By Maya Palit
While it is very late in the day, the Supreme Court has confronted the Army in Manipur about its silence over the multiple allegations of rape and murder against them.
On Tuesday, Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit questioned the Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, about why there hadn’t been a response to allegations regarding the rape of a minor girl in 2003 (who later committed suicide) by army personnel, as well as the indictment of some Assam Rifles officials for apparently sexually assaulting and murdering a woman in Manipur. They also accused the army of deliberately withholding information about the suspects, and questioned the motives behind this: “”Is it just a sheer helplessness or is it a tacit understanding that you will not proceed against the Army personnel?”
This exchange took place just after apex court agreed to hear the Centre’s curative petition against its July 2016 judgement which declared that the Army cannot enjoy immunity for its use of excessive force under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The petition, submitted by Rohatgi (who incidentally also defended the horrific incident last week where the Army tied a Kashmir civilian to a jeep and drove him around for hours) claims that the Army’s actions “cannot be put to judicial scrutiny”, because such an approach would be a dampener on the morale of the armed forces.
Rohatgi’s response a day after the Supreme Court reprimand was that judicial probes conducted by district judges into the allegations of rape, were biased against the Army because of local influence. He then offered up tenuous logic to defend the claim: “We are in our own country. If army is disbelieved, then the whole system will go haywire and cannot work.”
The hearing continues today. The court hearing a PIL that demands a probe into 1,528 extra-judicial killings in Manipur in the period between 2000 to 2012, apparently by armed forces and the police, is crucial. Not because anyone is in the dark about the Army’s numerous crimes against women in Manipur and the North-East, but because the charade is still going strong, and that makes the Centre’s attempt to derail the Supreme Court’s pronouncement about AFSPA particularly devastating in these times.