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Manipur Burns

By Biswajyoti Das

09 August, 2004

For a background read
The Merciless Killing of Thangiam Manorama

IMPHAL: At least 30 people were injured in fresh clashes on Sunday between demonstrators and security forces in India's troubled Manipur state, where people have taken to the streets against an anti-terror law.

Manipur, a remote northeastern state known as the Land of Jewels, has been simmering for nearly a month with hundreds of people demanding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives sweeping powers to security forces.

The armed forces say they need the act, giving them special powers to kill and arrest suspected rebels, to fight separatists in the state, one of seven in the revolt-racked northeast.

Anger against the security forces has been running deep in Manipur for months, but things came to a head after soldiers picked up a 30-year-old woman, Thangjam Manorama, from her house. Activists in the state say she was raped and then shot to death on the night of July 10, because she was a suspected separatist. Security force officials deny that.

"There was growing public anger against security forces since early this year because at least 20 innocent people were killed on mere suspicion of being militants," Laishom Ibomcha, a lawmaker, told Reuters in the state capital, Imphal.

"Finally, people could no longer tolerate Manorama's cold-blooded murder as women are held in high esteem."

After about a month of violent protests, hospitals in Imphal are packed with hundreds of injured people, mostly women and students, with bullet wounds, fractures and burns from skirmishes with police for violating a curfew.

Armoured vehicles patrol city streets while heavily armed soldiers and commandos in black bandanas walk through lush green paddy fields to keep a watch on rebel hideouts inside thick forests in the surrounding cloud-covered hills.

Formerly a Hindu kingdom, Manipur was once a part of Myanmar. It became a princely state under British rule and joined India in 1949, when Manipuris say their king was forced to sign a merger pact by New Delhi.

More than 20 armed groups have been battling for freedom in Manipur for years, accusing the federal government of neglecting their economy and ignoring the welfare of people in the tiny state. Troops were sent to Manipur in 1980 to control the revolt.

"We always feel Indian politicians deliberately discriminate against us racially, politically, economically and socially," said R.K. Anand, a leading lawyer in Manipur.

"Many key issues of the region have not found a place in any discussions in parliament and the rulers in Delhi have always ignored the grievances of people of the region."

The anti-terror law is in force in seven northeastern states, also known as the seven sisters, which have been torn by separatist insurgencies for decades. More than 10,000 people have died in three decades of violence in Manipur alone.

"The law helped security forces contain the insurgency. We can't be left without any powers against the insurgents," said a military officer, who did not want to be identified.

In Manipur, womens' groups complained they felt insecure both inside and outside their homes because the law gave sweeping powers to soldiers to search their homes for guerrillas.

P. Santikumari, president of the Macha Leima, a powerful womens' group, said forces regularly committed crimes against women in remote areas but most incidents were not reported.

"We feel unsafe in Manipur because the act protects security personnel who unleash atrocities against women and young girls."

For a back ground of the incidents read

The Merciless Killing of Thangiam Manorama






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