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PM betrayed us: Kangla protesters

- Movement against army act to continue

Imphal, Jan. 5: An angry Th. Ramani, aged 75, had taken off her clothes and had dared the Assam Rifles troops to do to her what they had allegedly done to Manorama — rape and murder.

There were 11 other women who shared her anger and her innovative protest that gave the movement against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act an added push and drew international attention. That was in front of the Kangla fort, which then housed the paramilitary force, in the heart of the capital on July 15, 2004.

However, Ramani and her co-protesters are still angry because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not yet delivered on his promise to replace the army act with a more humane one. “The Kangla Fort protest was out of desperation. It has been 10 years since Manorama was raped and killed. Manmohan Singh has done nothing to keep his promise,” Ramani said today. Years of bottled-up anger over excesses committed by the security forces under the army act, which gave them blanket cover against prosecution without the sanction of the Centre, had burst out after Assam Rifles personnel picked up Thangjam Manorama from her Imphal East house and shot her after allegedly raping her on the night of July 11, 2004.

A dozen elderly women had disrobed and demonstrated in front of Kangla Fort holding banners “Indian army rape us” and “India army take our flesh”. The protest had made the Prime Minister rush to Imphal in November that year and during his public address from Kangla Fort, Singh had promised Manipur to replace it with a “more humane act”.

“The 2004 public outrage subsided as people believed the words of the Prime Minister. We have waited for nearly 10 years. Nothing is coming. Where is he now? Does he think we are fools? We have waited long enough. There is no need for further discussion on the issue. We should brave bullets and move forward to force Delhi to repeal the act,” H. Tombi, another protester, said. Seven of the women attended a daylong “Manipur People’s Convention to Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act” here today.

Another protester, Loitam Ibetombi, died at the age of 67 a year back without realising her “dream” of seeing Manipur being freed from the act.

Singh’s decision not to mention anything on the army act during his rare media conference a few days back has angered people even more. “Now Singh seems to have forgotten his promise to the people of Manipur. His promise was nothing but a betrayal,” Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur, said.

Speakers at the convention organised by 25 citizens’ groups made it clear that public anger is rising and another round of agitation is in the offing. The convention adopted a resolution to constitute a working committee to make an action plan to continue their struggle.