crimes committed by its personnel in these areas is appalling as well. The consequent power relations created by these Acts lead to a violation of the democratic rights of individuals and leaves behind a legacy of sexual violence, torture and a culture of impunity.
It is extremely sad to note that 10 years have crawled by since Manorama Devi's murder but justice has eluded her family members. It is also extremely absurd and insensitive to think that compensation can ever replace the true course of justice. PUDR demands the arrest and prosecution of the Armed Forces personnel responsible for Manorama Devi's murder. PUDR also demands that all provisions which create impunity of the Armed Forces in the country including but not limited to AFSPA be revoked.
Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl