'We'll never get justice from state. If we get it from Supreme Court...'
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"The state claims it was a joint operation by Assam Rifles and Manipur Commandos. They said the two boys were insurgents. They didn't even name the group they were supposed to belong to," Lembi Meitei says. "We know this was done by Manipur commandos alone."
Basanta Meitei himself had retired as a rifleman from Manipur Rifles in 2001. "In my time, we were afraid to let any bullet be unaccounted for; we would rarely use our guns," he says. "Commandos nowadays work like criminals, picking up young men and carrying out fake encounters. They do it for petty theft, money the victim may be carrying. Since the government instituted gallantry awards, killings have increased, in search of promotions and raises."
The cousins had been shot dead in the fields of Langol in East Imphal. The state's response to a judicial inquiry into the killing was that "at 9.30 in the night a team of commandos and 39 Assam Rifles proceeded to Langol Games area acting on information that there are some members of a terrorist organisation there... the personnel saw four to five youths coming in their direction and they opened fire at the personnel. There was an encounter for seven minutes in which two terrorists were killed and from their possession weapons and ammunition were recovered."
The inquiry by the Imphal West additional district magistrate concluded it was "a real encounter since the medical officer who conducted the postmortem stated that the firing was from a distant range".
The group Human Rights Alert says judicial inquiries have found 17 encounters to be fake but no action has been taken against the police yet.
A police jamadar, Hollal Haokip, has been named in two of the six cases (those of Kiranjit Elangbam and Umakanta Chongham) currently under investigation. A judicial inquiry in 2012 indicted Haokip in yet another encounter. The findings of the district judge says: "In the result I have decided that the petitioner's son Loitongbam Tomba Singh was killed by the personnel of 23 Assam Rifles led by Major Kaushlendra Singh and personnel of Thoubal Police commandos led by... Hollal Haokip while he was in their custody in a fake encounter and... not killed from any exchange of firing (as) alleged by the respondents."