India court orders probe into Manipur killings

Indian students from the country's northeastern state of Manipur take part in a rally in Bangalore, 13 August 2004, to protest against the alleged killing in military custody of a 30-year-old woman Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Activists have been fighting for years to secure a probe into alleged unlawful deaths

India's Supreme Court has ordered an inquiry into allegations of extra-judicial executions by security forces in the north-eastern state of Manipur.

The court on Friday asked federal investigators to examine multiple civilian deaths between 1979 and 2012

Activists say that troops have killed more than 1,500 people in the state in the past four decades.

Officials deny the claim and blame the deaths on insurgent groups which have been fighting for independence.

The court's order follows its landmark decision last year to ask rights groups and the families of the victims to gather evidence against security forces.

The government and security forces opposed any investigation into the civilian deaths.

But the court accepted the evidence presented by rights groups, who accuse security forces of misusing a controversial anti-insurgency law to commit rights abuses.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives the security forces the powers of search and seizure. It also protects soldiers who may kill a civilian by mistake or in unavoidable circumstances during an operation.

The law has been blamed for "fake killings" in Manipur and Indian-administered Kashmir.

Manipur: Insurgent hotspot

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Manipur, a hilly north-eastern state on the border with Myanmar (Burma), has been a cauldron of insurgency for more than four decades. At one point, the state was home to some 30 armed groups. Six main groups are outlawed.
  • The violence is stoked by ethnic rivalries, and demands for independence and affirmative action for local tribespeople. Some rebel groups also act as social watchdogs, targeting liquor sellers, drug traffickers and banning Bollywood films. Lack of jobs has worsened matters.
  • According to the government, 1,214 civilians were killed by insurgents between 2000 and October 2012. Also, 365 police and soldiers were killed by insurgents during the same period.
  • A controversial anti-insurgent law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) - which protects security forces who may kill a civilian by mistake or in unavoidable circumstances - has been in effect here since 1958 and been partly blamed for the "perpetual immunity" enjoyed by the forces.
  • In July 2016, the Supreme Court remarked that the law could not be an excuse for retaliatory killings and excesses.

A former police commando told the BBC last month that he had killed more than 100 people in Manipur, and had kept a "tally of his kills" in notebooks.

"I was simply doing my duty and following the orders of my seniors. I confessed because I thought it was important to tell the truth," Herojit Singh told the BBC.

Activists say the court's decision to order an investigation into the killings could give some peace to the family members of the victims.

Remembering the victims - by Soutik Biswas

Neena Ningombam vividly remembers the day her husband disappeared - and ended up a corpse on cable news.

It was a bright, sunny November day in 2008, and 32-year-old Michael was visiting a friend's house in Imphal, the non-descript, mountain-ringed valley capital of Manipur.

At home, Ms Ningombam was doing her chores. Her two boys were fast asleep. At half past three in the afternoon, her mobile phone rang.

Michael was on the line saying that he had been picked up by police commandos on his way home, and that she should quickly pass on the news of his arrest to a senior policeman who was known to the family so that he could help secure his release.

The call disconnected abruptly. Two hours later, a man finally picked up the phone and told Ms Ningombam that her husband was "in the toilet". He said he would inform him that she had called.

Michael never called. When she tried calling again, his phone was switched off.

Read more from Soutik Biswas in Manipur here

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