Imphal: In July 2004, a group of 12 women disrobed in front of the Kangla Fort in Imphal, holding up a banner that said, 'Indian Army Rape Us'. They were protesting against the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama allegedly by security forces. Manorama was picked up from her house on July 11 by Assam Rifles soldiers. Her dead body was later found with several bullet wounds, including on her genitalia.
Forensic tests detected semen and blood stains confirming rape. But no one has yet been convicted, even though Justice Upendra who conducted the government inquiry blamed the security forces. "I submitted all my findings... the security forces are responsible for the killings. There are only suspensions. Why shouldn't they be arrested and tried?" he asks.
Even today the Upendra Report on Manorama's killing remains sealed. Colin Gonsalves, the counsel for Manorama's family, says, "Neither the Prime Minister, nor the Home Minister, nor the Defence Minister has made the report public and told the women of Manipur what the findings of the commission, that was appointed by the government itself, are."
The 12 brave women whose shocking protest shook the country say such brazen rapes and assault on citizens in Manipur is due to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), section 4 of which allows the Army to shoot to kill while maintaining public order.
In the last 10 years, 20 instances of rape and sexual assault by security forces have been reported, but not a single conviction. "The AFSPA is directly responsible. Security forces feel they are gods in Manipur. They have absolute immunity," says Gonsalves.
Unfortunately people in Manipur have almost learnt to live with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. So be it the rape of Manorama Devi in 2004 or that of Miss Rose in 1974 or Mrs Ahanjobi in 1996, all protests in this heavily militarised state fade out in the end, and things continue to remain just the same, unchanged.