| Assam Rifles personnel arrive at the hearing of the C. Upendra Commission in the state guesthouse in Imphal on Saturday. By bringing in so many jawans, the Assam Rifles authorities succeeded in keeping the identities of the four witnesses under wraps. Picture by Eastern Projections
Aug. 28: Gauhati High Court today authorised the C. Upendra Commission probing the Thangjam Manorama custodial death to carry on with its proceedings and prepare the inquiry report, but barred it from publishing the report without the consent of the court.
The court had heard the arguments yesterday. The order also stated that as far as Assam Rifles witnesses were concerned, the commission should hold its proceedings at the Imphal Central Jail and “in camera”. For all other matters, the panel can hold its sittings anywhere else.
Today’s order allows the commission to examine the commandant of the 17 Assam Rifles, some personnel of which were alleged to have raped and then gunned down Manorama last month, sparking the agitation in Manipur against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The court posted the cases for further hearing on September 29.
In Imphal, the four Assam Rifles personnel — naib subedar Digumber Dutt, havildar Suresh Kumar and riflemen T. Lotha and Ajit Singh — finally appeared before the commission today. But they could not be examined in the state guesthouse, where the commission is holding its hearing, in view of the high court order. The examination will now be held on Monday at the jail.
The quartet appeared amid an unprecedented security arrangement after the commission yesterday ordered bailable arrest warrants against the four if they failed to turn up by 10.30 am today.
Only the four personnel, their counsel Col. Triveni Prasad, his assistant Major Manoj, lawyers representing the victim’s family and Manorama’s younger brother Th. Dolendro were allowed to be present during the 50-minute-long in-camera sitting.
Sources said as the commission was recording the appearance of the four personnel, the Assam Rifles counsel informed the chairman of the commission, C. Upendra, about today’s high court order directing the commission to examine the four inside the central jail, where only insurgents and NSA detainees are lodged. After confirming the court order, Upendra fixed 11 am on Monday for examining the quartet inside the central jail. Today’s sitting began at 11 am and ended exactly at 11.50 pm.
The quartet’s appearance today was marked by high drama. They came along with about 15 other personnel, making it very difficult for the mediapersons waiting at the guesthouse main entrance to identify the four for photographs and video recordings.
The drama unfolded with the arrival of a van carrying the Assam Rifles counsel and his assistant minutes before 11 am. Following a complaint from the Assam Rifles counsel, the commission made to stay all the mediapersons away from the entrance.
Exactly at 11 am, five Assam Rifles vehicles arrived. About 20 personnel, including the quartet, got down and entered together inside the commission room for the in-camera hearing. The 20 personnel were in full uniforms, without any badges or arms. They were of same height and built. The elaborate arrangement was in place apparently to foil any attempt to identify the four witnesses.
In Delhi, the National Commission for Women (NCW) today announced its decision to launch an investigation into the killing of Manorama. “The commission has decided to visit Manipur and investigate the incident,” NCW chairperson Poornima Advani told reporters.