Can’t Justify Manipur Incident by Saying it Happens Elsewhere: CJI Chandrachud
Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud pulled up the Centre and the Manipur government on Monday while hearing a bunch of pleas about the ongoing violence in the state, including the petition filed by the two Kuki women who were paraded naked, groped and filmed before being gang-raped on May 4.
A Bench headed by CJI Chandrachud and comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said that “what happened in Manipur” cannot be justified by saying that this and this happened elsewhere”.
The Supreme Court also asked the Manipur Police why the zero FIR was filed 14 days after the horrific incident, LiveLaw reported.
Terming the May 4 incident “horrendous”, the Supreme Court (SC) sought information about steps taken after the lodging of the FIRs, and said that it doesn’t want the state police to probe the matter as they “virtually handed over the women to the rioting mob”.
According to PTI, the top court added that it might constitute an Special Investigation Team (SIT) or a committee comprising former Judges to monitor the situation in the state subject to hearing law officers representing the Centre and Manipur on Tuesday.
The women, whose identities have been concealed as ‘X’ and ‘Y’ in the petitions, have sought a probe led by an independent SIT headed by an IG-rank police officer and a transfer of the trial outside the state.
According to the plea, the women have no faith in the state police and have sought security and direction for the recording of their statement under Section 164 of the CrPC by the nearest area magistrate, NDTV reported.
“We are dealing with something on unprecedented magnitude of violence against women in communal and sectarian violence. It cannot be gainsaid that crimes are happening against woman and in Bengal also,” CJI Chandrachud replied when advocate Bansuri Swaraj, appearing in an intervention application, highlighted that similar incidents have happened in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, according to Bar and Bench.
Mentioning that the Manipur “case is different”, CJI Chandrachud said, “We cannot justify what happened in Manipur by saying that this and this happened elsewhere.”
When Swaraj urged that “there have been instances in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Kerala” and the court must “protect all daughters of India”, not just Manipur, the CJI asked, “Are you saying protect all daughters of India or don’t protect anyone?”
The court also questioned the Manipur police for registering the FIR 14 days after the incident.
“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?” the Bench asked.
Questioning solicitor general (SG) of India Tushar Mehta, who was representing the state government, CJI Chandrachud said, “What stood in the way of police registering the FIR immediately on the 4th of May?”
When the CJI asked how many FIRs have been registered, Mehta said about 20 FIRs have been registered in the particular station and more than 6,000 in the state.
CJI Chandrachud continued to question Mehta. “Was the local police unaware that such an incident took place? And why was the FIR transferred to the magistrate on the 20th June? After one month.”
Regarding FIRs lodged against different crime, especially against women, the CJI asked, “You also said there are about 6,000 FIRs. What is the bifurcation? How many involve offences against women? How many involve other serious offences like murder, arson and burning down houses? What is the bifurcation between offences against body, offences against properties, offences against places of worship?”
Regarding the video, the CJI asked, “Is this the only standalone incident of violence against women during this event? How many such FIRs are there?”
When Mehta replied that he does not have specific instructions regarding the number of FIRs and the bifurcation, the CJI expressed surprise. “These are all facts which are there in the media. I am surprised that the state of Manipur are not in possession of facts.”
Terming the incident not isolated but a part of a systemic violence, the CJI said, “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 isolated. This is not an isolated instance. Here, we are dealing with systemic violence which IPC recognises as a special offence.”
He asked Mehta that “is it not important that you should have a specialised team when the incident” is a special offence? “There is a need in the state of Manipur to have a healing touch. Because the violence is continuing unabated,” the CJI said.
Pointing out that key evidence must have been destroyed since the violence started three months ago, CJI Chandrachud said, “We need to know bifurcation of 6,000 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 and how many 164 statements recorded so far?”
The Centre had requested the SC to transfer the trial out of Manipur to any other state and sought a direction to complete the trial within six months of filing the chargesheet. The SC was also hearing the Union government’s request for transferring the case to a different state. The Centre has already transferred the case to the CBI.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the two women, categorically told the Bench that the victims are opposed to the CBI taking over the probe and the Centre’s proposal to transfer the trial to Assam.
“They [Centre] have transferred the matter to CBI and they want to move the matter out of Assam. We’re against both.” Mehta clarified that the Centre has only made a request to transfer the trial out of Manipur to any other state, not specifically Assam. Attorney general (AG) for India R Venkataramani said that he will personally monitor the investigation.
Sibal also said 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 adding that the two women’s statements under Section 161 of the CrPC make these facts clear.
Sibal said that many such incidents would have happened, but the Centre does not know even how many FIRs have been filed. “This shows the sad state of affairs.”
Highlighting that the investigation must be done 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 Venkataramani’s assurance regarding personal monitoring of the probe, Sibal said, “How will the law officer or the 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.”
Mehta intervened to say that the Centre has no objection to a court-monitored investigation.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising said that it is important that the women able to narrate their experience to persons in which they have confidence as they are still traumatised.
“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,” she said.
Calling for the formation of a high-powered committee comprising civil society members experienced in dealing with [rape] survivors, she asked, “How many times a rape victim has to be made to repeat her story? She has to tell it to the police and tell it to the CBI—it’s an endless process.”
Suggesting names such as Syeda Hameed, Uma Chakraborty, Roshni Goswami, who have experience in dealing with such cases and have access to local communities there, she asked the Bench to constitute a committee of women who can interact with the victims. The committee can then submit a report to the court and decision can be taken based on that, she suggested.
Agreeing with Jaising that her suggestions are “worthy of being considered”, CJI Chandrachud, however, asked how the process can fit in with the framework for investigation as per the CrPC.
Jaising 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 Colin Gonsalves suggested a SIT comprising retired DGPs can probe the incident and stressed that the officers should not be from Manipur.
He alleged that incident wasn’t isolated and occurred due to a “larger conspiracy” 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 requested the court to keep the CBI out of the probe. “The Central government unfortunately shut its eyes to the happenings. The people in Manipur, the victim, could not distinguish between state government and Central government—they acted in unison. Kindly consider not having CBI at all.”
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 their family has no information about their bodies. In most of such cases, beyond the registration of FIR, no action is taken, she said.
“Why would any woman tell if the police is not going to take any action?” she asked adding that while sexual crimes are happening across communities in Manipur, there is a "”targeted sexual violence against Kuki women”.
When Mehta interjected to say 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) of the 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. The FIRs only invoke Section 376 of the IPC although the offence of gangrape is a standalone offence under Section 376D of the IPC, she added.
On July 20, the apex court took suo moto cognisance of the issue, directed the Centre and the state to inform it of the steps taken to arrest the perpetrators, and said that it would step in if the government doesn’t act.
“We are very deeply disturbed about the videos distributed. We are expressing our deep concern. It is time that the government steps and takes action. This is unacceptable,” CJI Chandrachud had said.
“If the government does not act, we will. We believe that the court must be apprised of the steps taken by the government so that perpetrators are booked for such violence. What is portrayed in the media and visuals which appeared shows gross constitutional violation,” he added.
The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and the Supreme Court Bar Association too had condemned the ongoing violence in Manipur, especially referring to the disturbing video. Besides, the NHRC has taken cognisance of complaints seeking its urgent intervention into the incident.
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