Thursday, May 2, 2013

Culture of Impunity and Crime against Women

Impunity refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and at the same time refers to denial of justice and redressal mechanism to the victims. In short, it is exemption from punishment or loss. Impunity is believed to be widely prevalent in autocratic regimes such as dictatorship, theocratic and military junta, etc. In these regimes, the practice is institutional in the sense that state provides not only support but also legitimacy. Finishing off political oppositions by the state is taken to be a legitimate act, wherein the perpetrators are provided impunity and regarded to be national heroes. But it does not mean to say that impunity is an absentee phenomenon in established liberal democracies of the West or guided democracies of South Asia. If we are to go by the elite theory of power, in liberal democracies, acts of impunity are practiced in covert and overt manner by influential leaders in power, often as political tools to ensue own rule and malversate wealth and power. State providing tacit support to impunity and circulation of the same culture similar to the practice of autocratic regimes is evident from experiences in Northeastern region of India. Although India is taken to be the largest democracy in the world by sheer virtue of its population size and holding of periodic elections, its hegemonic character is writ large on the region once known as a tragic frontier in the east. And here, it is not a case of impunity practiced by a select few in positions of power but overtly institutional.
In this piece, Yenning delves into the issue of impunity practiced by the Indian State in Manipur and how the practice has evolved into a culture over the years, and argues that the failure to give justice to perpetrators of crime against women is a result of the culture of impunity in circulation in the ancient kingdom. The culture has not only paralysed the law enforcement agencies but also the entire delivery system of justice. Corollary fall out is the victim parties taking law into their own hands, which is often witnessed in the form of arson, bandh and ex-communication, etc.
From Impunity to Culture of Impunity
Impunity was given legal and political sanction or institutional support in Manipur with the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) by the Indian State in the hill areas of Manipur in the early 60s in the name of national security and as a means militarily finishing off insurgency (sic. combating the Naga hostiles). By the 80s its tentacle gripped the entire state as there were fervent movement for sovereignty by armed opposition groups. As per AFSPA, impunity is granted only to the Indian Army and central para-military forces such as the CRPF, Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, etc. and to state police personnel only during the times of combined military or combing or anti-insurgency operations. Thus, security forces can arrest or kill on mere suspicions or destroy properties on suspicion (or) for harbouring armed opposition groups. And those involved cannot be tried in civil courts.
During normal times, i.e. when the state police are not involved in such operations, or when the police act alone be it counter insurgency or otherwise, impunity is exempted. They are accountable to law. In other words, those involved in human rights violations, extra-judicial killings or fake encounters, can be tried in the normal courts of law. The simple fact that the Supreme Court of India has admitted 1528 cases of extra-judicial executions by Manipur Police and other security forces while they were in custody or stage-managed encounters or in ways broadly termed as extra-judicial executions, is a hard reminder that impunity has limitations and scope of application and coverage of personnel.
Under the blanket cover of AFSPA, numerous military operations were undertaken. When innocent people were killed during such operations, they were declared to be collateral damages and the killers were granted impunity. First notable mass killing is popularly remembered today as the Patsoi Langjing Massacre. It was committed by the Central Reserve Police Force in 1980 in incident. It was followed by massacres ininvolving various security forces in various places of the state such as Heirangoithong Massacre (1984), Tera Bazar Massacre (1993), RMC Massacre (1995), Malom Massacre (2000), Oinam Leikai Massacre (1980), Ukhrul Massacres (1995), Bashikhong Massacre (1995), Churachandpur Massacres (1999), Nungleiban Massacre (1997), Tabokpikhong Massacre (1997), and the Tonsen Lamkhai Massacres (1999), etc. Other major military operations which are still fresh in public memory for rampant human rights violations are Operation Blue Bird (1988), Operation Sunny Vale (1993), Operation Loktak (1999), Operation Stinger (2005), Operation Tornado (2005), Operation Dragnet (2006), Operation Khengjoi or Somtal I (2006), Operation Somtal II (2007), and Operation Summer Storm (2009), etc.
Although in many of the above mentioned incidences inquiry commissions were formed, the perpetrators were never punished under the ambit of impunity. These provided strong basis for inculcating habits of killing and violence by the Manipur Police. Years-long imposition of AFSPA has created a culture of impunity for all security forces. Although the Manipur police forces are accountable under the law, the prevailing culture of impunity affects them as well. They think that they are the “untouchables” and outside the purview of law. Since the AFSPA has been in force in the Manipur valley ever since 1980 and the hills even longer, this has made the Manipur police trigger happy. The Independent Citizens Fact Finding Report to the Nation on Democracy Encounter: Rights Violations in Manipur, brought out in November 2009 states, “The culture of impunity is legal, socio-political and even cultural. Although in the Imphal West and East AFSPA did not apply, still the Manipur Police Commandoes often inflicted violence on innocence.”
Inefficacy of Manipur Police
This is a question circulating in the minds of the common people. They are well equipped with sophisticated arms. There is no dearth of man power. And they do not suffer like other Government employees in terms of getting monthly salary. According to National Crime Research Bureau, 2012, in the year 2011, Manipur does not lack police man power to enforce law and order (see Table). There were a total number of 23,861 police personnel in Manipur. Number of policemen per 100 Sq. Km. was 107. Number of policemen per 1,00,000 of population was around 877. Number of IPC cases per civil police man was 1.5. Total police expenditure was in the tune of Rs. 642Crores and Unit cost per policeman (per annum) was Rs. 268,987. Teeth to tail ratio in 2011 was in the ratio of 1:09. Teeth to tail ratio is a military term that refers to the amount of military personnel (tail) it takes to supply and support its combat soldiers (tooth). Tooth soldiers are those whose primary function is to neutralize the enemy.
Table: Actual Police Strength In Relation To Area, Population, Cognizable Crimes and per Capita Expenditure on Policemen During 2011
(Sq. Km.)

Estimated mid-year population

Total cases for investigation (including pending cases from previous year)
Actual police strength
% of Civil police to total police

Indian Penal Code
Special & Local Laws
Table (con’td)
Actual police strength
Actual police strength of
I.Os. (Insp.+ SI+ASI Of Civ. Pol.)
No. of police-men per 100 Sq. Km.
No. of policemen per 1,00,000 of population
No. of  IPC cases per  civil police man
Total police expenditure (Rs. in Crores)
Unit cost per policemen (per annum)
D.G. to  A.S.I
Head Constables to Constables
Teeth to Tail Ratio
It can be gleaned from the above tables that the state is well equipped to tackle the law and order situation. Plus, there are the Home Guards and Auxiliary Force including Village Defence Force and Manipur Rifles. However, the culture of impunity has made them party to crimes; if not, lethargy and rent seeking attitude has seeped, thereby deterring honesty and integrity to carry out duties in the real sense of the terms. Every police personnel want to be a commando.
Crime against Women
Although, everybody praises Manipur to be a gender sensitive state and that women had played significant historical roles such as the Nupi Lans and the institution of Meira Paibi, which has stood against abuse of drugs (sic. alcohol) and human rights violations, women remain to be symbol representations and not free from violence. The praise accorded by Manjushree Chaki Sarkar calling women activism and tradition of the state as “Feminism in a traditional Society”remains to be a myth. And existing NGOs who work in the name of women empowerment and development, etc. (sic. women organisations) do not fulfil the commitments they stands for. It is hard to come across an exhaustive and reliable database on crime against women in Manipur. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, is arriving at Manipur. But Yenning doubts whether the NGOs can give an accurate figure of crime against women in Manipur.
As per an independent report, between 1996 and 2012, there were more than 400 cases of rape and between 1999 and 2012, there were more than 1400 cases of crime against women in Manipur. This included gang rape, molestation, torture, kidnapping and eve teasing, etc.
But the issue is, why the increase in the rate of crime. And secondly, why that majority of the criminals have gone scot free. If the reports given by the Sangai Express, Imphal are anything to go by, Manipur police and the judiciary has failed to respect the delivery system of justice. And this is precisely so because the culture of impunity has seeped into every agency of the Indian State. We do believe Rashida Manjoo is obviously going to have a full ear. But we earnestly pray that she also looks into Manipur beyond violence against women but register the core issue of human rights violations, which we believe is the imposition of the AFSPA.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, April 28, 2013

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