'Manipur Violence Not Isolated, But Systemic; Why Police Took 14 Days To Register FIR?' : Supreme Court Seeks Answers From Union, State [Full Courtroom Exchange]

Padmakshi Sharma

31 July 2023 10:09 AM GMT

  • Manipur Violence Not Isolated, But Systemic; Why Police Took 14 Days To Register FIR? : Supreme Court Seeks Answers From Union, State [Full Courtroom Exchange]

    The Supreme Court on Monday put several questions to the Union Government and the State Government on the ethnic violence in Manipur, which has been going on, in the words of the Court "unabated", since May 4.The Manipur police also came under the severe questioning of the Court. "The incident was of May 4 and the zero FIR was registered only on May 18. Why did the police take 14 days to...

    The Supreme Court on Monday put several questions to the Union Government and the State Government on the ethnic violence in Manipur, which has been going on, in the words of the Court "unabated", since May 4.

    The Manipur police also came under the severe questioning of the Court. "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?", asked the bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud.

    The bench said that the horrific incident of two women being paraded naked by a mob before being subjected to sexual violence, the video of which went viral in social media two weeks ago, was not an isolated incident and surmised that there would be several such instances.

    "What stood in the way of police registering the FIR immediately on the 4th of May?", CJI asked Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, who was representing the State Govt. SG replied that 18th May was the date when the incident was brought to notice. He added that within 24 hours of the video surfacing, seven arrests were made. CJI also asked how many FIRs have been registered in total. SG said 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 continued to ask. 

    "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.

    "Is this the only standalone incident of violence against women during this event? How many such FIRs are there?", CJI further asked. The bench also asked if the CBI will be in a position to take over investigation in all cases.

    Systemic violence in Manipur

    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".

    CJI Chandrachud 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", CJI said.

    CJI also expressed concerns about the state of victims in relief camps and highlighted the need to have a humane mechanism to record their statements. He pointed out three months have elapsed since the violence broke out and key evidence must have got destroyed in this period.

    "We need to know bifurcation of 6000 FIRs, how many zero FIRs, how many forwarded to jurisdictional magistrate, action taken, how many in judicial custody, how many involving sexual violence, position of legal aid, how many 164 statements recorded so far", CJI said.

    Need to rebuild lives

    The bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, emphasised on the need to rebuild confidence in the people and help them to return to normal lives. The bench was told that several victims have fled their native places and are stranded in relief camps.

    "Our idea is ultimately that we restore the faith of the community - in constitutional process. That's the message we need to send", CJI said. The bench contemplated the constitution of a committee to interact with the victims and get their statements recorded for the initiation of criminal proceedings. It also sought to know from the Government the extent of legal aid provided to the victims and the measures undertaken for rehabilitation.

    The bench asked Attorney General for India R Venkataramani and Solicitor General to get instructions from the authorities on the queries raised by the Court. The matter will be heard again tomorrow.

    Women in the sexual violence video express no-confidence with the CBI

    A significant development in the case was the two women survivors of the horrific sexual crime in Manipur, a video of which became viral in social media two weeks ago, approaching the Supreme Court. Their counsel Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal categorically told the bench that they are opposed to the Centre's proposal to hand over the investigation to the CBI and transfer the trial to Assam.

    "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.

    Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta clarified that the Centre has only made a request to transfer the trial out of Manipur and has not specifically sought a transfer to Assam. Attorney General for India R Venkataramani said that he will personally monitor the investigation.

    Police collaborated with violence : Sibal

    Sibal said 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 said that the statements of the victims under Section 161 CrPC make these facts clear. The father and brother of one of the women were killed and their bodies are sill not recovered. 

    The incident was of May 4 and a zero FIR was registered on May 18. The video went viral on 19 June.  Until the Supreme Court took cognizance on June 21, nothing happened in the case, Sibal said.

    He said that many such incidents would have happened; however, the Union Government, even today, does not know how many FIRs have been filed. "This shows the sad state of affairs", he exclaimed.

    Sibal highlighted that the investigation must be by an agency in which the victims have confidence. He wondered how the facts supplied by the State police, which collaborated with the criminals, can be relied upon. Regarding the AG's assurance regarding personal monitoring of the investigation, Sibal said, "How will the law officer or AG monitor? Monitor what?" The officers have not even informed the AG and SG how many FIRs have been registered! That's the sad state of affairs".

    Solicitor General at this juncture intervened to say that the Union Government has no objection to a Court-monitored investigation.

    Victims can't be forced to retell their trauma to the police : Jaising

    Senior Advocate Indira Jaising highlighted 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.

    "Victims of rape don't talk about it. They don't come out with their trauma. First thing is to build confidence. Today we don't know that if the CBI starts investigation, women will come out. First there should be a High Powered Committee - with women from civil societies who have experience in dealing with survivors...", she said.

    "How many times a rape victim has to be made to repeat her story? She has to tell it to the police, tell it to the CBI, its an endless process", she urged. She suggested some names such as Syeda Hameed, Uma Chakraborty, Roshni Goswami as they have experience in dealing with such cases and have access to local communities there. She persuading the bench to constitute a committee of women who can interact with the victims. She suggested that this committee can then submit a report to the Court and based on that further decision can be taken.

    While agreeing that the concerns raised by Jaising are "worthy of being considered", CJI DY Chandrachud however asked how the process can fit in with the framework for investigation as per the CrPC. She replied that investigation has to be as per the CrPC, but the recording of the statements can be done by the high-powered committee.

    Senior Advocate Dr.Colin Gonsalves suggested that the investigation be done by a SIT comprising retired DGPs. He stressed that the officers should not be from Manipur. 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.

    Gonsalves also expressed no-confidence with the CBI because "the Central Government unfortunately shut its eyes to the happenings". "The people in Manipur, the victim, could not distinguish between State govt and Central govt- they acted in unison. Kindly consider not having CBI at all", he said.

    Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for 'We The Women of India', also joined the demand for an SIT to instil confidence. She also supported Jaising's suggestion that a committee should be sent under the aegis of the Supreme Court to meet the victims and get their first hand statements. On the basis of those statements, the FIRs should be registered so that the victims are not constrained to go to the police. She also underlined the need to ensure rehabilitation, provision of legal aid through NALSA and fast tracking of the trial.

    Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for 'Women in Governance India', informed the bench about an incident of two Kuki women being assaulted and killed in May. But the family has no information about the bodies. She told about another incident of a gangrape of a 18 year old. In most of such cases, beyond the registration of FIR, no proceedings take place. "Why would any woman tell if the police is not going to take any action?", she asked. She said that while there are sexual crimes happening across the communities,  there is a "targeted sexual violence against Kuki women". This submission was objected to by the Solicitor General, who said that naming communities might fuel further violence.  Grover replied that the targeted nature of the crimes cannot be ignored and pointed out that rape during communal violence is dealt with as a separate offence under Section 376(2)(g) IPC. "It is essential to highlight this targeted violence...the offence is also rape committed during communal strife...we cannot turn a blind eye towards it", she said. She pointed out that the FIRs only invoke Section 376 IPC, although the offence of gangrape is a standalone offence under Section 376D IPC. Grover also highlighted that atrocities against Scheduled Tribes are dealt with separately under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. 

    Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh informed the bench that the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) has passed a resolution to offer free legal aid to the victims of Manipur violence and offered the assistance of SCAORA in any manner the Court deems fit.

    Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for Zomi Students Federation, said that his application referred to fourteen instances of crimes against women, which show police complicity. "These instances show police working against victims- either not lodging FIRs or turning the victims to the mobs...there are acts of complicity by the police either by commission or omission", Pasha said while urging that these instances also be transferred to the SIT.

    'What is happening in Manipur is unprecedented' : CJI to applicant who wanted Court to act on violence in Bengal

    Advocate Bansuri Swaraj, appearing for an intervenor, submitted that a similar incident of crime against woman took place in West Bengal and urged the Court to take congizance of the same issue too, saying "all daughters of India need protection". CJI Chandrachud said that the bench was at present dealing with issues relating to Manipur.

    "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 do we deal with Manipur. With what What suggestions do you have for Manipur? Mention that", CJI said.

    "There have been instances in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Kerala...Kindly protect all daughters of India and don't limit just to Manipur", Swaraj urged.

    "Are you saying protect all daughters of India or don't protect anyone?", CJI asked.

    "All daughters of India", Swaraj said.

    Towards the end of the hearing, Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, representing a Meitei organisation, said that the Court, at some stage, should also look at the underlying factors which are causing the violence.

    "Mr Gupta, rest assured that violence perpetuated against any community will be dealt with even-handedly", CJI said.

    Live updates posted from the hearing can be read here .

    The live-thread of the hearing can be read here :

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