Several human rights groups and women’s organisations have condemned the reported registration of an FIR against three members of a fact-finding team that visited Manipur recently and declared that the ethnic clashes in the state were the result of “State-sponsored” violence.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted protection to one of the team members — lawyer Deeksha Dwivedi — from any coercive action by the Manipur police.
None of the three members of the team, which also included office-bearers of the CPI’s National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) Annie Raja and Nisha Sidhu, has received a copy of the FIR yet.
Dwivedi’s plea was based on news reports from Imphal that said the trio had been booked under serious charges, including waging war against the State.
“We will fight it legally and politically. Our (Raja’s and Sidhu’s) lawyers have applied for a copy of the FIR in an Imphal court. We will move the Supreme Court once we get it,” Raja told The Telegraph.
At least 142 people have been killed and more than 60,000 have been displaced in clashes between Kukis and Meiteis in Manipur since May 3.
The three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and Manoj Misra listed Dwivedi’s plea for Friday and said: “Till 5pm of 14 July, 2023, no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner in pursuance of FIR No 585(07) of 2023 dated 8 July 2023 registered at Imphal Police Station.”
More than 1,500 signatories, including women’s groups, human rights organisations and individuals, said in a joint statement: “The NFIW team’s conclusion is not misplaced that the violence and loss of lives show the failure of due diligence by the state…. The NFIW team has demanded the resignation of the chief minister for this gross failure to protect lives.
“We demand the immediate closure of the FIR and initiation of action against the police who indulged in this malicious act of registering an FIR against the fact-finding team.”
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said in a statement: “The police are using the law as an instrument of terror to frighten and intimidate citizens who seek to find out the truth through personal visits to conflict areas, meeting various stakeholders and parties involved and placing their findings in the public domain for discussion. PUCL has been consistently pointing out how Mahatma Gandhiji himself used the tool of ‘Fact Finding Enquiries’ during the freedom struggle to place true facts of events based on field visits, which expose the official version to be self-serving lies or obfuscations.”
The PUCL added: “What causes great concern to the PUCL is that such FIRs and criminal cases will have a chilling effect and act as a deterrence on academics, media professionals and others…. Historically in this country any major carnage has seen civil society fact findings, and the contribution of civil society has been very important to keeping the struggle for justice alive. To prevent fact-finding is to deprive our society of narratives which contribute towards the struggle for justice.
“A fact-finding by the state does not obviate the necessity for a civil society inquiry. In fact civil society inquiries draw their mandate from the constitutional right of every citizen to the freedom of opinion, expression and association and as such cannot be prohibited by the state.”
Three Kuki intellectuals are also reportedly facing court cases for their interviews to a news website. In 2021, the Tripura police had booked authors of a fact-finding report on communal violence there under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.