Hard-hitting book on North-East

Reviewed by Parbina Rashid

The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North-East India
by Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M Hongray. Chicken Neck. Pages 380. Rs 495

July 14, 2004—In a most unusual protest, some 40 women stripped naked and staged an angry demonstration in front of the Assam Rifles base at Imphal, Manipur, shouting slogans, "Indian Army rape us", "Indian Army take our flesh." They were protesting against the alleged rape, torture and custodial death of Thangjam Manorama by the Indian Army.

November 2, 2000—In Malom, a town in Manipur, 10 civilians were allegedly shot by the Assam Rifles. Irom Sharmila, a 28-year-old woman, began to fast in protest against the killings. She has completed more than a decade of fasting. Her primary demand to the Indian government is the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

In neither case, were the participants were politically motivated or inspired by the formula of the moern equivalent of the Slut Walk. What sort of desperation was it that drove them to take such drastic steps? Sample this—

On July 9, 1987, the Assam Rifles post at Oinam in Manipur was attacked by the NSCN. A few jawans were killed and a lot of arms and ammunitions were looted. The Indian government launched a combing operation under the code name of Operation Blue Bird and in the name of counter-insurgency; the Assam Rifles let loose a reign of terror in the entire area of Oinam. The Assam Rifles shot dead 15 persons after subjecting them to inhuman torture. Villagers were subjected to all kinds of inhuman and degrading treatment in the detention camps which included forcing two pregnant women to give birth in the open playground in front of the jawans.

Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M Hongray’s book The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North-East India answers our questions to certain extent, at least the physical part of it, if not the psychological.

Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Nandita Haksar’s first brush with human rights violations by the Indian security forces in North-Eastern states came in August 1982, when she first visited Ukhrul in Manipur on the invitation of a Naga women’s organisation. This is how she met her client Sebastian Hongray, a member of the then recently formed Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), now her husband and co-author of the book.

In 1988, the Oinam incident took her back to the North-East once again, this time to fight against the atrocities committed by the armed forces against Poumei Nagas living in Oinam and its surrounding villages of Senapati district in Manipur.

Keeping the Oinam incident as the starting point, the authors have captured the real but futile struggle of not just the Nagas or Manipuris but the North-Easterners as a whole against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.   

The book is an insiders’ take and hence comes with non-frilled narration of events. If they openly describe the Assam Rifles as the rogue forces consumed with the desire for revenge and Operation Bluebird as a ploy of achieving their aim rather than recovering arms, ammunition and punishing those guilty, they, at the same time, vehemently criticise the power games which go on in the name of human rights activism and name big players like Amnesty International.

It is a hard-hitting book with documentary evidence that comes in the form of affidavits, official correspondence and court proceedings in an unedited form which at times makes it a little difficult for the reader to keep up with his ‘eye-brain’ co-ordination, but if one reads between the lines and feels the pain of those victims who were forced to watch their near and dear ones being tortured and killed and, worse still, the frustration they are still going through for not being able to bring justice to those who were wronged, one is moved to tears by the time one reaches the last chapter.  

The Oinam incident may have entered the folklore of the Poumei Nagas or has become an important source material for human rights activists to write papers for seminars, but for those who suffered and lived, the wounds are still raw and the wait for justice is still on…