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E-Pao! Features - Tipaimukh: Manipur's hottest getaway destination

Tipaimukh: Manipur's hottest getaway destination

By: Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *



As Justice (Rtd) SP Rajkhowa begins to go through the motions of investigating the mass rape case in Tipaimukh sub-division from inside the secure confines of Hotel Imphal, O. Ibobi Singh, Manipur’s Chief Minister, is due to take a helicopter ride and make two stops at Thanlon and Parbung this coming Tuesday. As many as 10 of his ministerial colleagues and top bureaucratic and army officials are scheduled to tag with him along in this exercise.

Flying high above the dozens of impoverished and terror-stricken villages, the privileged entourage will cover the distance between the two sub-division headquarters and Imphal in less than an hour. If they were to take surface route, they would have been lucky to cover the same distance in two days.

Lately, and ever since the landmine issue and the mass rape cases came into prominence, it has become fashionable for the high and mighty to take well-publicized visits to these two sub-divisions, much in the same way, perhaps, as it is fashionable and politically correct for world leaders, presidents and dictators, to pay customary visits to Gandhi’s Samadhi in Delhi when they come to India.

There was the GoC of the Army’s 3rd Corps, Lt Gen ZU Shah who visited Thanlon with presspersons on February 7. Manipur’s Governor SS Sidhu visited Thanlon and Parbung on March 10. Commander of the 57th Mountain Division, Maj Gen Dwivedi had been to the two villages at least thrice. And now, Ibobi Singh and his team.

As I understand, hectic preparations are on at the official level to make the visit a ‘success’. Orders are out for the concerned Government staff to reach the two places before the CM does. Loads of foodgrains and other essential commodities are being sent down. No effort is being spared to ensure that the visitors are not subjected to any kind of embarrassment and inconveniences. Will these exertions succeed in hiding the reality?

For Justice Rajkhowa and his commission of inquiry, the irony is as stark. He’s been mandated to inquire into the truth of allegations of mass rape in Tipaimukh, find out who were responsible and suggest measures to prevent recurrence of such shameful incidents in the future. All of these he has to do inside of 60 days.

The Inquiry Commission was set up after the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), the alleged perpetrators of the crime, denied their involvement in the outrage. The problem is- the UNLF and KCP are outlawed armed organizations. They are not bound by the Indian constitution and are not answerable to the Government. The one-million-dollar questions is: what can and will the Government and Justice Rajkhowa do about them, given that they are at the very centre of this investigation?

The stories of mass rapes first came to public knowledge when SIPHRO, a Hmar Human rights organization filed a petition with the NHRC. The North East Sun sent one of its staff and a photographer for spot investigation. The reporter came up with a damning story-complete with pictures of the victims, their testimonies and detailed description of the outrage and testimonies of village elderly men who witness the barbaric acts.

As the story spreads, many civil and human rights organizations and Govt officials rushed to the scene. Prominent among these organizations were Imphal-based Human Rights Alert (HRA) and Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR). None of these organization, as far as I know, contested the story as we know through the North East Sun. But by Manipur’s own rigorous standards, these cannot still accepted to be the truth.

As I write, a new batch of organizations is preparing to undertake yet again, another fact-finding tour of the area in the face of stiff opposition from other organizations who questioned the motive behind these attempts. No one, it seems is prepared to believe the story until and unless they themselves hear and witness it. What we are witnessing has all the attributes of a cover-up or rather ‘confuse-up’ operation, and I don’t like it.

Meanwhile, the UNLF and KCP came out with statements. The two outfits denied the rape charge and accused the HPC of ‘betrayal’. But, they as good as accepted the charge that the villagers of Lungthulien were herded together and some severely thrashed on the night the alleged rapes occur, which is January 16, 2006.

They rubbished the NES report and claim it to be the handiwork of people who want to malign them. Their words were taken seriously; after all, they carry guns. In Imphal, press persons asked human rights activists if the victims specifically named the UNLF and KCP men as culprits. The questions are met with the most evasive responses. ‘Operation Dilute’ is, it seems, well on course.

Now, the Rajkhowa commission must produce a more credible and authoritative report than those given by the NES and organizations that toured the area. But there are no indications to suggest that the commission intends to do a spot investigation. Everybody is now free to give his or her testimonies to the honoured judge. The UNLF and KCP said that they would cooperate with independent inquiries.

Does this mean, for example, that they will agree to an identification parade of its cadres who are in the area at the time? What about medical tests to prove their innocence? Will they come to Imphal to give their sworn testimonies to the Commission? If Justice Rajkhowa is accepting his job with a clear head and pure intentions, I wish him luck as he goes about his duties. I have a feeling he will need plenty of it.

As for Ibobi Singh and his forthcoming tour, there are only question on my mind. Is the Chief Minister ever disturbed in his sleep by the booming sounds of landmine blasts? Did he ever visualize images of village girls sitting in their mosquito-infested huts, bruised and violated? Will he feel the faint smell of death in the soft Zogam breeze that will waft through him at Thanlon? Will he be faced this time with cultural dances or with locked doors?

I can assure him of one thing, though. As his chopper lands in the midst of dust and fleas at the two villages, there will be plenty of bleary-eyed children milling around and perhaps, shouting, ‘Lenna, Lenna.’ But, then, it may not take him long before he realizes that the cheering is not for him, but for the ‘Lenna’ that brought him there.

Thought of the week: ‘Courage isn’t having the strength to go on- it is going on when you don’t have the strength.’
-Napoleon Bonaparte


* Thangkhanlal Ngaihte wrote this article in The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 26th March 2006


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