SC on Manipur violence: “What stood in the way of police registering the FIR immediately on May 4?”

Bench demands details of the FIRs filed in the state, expressed surprise that the State does not have the facts in its possession; petitioners demand formulation of SIT, vehemently against CBI investigation of cases
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“These are all facts which are there in the media. I am surprised that the State of Manipur is not in possession of facts”

-CJI Chandrachud to SG Tushar Mehta

The Supreme Court on Monday, July 31, said that the sexual violence incident in Manipur cannot be justified by saying that “this and this happened elsewhere”.

“We are dealing with something of unprecedented magnitude of violence against women in communal and sectarian violence. It cannot be said that crimes are happening against women and in Bengal also. But here the case is different. We cannot justify what happened in Manipur by saying that this and this happened elsewhere,” said Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud.

The apex court made these remarks while hearing a petition filed by two women from the Kuki community who were paraded naked by a mob of men on May 4.The incident occurred in B. Phainom village in Kangpokpi district, a day after the ongoing ethnic clashes between the Meiteis and Kukis began. However, while the Print had reported this in May 2023, the video went viral only on July 19, following which there was widespread outrage at the brutality and impunity with which the women were assaulted.

Since May 2023, when matters were first mentioned before a vacation bench of the Supreme Court, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the steps that will be taken by the Supreme Court of India regarding the ongoing violence in Manipur. The Supreme Court has now demanded answers from the State and Union Governments. 

In the past few days, many different reports have surfaced, some of which suggested that the cases registered against the crimes committed in the state will no longer be handled by the Manipur police, but rather be taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Reportedly, requests were also being made to conduct an independent investigation into the crimes committed to ensure justice is meted out. It is essential to note here that CBI is a central agency, under the direct aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)  and there have been allegations that the violence ensuing the state of Manipur for the past three months is targeted against a minority community and is alleged to be “state-sponsored”.

On July 31, eleven days after the Supreme Court had first taken suo-moto cognizance after a video of two Kuki women being paraded naked surfaced on the internet, the SC heard a batch of petitions filed in relation to the violence in Manipur. Many essential questions were raised in the hearing today, regarding the inaction and compliance of the police with the perpetrators, the necessity of independent probe, and unprecedented magnitude of violence against women. The petitioners also dealt with the issue of taking statements from the survivors of rape and sexual violence, and the need to ensure that the survivors who come forward are protested. The Supreme Court also called for evolving a broad mechanism to deal with violence against women in violence-hit Manipur.

CJI questions police inaction, government indifference

The Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, demanded answer from the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, regarding the inaction of the police in the incident of Kuki women being paraded naked. 

“What stood in the way of police registering the FIR immediately on May 4?” CJI asked SG Mehta, who was representing the State Government. 

To this, SG replied that May 18 was the date Zero FIR was registered. He also informed the Bench that within 24 hours of the video surfacing, seven arrests were made.

On the same, the CJI continued and asked, “Was the local police unaware that such an incident took place? And why was the FIR transferred to the Magistrate on the June 20? After one month”, as reported by LiveLaw.

Questions were raised by the bench, also comprising of Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, regarding total number of FIRs filed during the period of ongoing violence.

“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, as reported by LiveLaw.

CJI also raised concerns about the condition of victims in relief camps and emphasised the need for a compassionate system to record their testimonies. He pointed out three months have elapsed since the violence broke out and key evidence must have got destroyed in this period. 

According to CJI Chandrachud, the viral video incident cannot be viewed as a stand-alone crime and was a result of systemic violence against women. 

He stated: “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”, as reported by LiveLaw.

During the hearing, the court discussed the idea of forming a committee to speak with the victims and record their testimonies before beginning with criminal procedures. Regarding this, the bench sought to know the details of the extent of legal aid provided to the victims and the measures undertaken by the state and union government for rehabilitation.

The bench has asked the SG and Attorney General for India to seek guidance from the relevant authorities about the concerns highlighted by the court. 

A committee of women judges

Additionally, the top court contemplated the formation of a committee of retired woman judges to probe incidents of sexual violence against women in Manipur.

“Merely entrusting to CBI or SIT (Special Investigation Team) would not be enough. We will have to picture a situation where a 19-year-old woman who has lost her family is in a relief camp. We cannot have her going to the magistrate. We have to ensure that the process of justice goes to her doorstep. We will constitute a committee of women judges and members of civil society, who will in turn get the assistance of members of civil societies,” the court said.

The court made these remarks while hearing the Union government’s plea on transferring the case of the two women to a different state.

The hearing will be continued at 2 pm tomorrow. The details sought by the bench are also to be submitted by tomorrow. 

Submissions made by the petitioners before the Bench

Women against transfer of case to CBI: Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal:

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared on behalf of the two Kuki women who were paraded naked by a mob of Meitei men on May 4, 2023. Mr. Sibal stated that the women were against the CBI probe into the case as well as the transfer of the trials 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, as reported by Livelaw

As stated in the Livelaw report, Mr. Sibal raised questions on the conduct of the police in the violence that took place against the two women. He stated provided that based on the statements of the victims under Section 161 CrPC, it is clear that the “police collaborated with the perpetrators of violence”. 

The police took them towards the crowd. First they stated that there was no ignition and then they abandoned them with the crowd. And they did what they did”, Sibal said in the court. 

Mr. Sibal also highlighted that the father and brother of one of the women were killed and their bodies are yet to be recovered. 

One of the women- her father, brother killed. We still don’t have the bodies.”

Further highlighting the inaction of the police, Mr. Sibal stated that even though the incident took place on May 4 and a Zero FIR was registered on May 18, it was only after the video went viral and the Supreme Court took cognizance of the case did the police take action. 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, as stated in the LiveLaw report.

Mr. Sibal highlighted that the investigation must be by an agency in which the victims have confidence and which can be unbiased. 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”, as reported by LiveLaw.

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

First thing is to build confidence: Senior Advocate Indira Jaising

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising emphasised that the women are still scarred and that it is crucial for them to be able to speak openly about their experience with others in whom they have confidence. She proposed that women who have prior experience assisting rioting victims of sexual assault be asked to speak 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, as reported by LiveLaw.

“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, it is an endless process”, she urged, highlighting the vicious cycle of trauma a survivor of sexual violence has to go through. 

She raised a demand for constituting a High Powered Committee, and suggested the names of Syeda Hameed, Uma Chakraborty, Roshni Goswami. She said that the above mentioned women 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 Ms. Jaising are “worthy of being considered”, CJI DY Chandrachud asked for her suggestions on how the process of arrest can fit in with the framework for investigation as per the CrPC. To this, Ms. 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. She also emphasised on ensuring that no evidence is lost during the investigation. 

SIT should look into the larger conspiracy about rapes in Manipur: senior advocate, Colin Gonsalves

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves suggested the names of five retired DGPs that could form the SIT conducting the investigation in the said case. Gonsalves highlighted that the five DGPs named by him did not have any political connection. In his arguments, he also 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, as highlighted by LiveLaw.

Advocate Gonsalves also provided that there is a lack of confidence and trust associated with the investigation of the CBI as the Central Government had turned a blind eye to the plight of the people of the Manipur. 

There is not much faith in CBI- the reason for that is that the Central government closed its eyes on Manipur. 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“, Gonsalves said, as reported by LiveLaw.

There has to be a SIT for confidence building: Advocate Shobha Gupta

Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for ‘We, the Women of India’, also submitted her suggestions to the bench. She also raised the demand for the constitution of an SIT to instil confidence in the people of Manipur to come forth with their complaints. Gupta has been the counsel for rape survivor Bilkees Bano (Gujarat, 2002).

Agreeing with Advocate Jaising’s recommendation to send a commission to meet with the victims, Gupta stated that the commission could obtain the first-hand accounts of the victims and survivors, under the auspices of the Supreme Court She further stated that the FIRs should be filed based on the testimonies of the committee so that the victims are free to avoid going to the police. 

There has to be an SIT for confidence building measures. A team should be sent from here under aegis of SC- to meet and get victims’ first hand statements. On basis of that FIRs should be noted- we did in Delhi riots also. So victims don’t have to go to police,” she said, as reported by LiveLaw.

Ms. Gupta also emphasised on provided rehabilitation to the victims, alone with offering legal help through NALSA, and fast-tracking the trials.

She also pressed FIRs against police officers, and stated “I am pressing FIRs against police officers who were present- they actually lodged FIR saying 1000-1500 assailants had barged in village yet there was no one to protect them.

Why would a woman come forward if the government doesn’t take any action? Advocate Vrinda Grover

Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for ‘Women in Governance India’, provided the Bench with more cases of Kuki women being targeted and subjected to sexual violence. She clarified that her clients have visited 163 relief camps, and she brings facts from the ground.

Women in governance, which is a network of academics etc. have visited 163 relief camps so what I’ve mentioned are facts from ground,” Grover said, as reported by LiveLaw.

Ms. Grover informed the bench about an incident of two Kuki women being assaulted, tortured and killed in May. She further provided details regarding another incident of a gang rape of an 18 year old. 

Two women were working at car wash in Imphal. A crowd come, tortured, murdered. Their bodies are lying in a morgue in Imphal. The families are in camps. The mother has lodged FIR, there is no one in govt who has come and said what fate of remains is. There is another girl- 18 year old, she was also gang raped. There was a zero FIR but that is where the matter stands. The matters halt at FIRs,” Grover said, as reported by LiveLaw.

Ms. Grover provided that in most of such cases, no action beyond the registration of FIR have taken places. Expressing anguished, she asked “Why would any woman tell if the police is not going to take any action?

She emphasised that even as there are sexual crimes committed in many groups, “targeted sexual violence against Kuki women” is concerning. The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, objected to the said submission, stating that he is against the naming of any particular community as it could lead to more violence.

In response to this, Grover said that the crimes’ targeted aspect could not be disregarded and cited Section 376(2)(g) of the IPC, which treats rape committed during communal strife as a separate offence.

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, as provided by LiveLaw

She pointed out that the FIRs only invoke Section 376 IPC, although the offence of gang rape 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. 

In these FIRs, SC/ST sections are not mentioned, neither are the atrocities mentioned. There is specific compensation in such cases,” as reported by LiveLaw.

With this, Ms. Grover furthered her plea for SIT monitored by this court, from outside the state. Highlighting the issue of ration, she further demanded that there should be an independent, impartial report on what is the status of relief camps.

These instances show police working against victims: Advocate Nizam Pasha 

Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for Zomi Students Federation, informed the Bench 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, as reported by LiveLaw.

Mr. Pasha also made the following suggestions:

  • One stop centres should be strengthened in Manipur by providing them with manpower and infrastructure. 
  • Instead of jurisdictional magistrate, magistrate of whichever district victim located in should record statement under Section 164 of CrPC.
  • Compensation must be given at the stage when 164 statement is recorded. 

The matter is expected to be now taken up after four days, not the four months that SG Tushar Mehta had requested.


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