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Women fury singes Assam Rifles again

Imphal, May 5: The Assam Rifles today had another run-in with women protesters in Manipur when a veritable female army laid siege to a court to prevent the paramilitary force from retaining custody of a “surrendered militant” whom it had produced before the district chief judicial magistrate.

A police vehicle was partially damaged and some windowpanes of the court building at Lamphel, in Imphal West district, were shattered in stone-pelting by the women.

The intensity of the protest against the court’s decision to allow the paramilitary force to retain custody of the youth sent both the commandant of the 37 Assam Rifles, Col Sanjay Kapur, and Chandel chief judicial magistrate B.K Sharma scurrying for cover.

Col Kapur was seen latching on to the surrendered militant, Taorem Hemanta, and running towards his vehicle, escorted by a posse of jawans and police personnel. The magistrate reportedly escaped through the backdoor of the court building.

Hemanta is one of the youths who were taken into custody by the Assam Rifles allegedly without any proof of links with insurgent groups and paraded before the media last month as surrendered rebels. Four of the youths were released after judicial intervention.

The Assam Rifles team had taken Hemanta to the Chandel chief judicial magistrate’s court in response to a directive from the Imphal bench of Gauhati High Court, which took cognisance of a habeas corpus petition by the youth’s father, Taorem Manglem.

The petitioner said the Assam Rifles was keeping his son in “illegal confinement”. Echoing the parents of the four youths who have been released ' they had also filed a batch of habeas corpus petitions ' Manglem said two youths lured his son to an Assam Rifles camp in February with promises of a job in the paramilitary force.

Manglem said his son was the handyman of an Imphal-Guwahati bus and not a militant, as alleged by the Assam Rifles.

The youth’s mother was in the crowd that had milled on the court premises, hoping that he would be freed.

The gathering became restive when news trickled out that Hemanta had confessed before the magistrate, his father and the counsel that he had been a member of the banned United National Liberation Front until his “voluntary” surrender. He is also understood to have told the court that he wanted to remain in custody.

The women protesters surrounded the court building and locked the main door from outside in an attempt to stop the Assam Rifles from taking away the youth.

Some of the women even tried to snatch Hemanta as he was being led out of the court by the Assam Rifles commandant. After a two-hour standoff, the police and Assam Rifles vehicles sped away amid a shower of stones hurled by the women. The Imphal bench had directed the Assam Rifles to produce another youth, Heikrujam Momocha, before the same court by 4 pm today. The hearing was postponed because of the fracas.

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