Injustice, lies and more lies endangers peace

Published on April 9, 2007

By Elf Hmar 

April 10, 2007: In the last fifteen months or so, human rights in Manipur has brought about a new dimension on the issue and also evoked a lot of murmurings. Most of them were, unfortunately, of disbelief on the role of the “new” actors of crime against humanity.

We have been silently observing the changing faces of human rights violations from that of the state to non-state actors. But I dare not accept that, for the simple reason that the “changing” here insisted on a “transfer” which could only negate the issue on the struggle against human rights violation. The fact is there has been no changing of faces.  

The actors in this crime has always been the same and that it is only now that it has been gradually noticed for the bravado of those who let see what has been actually happening on the ground. We will regrettably be confronting more of these “unbelievable” accounts if and when the victims continue to dare speak out against crime committed against them, and if given the space. 

In spite of the bold revelation of truth, the victims are further ridiculed and discriminated by certain so-called intellectuals, social activists, human rights and media groups. These groups are still yet, under their conditioned terms, to grasp and accept the ordeals the victims are going through. Some of these are more or less reflected in the recent writings of the likes of Yumnam Rupachandra and Oken Jeet Sandham in the Statesman. Their reflections are a frantic attempt to validate and justify a packed of lies in tunes with certain vested interests, which is known to everyone. These bands of people need a proper approach than the present to strengthen their reasoning so as not to discredit their own credibility that is their deliberate doing. 

The raising voices, though still doubted, nevertheless directly confront the motive why human rights abuses in the god-forsaken hills of Manipur has been overlooked and ignored for so long in spite of the many complaints and circumstantial evidences.  

Is it because the victims are tribals and are of a certain ethnicity? Is it because they do not have more than 2000 years of written history and are considered untouchables and of a lesser being? If not then, what may be the justifiable contentions? Is it because the areas where the incidents took place are remote, inaccessible and under-developed? These are simple but hard-hitting questions that need to be accurately analysed and addressed so that there is no misjudgement on the part of our “stories”. 

In “Cross-fire Escape” (The Statesman, 02 April 2007), Yumnam Rupachandra alleged that the abduction of more than 400 Kuki villagers by the outlawed UNLF and Burmese army on March 13, 2007 could be yet “another disinformation campaign against the proscribed UNLF.” 

On that “controversy”, Mr. Luntinsat Kipgen in his article “Dubious claims to nullify UNLF’s role in Abduction” (04 April 2007) best answered it when he refuted Yumnam Rupachandra claim and said that “the reporters’ team, which went to Molcham and took the “confession” of the displaced villagers is but all a drama designed by the same perpetrators to save their image. The team went there on the invitation of the insurgent group, after the captives were threatened and duly instructed as to how they should make presentations before the press.” 

A Fact Finding Team (FFT) comprising of the Kuki Students’ Organization (KSO), Kuki Chief Association (KCA), Chandel District, and Kuki Movement for Human Rights (KMHR) conducted a thorough investigation on the “controversy” and concluded by saying that “… before any group or individual.. . may dare to deny the fact about this kidnapping incidence and deportation of Kukis to Myanmar may kindly visit Moreh Relief Camp… who were ordered by force to speak the dictated words to the media which was broadcasted in the ISTV on March 20, 2007 are staying together at Moreh Relief Camp and know the truth by themselves. The FFT will also provide interviewed video, documents and other related papers to people who are not satisfied with this report if necessary.” (Kukiforum.com, 03 April 2007). 

Mr. Rupachandra also went on saying how the UNLF came under “media-fire”, which only was an intention to rubbish the involvement of the UNLF on the “rape of 21 Hmar girls at Lungthulien in Churachandpur district” last year. From the reflection in his writings, it almost looked like Mr. Yumnam Rupachandra is either on the payroll of the UNLF, owns an allegiance to the banned outfit or has been dictated upon. 

Let me take the liberty and try to put up with some of the points raised by Mr. Rupachandra. What has not been known yet by the writer is that the scene of the crime was not only at Lungthulien village as he mentioned. The rape incidents took place at different villages in the Tipaimukh area on different dates in the month of January 2006. He is yet to update the geography of Tipaimukh and the incidents of the crime if he still aspires to write.  

The writer also argued that the “number of the rape kept changing”. In doing so, he vilely attempted to undermine the “allegation”, trying to conclude that the rape incidents never took place. This was also an effort on his part to further create a cloud of confusions on the issue in the minds of his readers. He is not merely confusing himself, but is one. The appalling number as well as the magnitude of the crime is a serious crime, which the perpetrators should learn to acknowledge and apologise. 

Moreover, by putting the number of raped girls at “21” himself, not only did he contradicted himself, but also weakens his argument and integrity by accepting the “21” as the exact number of raped girls, at the same time rebuking it. To put the numbering game of the rape victims at rest, what Mr. Rupachandra should do is that, he, along with the civil society groups based in the Manipur valleys should demand the Manipur government to immediately make the report of the Rajkhowa Judicial Commission public. 

The Government of Manipur has officially instituted the commission to investigate the “alleged” rape case of the Hmar women in Tipaimukh on March 18, 2006 (The Telegraph, 19 March 2006). The Rajkhowa Commission interviewed and took the testimony of the rape victims at Lungthulien village on April 22, 2006 and at Parbung village on April 23, 2006 (Imphal Free Press, 25 April, 2006). When the commission was instituted, the deadline set to submit the report was within two months. 

Civil society groups in Churachandpur, and also the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) has already demanded the report of the commission to be made public immediately. Such pro-active intervention is a challenge to civil society organisations in other parts of the state so that the rape victims are given their due justice.  

Mr. Rupachandra’s complete insensibility of the negative psychological impacts on the rape victims is very disturbing. It is a sorry state because the rape victims did not have supporters who could make another naked protest. However, it is understandable as he himself is not a violated rape victim. If he had been born a woman and raped, would he boldly claim it so publicly? Would not he be shameful of his indignity and fearful of the social stigma in being labelled a rape victim wherever he goes? Most of the Tipaimukh rape victims were under 20 years of age and are school children. This has been one of the reasons why the actual number of raped girls could not be properly established. None of the victims were forthcoming to declare themselves as being raped. 

The writer also tried his best to hoodwink his readers by saying that the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU) tried to send a team to verify and fact-find the truth to the “allegation” and that they were discouraged by some Hmar NGOs. What the writer failed to also reflect upon is that – to the Hmar tribals NGOs, the already biased approach and unmethodical reactions of the valley-controlled media when the rape story surfaced, even if the team were “allowed”, they believed that the team would not come out with the truth even if they confirmed the truth in the “allegation”. Mr Rupachandra is also yet to learn to write honestly. If not, it is better not to write or report. 

Moreover, there was also a risk that some frontal groups or sympathisers of the perpetrators might infiltrate the proposed fact-finding media team or the other fact-finding team of civil societies mainly based in Imphal (The Sangai Express, 14 March 2006) as proposed by the Threatened Indigenous Peoples’ Society (TIPS). The infiltrated group might then either try to persuade or bought off the raped victims or their relatives to retract from the justice they sought. The Hmar groups presumption has reasonably gained ground as could be well observed from the forced “confession” of the deported Kuki villagers of Chandel district as detailed by the FFT. 

The Hmar NGOs’ fear was not at all groundless. This apprehension was also later proven true by the action of a certain Imphal-based human rights group – Human Rights Alert (HRA). The mentioned group later made an abrupt u-turn even after confirming that the rape incident did took place. The said so-called human rights defender group was part of the Civil Society Fact Finding Team on Internally Displace People (CSFFTID), which was established in Imphal and which also conducted a six-day study at Mizoram and the affected areas in Tipaimukh from March 5, 2006 (Imphal Free Press, 03 March 2006).

The team had a press briefing of their fact-finding on March 23, 2006 at Imphal (The Sangai Express, 24 March 2006). But it was only after eleven months that the report of the fact-finding was made public by the NPMHR, a member of the team that investigated on the rape, torture, as well as on the Hmar displaced cases on January 15, 2007 (The Sangai Express, 16 January, 2007) after repeated request by Hmar groups. The Hmar Women Association had also requested the team to make its report public at the earliest (The Sangai Express, 26 September, 2006). 

Questions could be raised as to why the report was not made public in the name of the fact-finding team. There would definitely be some reasons behind that and also reasons for the delay in making the report public. The NPMHR in its press release clarified saying “it would like to extend its apology and solidarity to the Hmar community and the organizations that have lodged a complaint with regard to the pending report of the Civil Society Fact-Finding Team.” It also added, “it is unethical and against the conscience of any independent human rights organizations to downplay the grievous issues of the innocent civilians with whom such organizations claimed to identify with. It is a state of affair, which NPMHR cannot comply with, for which we acknowledge our failure. It is in this light that NPMHR is compelled to come out with a report as part of the team” (The Sangai Express, 16 January, 2007). 

On the other hand, the delay in the collective publication of the report could be that some of the team members were reluctant to publicly impeach the “alleged” perpetrators in their report. It could also be that some of the team members might have been made to compromise to make the investigation void and the fact-finding report invalid. 

For the Hmar students Association (HSA), which is also part of the team and which had already confirmed truth in the “allegation”, it would be inappropriate for it to come out with the report along with the NPMHR only when other members of the team are not forthcoming. They would be allegedly targeted of being acting in collusion with the Nagas. It could only gravitate the much talked about “communal” situation. But now as the NPMHR has already independently made public the report of the fact-finding, the HSA should also either follow suit with its own report or endorse the validity of the report of the NPMHR. 

Returning to the alleged “non-cooperation” of the proposed AMWJU team by Hmar NGOs, the Hmar groups also felt that the AMWJU was not the appropriate platform to let fact-find the “allegations”. It would have helped his readers if Mr. Rupachandra had asked why the Hmar groups had allowed the CSFFTID instead of the AMWJU. There is also the need to take into account that the rape victims are not for mere public display and scrutiny for every persons or groups wanting to interview and record their testimony. There should be a considerate understanding and recognition to their rights as victims of rape. 

Other factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the anger of the remote villagers on the majority Meitei community, as the perpetrators were incidentally from that same community. The magnitude of crime committed and the apathy and continual marginalisation by the major community against their community was the consequence of their feelings. They felt that they would not have undergone the same ordeals had they been Meiteis. This should not be justifiably constituted as a communal approach. 

The challenging questions raised by these marginalised tribal community is the same as can be seen in the caste-concentrated areas in India. Why this victimisation to us and not with their own community? Why are IEDs indiscriminately planted and the Indian Army fought in our areas and not in their areas? Why is there no positive responsiveness on our being in direct crossfire when attack is carried out on the Army and vice-versa? The armed groups should be answerable for their acts of crime instigated against a particular community. 

If the media team or the valley civil society groups were even allowed, would they themselves be accountable for any untoward incidents that might befall on them in such a scenario? The best available approach then for the Hmar NGOs was what they did. They do not want to be blamed for anything they have no control upon. Even if the proposed teams were to be sent, whose protection would they be asking – the Indian security forces or the proscribed UNLF? 

The best bet would be the former. Here is the irony to the problem – why be shielded by armed forces at all? Would they feel their lives were in someway endangered? What of the unarmed villagers who are always struggling to keep up with the directed misgivings of both the Indian army and militant organisations? Do we assume that they feel secure at all in such a situation? Let us put ourselves in their shoes before any misinterpreted verdicts is passed on them. 

Furthermore, the Hmars are a trustworthy community who stands by truth and whose integrity is undeniable. The allegation that the rape incident in Tipaimukh is a concocted, baseless and disinformation campaign against some armed militant organisations is another form of discrimination that needs a proper reassessment. 

As also repeatedly “alleged” by the Hmar organisations last year, the Tipaimukh people today is now reeling under rapid depletion of food stocks in the wake of the cyclic bamboo flowering that will inevitably lead to famine and the failure of the Manipur government to supply rice from the Food and Civil Supply (FCS) department at Imphal for the last two months.  

Mention may be made of the mass exodus of Hmar villagers to Mizoram in the backdrop of massive human rights abuses in the region last year. Eventually, the displaced villagers did not have time to initiate jhum cultivation, which is their mainstay of livelihood. Some of them returned to their abandoned villages in Tipaimukh when the planting season was much over. Some of the returned displaced villagers were compensated with only Rs. 5000 and only four months of ration. 

The HSA has also submitted a memorandum to government authorities in regards to the food crises in Tipaimukh on March 13, 2007 (The Sangai Express, 14 March, 2007). The only response yet of the indifference government in this regard is an agreement by principle and another time-tested “promise”.  It is high time that there should be genuine addressing to the manifold plights and injustice done to the Hmar people and see to it that it does not come to a tragic end for Manipur.