Fake encounter cases: Victims families longing for justice
Source: Chronicle News Service / Chingkhei Luwang

Imphal, May 28 2024: Soubam Ningol Chongtham Ongbi Chanchal, who had been waiting eagerly for justice for her husband, killed in a suspected stage-managed shootout, passed away on April 7, 2024 due to cancer.

With that, the hope of justice nurtured in the heart of the widow in Manipur has been burnt to ashes along with her mortal remains.

Chanchal was wife of Chongtham Umakanta, who was killed in the morning of May 5, 2009 .

Not only Chanchal, Umakanta's mother Chongtham Ibenungshi too passed away few years back in 2020 during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like 'Nongoubi (Crow Pheasant) waiting for the rain', Chanchal and her mother in-law Ibenungshi, who were waiting for justice to be done to their beloved ones, breathed their last without witnessing the possibility of a judgement in the fake encounter case of Chongtham Umakanta.

Fake encounter cases: Victims families longing for justice
Fake encounter cases: Victims families longing for justice

For years, both mother and wife, who were prime witnesses in the case, anxiously waited to hear the final judgement with the hope of justice delivered to Umakanta and conviction of those involved in the alleged fake encounter killing.

With the untimely demise of Umakanta and passing away of his mother due to an illness, their only son, who was just 10 months old when his father was killed, is the only one in the family today who is keeping alive the hope of deliverance of justice.

It may be mentioned here that Umakanta's controversial death is among six cases of fake encounter killings recommended by the Supreme Court-appointed Santosh Hedge Committee for investigation in Manipur.

"T met Chanchal first when we started visiting homes of victims to gather information about fake encounter cases.

She was a sweet and simple woman, not so outspoken but with resolute stand to fight for justice," said Renu Takhellambam, president of Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families' Association (EEVFAM) .

Recalling that Chanchal and her mother in-law volunteered for various programmes and activities of EEVFAM, not only for the justice of their beloved ones but also for all those who were killed in similar fake encounters, Renu revealed that Chanchal donated around Rs 20,000 to the association out of compensation amount she received in connection with the death of her husband.

Even prime witnesses as well as many others who were waiting eagerly for justice have died before they could hear the final judgement of the court, she rued, while highlighting the importance of prime witnesses in winning any case.

Even if the prime witnesses have already given their statements, they are still very crucial in the case.

With every loss of the members of victims' family, particularly the prime witnesses, the case gets weakened on their side and subsequently creates hurdles in EEVFAM's pursuit for justice in fake encounter cases.

Stating that the Association has been working for over decade and fighting in court to ensure justice is delivered to victims of fake encounters, she expressed that in case of adjudication for even one of the many fake encounter killings and conviction of the culprit ensured, then such a decree would definitely make other victims' families to believe that justice is certain, sooner or later.

Recalling that several memorandums were submitted to the government authorities for granting prosecution sanction of the accused, Renu said that as authorities never uphold their genuine demands such indifferent attitude of the government is akin to rubbing salt to wounds of the bereaved families.

The president also demanded special designated courts for exclusive conduct of trials of fake encounter cases to expedite disposal of the pending cases.

Similar to the above case, Laishram Memecha Devi, mother of Laishram Ranbir alias Isen of Uchiwa Awang Leikai in Imphal West district who was killed in another alleged extra-judicial execution on December 21, 2011, also breathed her last due to an illness.

Recalling how her mother waited anxiously for justice, Ranbir's sister Laishram Memma remembered her mother always praying to live long enough to hear judgement of the court and witness justice done to her son who was brutally killed in a fake encounter.

After bravely battling cancer for over a decade, the mother passed away on May 21, 2023 without the opportunity to see justice being served, a prayer she fervently hoped would be answered in her lifetime.

"Since the killing of Ranbir in a fake encounter case, we have been suffering for the last decade while waiting for justice.

We wish that those who killed him suffer hundred times more than we are experiencing," the heartbroken sister said, while posing how long they will have to wait for justice.

While wondering why such suffering only befall on the poor families, she prayed for expediting the adjudication of the case and punishing the culprits according to the law so that such incidents do not recur.

The political parties too always include the issue as their tool before election, but never take up any steps for ensuring justice to the victims, she lamented.

It may be mentioned here that the case of Ranbir is under trial as all the accused involved are personnel of state police.

However, regarding the case of Umakanta, due of the involvement of a central force in the case, there is the need for prosecution sanction, which is being denied by the central government thereby becoming a hurdle in the prosecution of the case.

The deceased Ranbir is survived by his wife Laishram Santibala alias Chaoba and two children.

It is reported there are a total of 1,528 fake encounter cases in the state from May 1979 to May 2012 .

As the first instance, the Supreme Court has taken up 39 cases with 15 under trial and closure reports of 12 cases submitted by CBI citing lack of evidences.

Of the 12 cases, EEVFAM and victims' families have challenged the closure reports of eight cases.

Interestingly, seven cases involving central forces were denied prosecution sanction by the central government.

Moreover, there are three cases involving both state and central forces, wherein prosecution sanctions of the central forces were denied.

Many widows, orphans and parents who lost their beloved ones in alleged fake encounter cases have been waiting eagerly for speedy trial and justice to their beloved ones.

However, the onus is on the government for the cases involving central forces require prosecution sanction without which no trial could be carried out.

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