Violence and violation

Published : Jun 16, 2006 00:00 IST

MALINI BHATTACHARYA, MEMBER of the National Commission for Women, addressing refugees at Sakawrdai. In the background is a makeshift school for refugee children. - PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

MALINI BHATTACHARYA, MEMBER of the National Commission for Women, addressing refugees at Sakawrdai. In the background is a makeshift school for refugee children. - PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

An account of the atrocities inflicted by militants on two tribal villages in Manipur.

PARBUNG and Lungthulien villages in the Tipaimukh subdivision in Manipur's Churachandpur district, where people belonging to the Hmar tribe live, have been facing insurgency-related atrocities for quite some time. Militants belonging to the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) have been harassing the villagers and extorting cash and kind from them.

On the night of January 16, about 18 militants armed with sophisticated weapons dragged the people of Lungthulien to a central place and beat them up mercilessly. Four hundred and two people were beaten and tortured, while 15 girls and women aged between 12 and 27, were either raped or molested. The villagers were so terrorised that early on the morning of January 17 many of them, including women and children, escaped to Mizoram where about 650 of them have since been accommodated in camps set up by the Mizoram government at Sakawrdai.

It came out later that the militants had also been carrying out atrocities at Parbung. On January 6, 10 girls, some of them minors, were raped or molested and several villagers assaulted. One boy, whose two sisters were sexually assaulted, was shot dead on the same night. On January 20, the Indian Army entered Parbung and flushed out the militants, killing a few of them in the process. An Army officer was also killed in the operation. Since then, the Army has been stationed at Parbung and Lungthulien. But there are reports of militant activities in some adjoining areas.

The Hmar Women's Association (HWA) and the Hmar Students' Association (HSA) have raised these issues at various fora including the National Commission for Women (NCW). As a member of the Commission, this writer had the opportunity to visit the two villages on May 10 and 11, and the Sakawrdai refugee camp on May 12 along with J.L. Sawmy and D. Vari, HWA representatives, Alan L. Thiek and Lalthansang Pulamte, HSA representatives Biaki, Deputy Director, Department of Social Welfare, Government of Mizoram, Lalzirmawia Chhangte, Sub Divisional Officer, Sakawrdai and K. Shyamchandra Sharma, SDO, Tipaimukh. Thus after the Army, the NCW was the first Central agency to reach the place.

We reached the villages after the Justice Rajkhowa Commission inquiring into the mass rape had finished its task of taking evidence. The Commission, we were told, had reached Parbung by helicopter from the Churachandpur side. Our route lay by road through Mizoram from its capital Aizawl. We had to cross the Tuivai river near Tipaimukh, but we found that the bridge had been washed away and had not been replaced. The roads on both sides of the river were in bad condition, sometimes a mere mud-track that lay through thickets and bamboo groves. We were ferried in a regulation iron boat, while our vehicles were towed or pushed across. The SDPO (Sub Divisional Police Officer) of Churachandpur, who was in charge of the cases of rape and molestation, came to meet us in Parbung. He said that he had to travel for two days to reach Parbung.

I realised how terrorised the villagers must have been to leave their homes, jhum fields and livestock on that cold January morning. When we reached Lungthulien on the evening of May 9, we found a banner welcoming me at the centre of the village, at the same place where the villagers had been forcibly herded together on that night of terror.

How had they known that I was coming? They said they had got the news from the radio, their only means of contact with the outside world, for telephone and mobile connectivity are unavailable there. At Parbung, one family had a public call office (PCO) in its living room and that was operated through an informal connection to Aizawl. The villages had no electricity. Those who could afford it had solar lights. There were neither doctors nor hospitals at Parbung; there was only a defunct primary health centre. There was a police station. There was an officer-in-charge (OC), but no constables; the OC had only reached Parbung on February 1, to take charge of the bodies of the militants when the first information about a rape came to him. The residents had not dared to move out of the villages until the OC came because such had been the injunction of the militants. Besides, the hillsides were planted with landmines; moving around even to sow seeds or gather harvest from their fields had been made dangerous. The other rape victims came up with their horror stories only in March. Official information on the victims in Parbung was obtained only after 10 girls testified before the Commission.

The majority of the 25 girls who gave evidence before the Rajkhowa Commission testified before us. Sawmy acted as the interpreter. Our first night and half the next day were spent in Parbung and the CDPO's office was used both for our night-stay and for the in camera interviews. We spent the second night at Lungthulien at the house of one of the better-off families and the bedroom was used as the makeshift chamber for in camera interviews in this case. We were able to collect evidence from 18 girls. The mothers of two other girls and the father of one testified on their behalf. From Lungthulien, we got the testimonies of 13 victims, out of whom 10 girls had been raped and assaulted and three had been molested and assaulted. They were all unmarried. Six among them were minors. From Parbung, eight girls testified, out of whom four had been raped and assaulted and four molested and assaulted. Only one of these girls was married and there were three minors. The others whom we interviewed were the SDPO of Churchandpur, the SDO of Tipaimukh, the SDO of Sakawrdai, the chairman of the Village Authority of Lungthulien, the chairman and three members of the Village Authority of Parbung, four pastors and one woman and two men who had been beaten up or attacked and severely injured. Apart from this, the three mothers who had accompanied the victims also gave separate testimonies after their daughters had done so.

I had initially suggested that if the minor girls did not want to talk about their traumatic experiences, their mothers could come and give testimony. But at Lungthulien, the first two witnesses to come to give evidence were two 13-year-old girls in school uniform, both of whom had been raped. They said they were going to school now, and though they were not teased or harassed in any way at school because of what had happened, they felt uncomfortable and frightened. Although the Village Authorities had forbidden anyone to tease them, the stamp of misery on the young faces was a harrowing sight. They were obviously in a state of depression and on being asked spoke of acute menstrual problems. They and their mothers seemed to think that they would never be able to get over what they had suffered. They said that they would like to complete their education, but not in Manipur. Most of the victims were students, and had gone back to school, but for one girl, who was intercepted by militants and raped on her way back from Churachandpur, where she had got admission in a good school, her career had been irreparably disrupted.

All the girls were young, and except for one all were unmarried. Headache, listlessness, inability to concentrate, sleeplessness and fear, apart from menstrual and urinary problems, haunt them. One of the girls feels terrified whenever she sees a combat uniform; others scream in their sleep. Some of them had been beaten up so badly with bare hands, rifle butts and logs that their eyesight and hearing have been impaired; others have pain in the head, back or abdomen. Brutal beating generally accompanied rape and molestation. They had been snatched away at gunpoint from their parents; two militants would take one girl and while one stood guard, the other raped her. However, very few of the girls have received any medical attention. I felt that telling their story was providing them with some relief. Otherwise why should so many come to us and testify? They also perhaps hoped that a Central agency might bring them the succour that they had not yet received from the State government.

Everybody whom we asked told us that four of the militants had died when the Army conducted an operation on January 20. The others must be still around. The SDPO had sent out a hue-and-cry notice in the district and one of two of the girls may be able to identify some of the culprits who are still living. Since there has been such a gap in time before the First Information Reports (FIRs) were lodged, there is likely to be little direct medical evidence of rape. But one girl conceived and had to have an MTP (medical termination of pregnancy) done. That MTP report could be valuable secondary evidence. Also, the traumatic condition of some of the young girls is proof enough that their young bodies had been violated and tampered with. However, the possibility of apprehending the absconding culprits seems to recede further with the delay in investigation. While the police have to do their best in this matter, the administration has a heavy backlog of responsibility. Protection, restoration of livelihood, medical treatment, relief and rehabilitation seem to be the priorities now.

I have been particularly distressed to find that this friendly and peace-loving tribal people are so deeply affected by the sense of neglect and deprivation that they consider not just the State government but also the majority Meitei community (to which the militants accidentally belong) responsible for their distress. The fact that the government, instead of providing assurance and relief to the refugees at Sakawrdai, issued an ultimatum requiring them to return to their villages by April 15, has created further resentment. What can they return to? They have not been able to cultivate their fields, their houses are damaged, and their possessions and livestock have been taken away by the militants. Hunger stares them in the face. But no rehabilitation scheme is in place. So far only paltry sums have been donated from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund and by the District Commissioner (Relief).

The 13 Dogra Regiment posted in the area for the security of the villages has been able to establish a good rapport with the villagers. If any other regiment is sent on a long-term basis, they will have to follow their example very closely. The state must also immediately establish road and telephone connectivity with the area. The SDO of Tipaimukh and the OC must reside in Parbung. A proper police force should be provided. The PHC must be opened at once and doctors sent on an emergency basis; a short-term medical camp may be conducted for trauma treatment. Food supply must be assured until the farmers gather the next harvest, and a food-for-work programme should be taken up vigorously. The student victims must be given all assistance to enable them to complete their education. The other victims may be inducted into training programmes.

Why should we not have a Swadhar project running in the area? And what about the mandatory provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act? The situation cries out for the kind of relief and rehabilitation schemes detailed there. Without such measures taken immediately, the suffering and trauma of the tortured people of Lungthulien and Parbung cannot be removed. The State government has to pay heed to their cry of distress.

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