The Supreme Court today on July 31, termed the violence in Manipur as “systematic” and questioned the role of the police force. Hearing a writ petition filed by the women who were seen in the viral video being paraded naked and subjected to sexual violence amidst the ongoing ethnic conflict, Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud sought to know why it took the police so long to register an FIR.
“The incident was of May 4 and the zero FIR was registered only on May 18. Why did the police take 14 days to register the FIR? What was the police doing from the 4th of May till 18th of May?”, a bench led by CJI Chandrachud asked. The petition was heard today by a bench comprising CJI Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra.
According to LiveLaw reports senior Supreme Court Advocate Kapil, representing the petitioners, claimed that the “Police collaborated with violence and that the facts clearly indicate that the ‘police collaborated with the perpetrators of violence.'” “They took them to the crowd, they left them to the crowd, and the crowd took them to the field…”, Sibal said. He mentioned that the victims’ statements under Section 161 CrPC make these facts evident. The father and brother of one of the women were killed, and their bodies are still not recovered.
According to the report, Sibal went on to point out that even after a zero FIR was filed on May 18, almost two weeks after the incident and the video went viral on June 19, “nothing happened in the case” until the Supreme Court took cognizance on June 21. He also claimed that many such incidents would have happened, but the central government lacks information on the number of FIRs filed so far. “This shows the sad state of affairs,” he exclaimed.
CJI Chandrachud, while making his observations, asked Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta how many FIRs have been registered in total. The SG responded, saying that about twenty FIRs have been registered in the particular station and over 6000 FIRs in the state.
“Was the local police unaware that such a incident took place? And why was the FIR transferred to the Magistrate on the 20th June? After one month”, CJI Chandrachud said.
“One more thing. You also said there are about 6000 FIRs. What is the bifurcation? How many involve offences against women? How many involve other serious offences like murder, arson, burning down houses? What is the bifurcation between offences against body, offences against properties, offences against places of worship?”, the CJI sought to know. The CJI further asked. “Is this the only standalone incident of violence against women during this event? How many such FIRs are there?”.
SG told the bench that he does not have specific instructions regarding the number of FIRs and the bifurcation. CJI expressed surprise that the State does not have the facts in its possession.
“These are all facts which are there in the media. I am surprised that the state of Manipur are not in possession of facts”.
The CJI Chandrachud also said that the viral video incident cannot be seen as a standalone offence and commented that it was part of a systemic violence.
“There are statements by the victims that they were handed over to the mob by police. This is not a situation like ‘Nirbhaya’. That was also horrific but it was isolated. This is not an isolated instance. Here we are dealing with systemic violence which IPC recognises as a special offence. In such case, is it not important that you should have a specialised team?”.
“There is a need in the state of Manipur to have a healing touch. Because the violence is continuing unabated”, the CJI added.
Women survivors oppose CBI probe and transfer of case to Assam
The two women survivors of the assault opposed the CBI probe and transfer of trial to Assam. The Centre clarified it’s only for the SC to decide where the trial should occur and that the Centre hasn’t chosen any state.
Sibal said, “We want a court-monitored SIT instead of the CBI.” “They (Union govt) have transferred the matter to CBI and they want to move the matter out of Assam. We’re against both”, Sibal said.
SG Tushar Mehta said, “The Centre has no objection if the Supreme Court monitors the CBI probe.”
However, Sibal maintained that the investigation must be by an agency in which the victims have confidence. Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves pressed for an SIT comprising retired senior police officers. He claimed that there is a conspiracy to commit rapes, adding there have been 16 such instances. He requested the SC not to include any cop from Manipur in the SIT and oppose a CBI probe. He also highlighted that the statements of the victims point out that they were with the police company before the crime happened. He alleged that the sexual crime was not an isolated event and that there was a “larger conspiracy” behind it involving police complicity.
“There is a conspiracy and it is directed by people who were not on spot. The SIT should look into not only immediate perpetrators but also the larger conspiracy about rapes in Manipur. They’re happening in a collective and coordinated fashion”, he said.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising argued that the women are still traumatised and hence it is important that they are able to narrate their experience to persons in which they have confidence. She suggested that women, who have experience in dealing with victims of sexual violence amidst riots, be asked to interact with the victims.
She highlighted the need for a High-Powered Committee to visit Manipur and record statements of the survivors. She added the SC could decide the future course of action based on that report.
“Lodging of FIRs can’t be an end to the criminal procedure,” advocate Vrinda Grover emphasised. She submitted that there was an incident of two Kuki women working in a carwash at Imphal getting raped and killed. The family is in relief camps and everything has stopped after the registration of FIRs, she added. Grover claimed that there is targeted violence against the Kuki women to which the SG objected.
Manipur violence is “unprecedented”
Meanwhile, during the course of the hearing, the SC was asked by Advocate Bansuri Swaraj, who appeared for an intervenor to take cognizance of crimes against women in West Bengal. To this the CJI said, “Undoubtedly there are crimes which are taking place against women across the country -that is our social reality. But here, we are dealing with something which is of unprecedented magnitude, namely crimes and perpetration of violence against women in a situation of communal and sectarian strife. There is no gainsaying the fact that crimes against women are taking place in all parts. The only answer is this. You cannot excuse what is taking place in one part of the country like Manipur on the ground that similar crimes are happening in other parts too. Question is how we deal with Manipur. Mention that.”
The CJI asked the counsel, “Are you saying protect all daughters of India or don’t protect anyone?”