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When the Supreme Court instituted a commission this January to investigate six cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur, it seemed to break an unacknowledged pact of secrecy. The court was responding to a petition filed last year by the Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM), citing 1,528 such cases since 1979. These killings, allegedly by the armed forces, in a state that has been under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for decades, have largely been under the radar. For years, individual families had to battle the indifference of the lower courts and the intransigence of the state government. In its reply to the PIL filed by the EEVFAM, the Manipur government said that with 30-odd insurgent groups still operating in the state, it could not do without the AFSPA. Probes and prosecutions for alleged extrajudicial killings would, according to this line of argument, demoralise the armed forces.
Yet the Manipur government could be passing up an important moment to lay claim to the political voice of the state. The insurgencies of Manipur have always represented competing claims to land, with the Nagas, the Kukis and the Meiteis, among others, constructing different versions of the state. Now, with major Kuki groups having agreed to a suspension of operations and Naga groups like the NSCN(I-M) under a ceasefire, the main surviving strand of the insurgency consists of the Valley-based Meitei groups. The groups that remain seem to have frittered away their ideological capital, functioning more like gangs than political outfits, engaged in petty criminal activities and engrossed in fighting among themselves. In the process, they have lost popular support, a key factor in their survival.
This could be the insurgency's last gasp, if only the state government would rise to the situation. The court has finally woken up to concerns about alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur; to establish itself as a responsive political actor, the government should do so as well.
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