Exactly 12 years ago, on 15 July, 2004, 12 mothers from Meira Paibi in Manipur staged a protest that went on to become an iconic milestone in the struggle against rights abuses by security forces.
Giving up their modesty for justice, the women stripped themselves naked outside the 17th Assam Rifles headquarters holding the banner ‘Indian Army Rape Us’. They were protesting against the killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi, whose body was found in a badly-mutilated state in Laipharok Maring of Imphal East district three days earlier.
Security forces had picked her up from her home on 11 July, 2004, alleging that she belonged to the banned People’s Liberation Army.
The next day, her bullet-ridden body was found in a field. An autopsy report revealed semen stains on her body, indicating that she could have been raped before being killed.
Security forces had claimed that she was shot when she tried to escape from custody.
The murder triggered massive protests across the sensitive border state. Of all the protests against the excesses committed by the security forces, the one carried out by the women of Meira Paibi was the most striking because it captured the attention of the rest of India, revealing the trauma faced by the people living in the highly militarised zone.
But despite this protest and numerous others, the Indian government has been impervious to the demand to bring the erring security officers to the book.
The Manipur state government sat over the judicial committee report on the killing of Manorama Devi for over a decade. It was only when the Supreme Court asked for the report, that it presented the report before it.
According to retired district sessions judge C Upendra Singh, chairman of the commission, Manorama’s death was one of the most shocking custodial killings of a Manipuri village girl.
The report stated how she was tortured in front of her family. It also blamed the police for leaving the investigation to the mercy of the Assam Rifles.
But despite this report and the renewed demand for scrapping the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), none of the political parties and coalitions that ruled the country has cared to take any remedial measure.
The Central government-appointed Jeevan Reddy committee has recommended the repeal of the AFSPA. But the government is yet to act on the recommendations of the report.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered that security forces cannot use excessive and retaliatory forces to counter insurgency. The court also ruled that more than 1,500 alleged fake encounter cases must be inquired independently.
It was after the judgement came that security forces were criticised for the alleged extra-judicial killing of Kashmir militant Burhan Wani. And more than 35 people were also killed during protest marches in different parts of Kashmir.
In Manipur, Irom Sharmila is on hunger strike for over a decade demanding the withdrawal of the AFSPA.
But court intervention, civil society movement against use of excessive powers by the security forces, international condemnation has not forced the government of the world’s largest democracy to introspect on how it has been dealing with dissent groups in different parts of the country.