Reports like “Tomba, Chaoba, Angam, Thangmilan, Noorehman etc have been killed in encounter with a combined force” have become ubiquitous in almost all the newspapers published in the State. This is followed by “a JAC (joint action committee) has been constituted against the brutal killing and that a memorandum has been submitted to the Chief Minister”. Then dharnas, bandh, protest rally and so on would follow. The contention is that the slain individuals were “innocent civilians, not related to any UG group”.
The evolution of the JACs (specifically meaning only those formed against contested killings) in our society indicates the “death” inherent in our existence, as Yenning has earlier published, not on account of biological odds but by the violent contrivances of killing. On the part of the civil society, this seems to be the only way to seek remedy as well as ward off death, although temporarily. Or otherwise this can be taken as one of the ways of devising a collective survival strategy in a death-prone society like Manipur.
Ally of the Dead Men
Three basic and common points which unfailingly feature in all the memoranda submitted by the JACs are “judicial enquiry, punishment of the guilty security personnel and ex-gratia to the bereaved families”. In few cases, the bereaved families have the good fortune of enquiry (Judicial, Magisterial or Departmental) to console with during those painful days. But in majority of the cases, the bereaved families and the aggrieved local people (read JAC) were bluntly told that their loved-slain-ones were UG cadres and that they were killed in “retaliatory fire”.
Enquiry or no enquiry makes little difference. Hardly any recommendations made by enquiry committees have been ever implemented. Our reading is that the State has no time for “such trivial and mundane affairs”. The futility of enquiries is well exemplified by the high profile Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee constituted by New Delhi in the wake of people’s relentless, prolonged and massive movement against the brutal murder of Thangjam Manorama in the summer of 2004. The Committee’s reports and recommendations have been put in a peaceful slumber in a safe vault at the Home Ministry’s Office in New Delhi.
As amply demonstrated in this case and many other similar ones, enquiry (more popular and effective being judicial enquiry) is one trump card thrown up by the State to thwart any lurking civil uprising. The intervening period between prior to initiation of enquiry procedure and submission of final report is too long for any JAC to survive. It is during this intervening period that all outcries for justice die a silent death. In other words, JACs often end up being companion of the dead men sooner rather than later.
Nonetheless, JACs are the only hope on this wretched part of the earth for all dead men whose lives were cut short under controversial circumstances amidst diametrically opposite claims. Under the prevailing circumstances, in which all killings are attributed to encounters, conveniently overlooking all contestations put up by the victimised families and local people that the victims were picked up from home, the locality, work place or road, JACs are indeed the only ally of the dead men and their families though they are short-lived and often failed in fulfilling their primary purpose.
JACs which have become a social phenomenon over the years and are most likely to leave a legacy of its own as long as the killings and contested killings continue are facing double tragedy. Firstly JACs have been severely localised, both in their outlook and action. In the last 5/6 years, JACs have been severely localised and their activities confined to the locality of the slain man/men. To cite an example, State-wide bandhs and general strikes have been replaced by NH 39 bandh, Tidim Road bandh, Singjamei bandh, Lilong bandh etc. Having said this, we are not advocating any bandh, State-wide or otherwise. We are only interrogating the effectiveness of such mode of protest and efficacy of such localised JACs.
Secondly, JACs are losing their relevance rather too fast before the movements they launched could gain the desired momentum. With killings/encounters bleeding the society non-stop, JACs are also springing up every new day. The reality is that a JAC formed yesterday is overshadowed by another JAC formed today and the same would fade away under blaze of the latest JAC the next day. The consequence is that JACs are contesting and counter-balancing each other, thereby dividing public attention and support. For the State, one JAC is a headache, two JACs may be a pain in the neck but three or more JACs mean total relief. Except in some very rare and exceptional cases, no JAC survives longer than a week.
Politics of the JAC
Yenning is particularly interested in the politics of JAC because we consider the JAC as one of the most plausible forms of resistance witnessed phenomenally in our society. A JAC is born out of a dead man’s shadow, to fight for the man whose life was cut short without any pronouncement of his faults or crimes (justice). By fighting for the dead men’s cause, JACs are fighting for a society where there is rule of law, accountability, sensitivity and above all, the denial of death resulting from the violent contrivances of killing.
Unfortunately, self life of any given JAC is too short and the activities too limited. If they can channelise their energy and synergise their activities, we can expect some impact on the governance or rather mis-governance. In this regard, Yenning would like to emphasise the importance of going beyond the politics of compensation. Viewed from this context, it is disheartening to note that some JACs despite enjoying massive public support simply allowed themselves to wither away after taking compensation as if it was the only and last option.
The State : Prosecutor & Judge
What is frightening today is the State taking up the role of both the prosecutor and judge. In almost all the cases fought by JACs, the State represents itself both as the prosecutor as well as the judge. One is reminded of the many trials conducted by the Nazis, in which the verdict is always predetermined. Given such a similar and adverse set up, achievements of the JACs in Manipur have to be minimal. However, the “little” achieved by the JACs is always significant. But the popular understanding is that JACs or for that matter any civil movement stands to be defeated in the face of the State’s sheer unaccountability, irresponsibility and insensitivity. In the absence of any committed agent with a plausible means to usher in a new social order, the abject failures of the State seem to have been accepted as a fait accompli.
Politics of Unclaimed Body
The general response of the State to any civil movement or JAC regarding a contested killing perpetrated under dubious circumstances is to steadfastly uphold the claim of the security forces. At the most, the State may order an enquiry of any type including CBI enquiry in some very exceptional cases. Sometimes, the State may go to the extent of suspending some of its police personnel (read commandos). But the most disheartening stance adopted by the State in recent years is disposing the case by disposing off the mortal remains of a contested killing as an unclaimed body in a highly unceremonious manner, when the particular JAC and family members bargain with the mortal remains for justice or some redressing acts. This is indeed tragic as such unceremonious disposal often turns out as a coup de grace to the whole issue.
The recent case of Loitongbam Satish of Singjamei Oinam Thingel encapsulates all—first upholding police claim, then body disposal, departmental enquiry of some kind and then suspension of five commando personnel. Yet, the paramilitary troops (read 23 Assam Rifles) reportedly involved in the killing are conspicuously not represented in the picture. One can only hope that every perpetrators involved is exposed in the coming days for the particular JAC is still alive and kicking.
Ending the Virtual Divide
Several arguments may sound good but no two contrasting arguments on the same matter can be true at the same time. This does not mean that Yenning affirms all the arguments put up by JACs. But we expect the popular Government to treat all the opposing arguments with responsibility and give due attention. Otherwise, the ever multiplying anguish, sense of alienation and victimisation may compel the civil populace to ultimately challenge the State authority. It’s high time the State wake up and bridge the virtual divide between the civil populace and State authority. The dividing factor JACs have upon each other may reverse itself and produce a cumulative effect in pursuit of their agenda. Under the existing (dis)order we cannot completely do away with the JACs. They are the only groups contesting consistently against the rampant “killings in encounters”. Indeed, they are the dead men’s only voluntary advocates pleading innocence of the departed souls. Moreover, going by the past records, very few JACs were formed against the killing of a “confirmed” UG cadre. It is here the contestations of JACs call for deeper study instead of dismissing them casually on grounds of familiarity (They say: Familiarity breeds contempt)! Or should we summarily accept that all dead men were guilty?
(posted on The Sangai Express, Sunday, June 21, 2009)