Delhi police should know better

THE death of 21-year-old Reingamphi Awungshi in Delhi on 29 May has once again brought into focus the plight of North-eastern communities, the youth and women to be specific, who struggle to make both ends meet while building a career in metropolitan cities.

Awungshi hailed from Choithar village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. A beautician, she came to Delhi recently after a short stint in Chennai with the dream of making it big in the capital. Sadly, it turned out to be just the opposite. She was found dead in a rented room in Chirag, South Delhi.  

Prima facie, the police registered a case of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC. They  claimed to have found empty medicine foil wrappers in a dustbin and near her body. Her  face and feet bore marks of rodent bites. The police reportedly broke open the door of her room after the houseowner informed them.
In contrast to the police version, the photographs that relatives of the deceased had taken showed bloodstains on the bedsheet. Suspecting murder, they requested the Delhi police to register an FIR but they turned it down. The relatives refused to accept the body unless an FIR was lodged.  

The scene outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences was a classic case of the police’s insensitivity and indifference. While trying to convince relatives and friends, the Malviya Nagar police station officer showed them a page of the post mortem report which had a few records showing that the  organs were intact. While the relatives insisted on an FIR, the police officer explained that “the case is under section 174 CrPc” which is normal police procedure and that they did not require another section or an FIR. When they argued, the police officer said, “Har case me FIR nahi hota.”

A female relative replied, “Itna bewakoof mat banao, hum ko bhi pata hain kanoon.”

Others asserted, “We are citizens of India, we have the right to file an FIR.”

The police officer insisted on relatives taking the post mortem report and sending the body for embalming, suggesting he was in a great hurry to wrap up the case so that he could attend to “other” business. Both sides stood their ground.  

Soon the frustrations of North-eastern communities turned into anger. Hundreds of them hit the streets and protested before the Malviya Nagar police station, demanding that an FIR should be registered. They shouted slogans like “Are we not citizens of India?”

The demonstration continued throughout the night and into the next day (31 May). Only after the Delhi minister for health, women and family welfare, Kiran Walia, came into the picture, was the case transferred to the Delhi Police Crime Branch. A second post mortem was conducted after five days — on 4 June — and section 302 (IPC) was added to the case and an FIR lodged.

In any such incident, the first thing the common citizen will do is to seek police help. For the North-eastern communities who continuously face physical or verbal threats, there is no alternative but to seek police help. In fact, all North-east communities living in Delhi have an updated list of police stations and their officials. Perhaps a necessity, after experiences of numerous encounters or attacks by the locals.

Unfortunately, this is where the trouble, or rather, the politics begins. People repose faith in the protectors of the law but sometimes they are “cold” towards the people whom they are supposed to serve. It is more so if those involved in cases happen to be women and young girls from the North-east. Even before starting investigations, their first “impression” or  “opinion” is that they wear “provocative clothes”, and are involved in “drug abuse” and “relationship-related suicide”.

This sort of preconceived opinion was obvious in Awungshi’s case. Immediately after her body was taken to the AIIM, the Malviya Nagar police station allegedly made an anonymous statement to the national media that they suspected drug abuse while maintaining that it was a case of suicide. As law enforcers, the police have a responsibility and a role to bridge the gap between North-east communities and mainland Indians. But they seem to be doing just the opposite by creating mistrust. Had the Malviya Nagar police station personnel showed some humane approach in dealing with the case, there would not have been any demonstration by irate North-east communities. Such a gesture would have helped  solve many a grievance of North-east youth in the capital.   

Whether collusion, reluctance or an unwilling to act, the police’s “working style” is an advantage for local houseowners, who, in any case, are ever ready to “throw out” North-eastern tenants at the drop of a hat. Friends and relatives of Awungshi were allegedly threatened with dire consequences by locals of Chirag when they were holding a candlelight condolence two days after the incident. They were denied entry to the house where the incident took place. Besides, some of the participants in the condolence meeting told this writer that “pamphlets” in Hindi were distributed in and around the locality.   

It is also a fact that police and security agencies in most cases act on “pressure” and that, as admitted and revealed by the police themselves as well, there are higher authorities who give directions and commands. Was it bribe or was it cover-up, or was it that the police and security agencies perform their duty under instructions from faceless, anonymous authorities? These are provoking questions that demand answers.

The writer is a New Delhi-based freelance contributor
The Statesman NE page , June 10,2013 

Kept in the dark

THE Manipur government conceptualised the Chakpi multipurpose dam project in Chandel’s Chakpikarong subdivision in 1988  but it was only in 2011 that members of the local organisation,  Anal Naga Taangpi, were told that an approved project had been placed in the assembly for discussion. When they insisted on further information, they were told that 12 village chiefs were either lured or forced into giving their consent for testing of the river soil.  They asked the chiefs to immediately withdraw their consent.
It is not that the Anta or the people of Chandel district are against development, it is just that they fear many indigenous people will be displaced from their ancestral homes once the process of acquisition of land starts. Recently, the Anta organised demonstrations in Chakpikarong and Japhou Bazar (Chandel headquarters) to protest against construction of the dam.
According to Anta, 65 villages will be affected, as against 44 claimed by the government in its detailed project report. Similarly 3,100 hectares will be submerged and not 916.54 hectares. The project was approved at an estimated cost of Rs 281 crore in June 2008. As per the 2011 annual report of the state irrigation and flood control, a DPR on the project was submitted to the Central Water Commission, New Delhi and after its rectification the final cost was put at Rs 426.90 crore.
 The 78-metre high earthen dam, with a length of 510 metres, is aimed at irrigating 12,3785 hectares, providing 1.5 MGD water supply and generating 7.5 MW of hydel power. According to the state administration report, surveys are nearing completion. The project is likely to be implemented in the state’s 11th plan.
The 3,350-sq km Chakpi river is a source of livelihood for thousands of inhabitants. The natives living on both banks include some of the most vulnerable ethnic groups like the Taraos (800 population), Monsangs (2,126), Chothes (2,672) and Moyons (2, 970) as per the 2011 Census. Others are Anals, Lamkangs, Thadous (Kukis), etc. These small communities fear that one day they will be wiped out as a community. Anta and the general public are worried about losing land in terms of holdings, ownership and control.  A sensitive issue, indeed, wherein land is not merely an economy but an identity as well.
Chandel district is a forested border area and comes under the hill areas administration. Recently, the Anta raised several questions at a meeting in Delhi. It wanted to know whether or not the government had consulted the local people or the district council at the time of preparing the project. In 2011, the  Anal Upliftment Forum filed an RTI seeking information on the project  with regard to its assessment and status but there has been no response. The local people say they are being forced to give away their land but someone elsewhere will enjoy the benefits. They say the objective is to control floods and irrigate farmland in downstream Thoubal district.
Besides displacement of several people, the construction of the dam will also harm the fragile eco-system and bio-diversity. As defined by Mittermieir, et al (2004), the Indo-Burma hotspot, whose geographical area includes parts of the North-east, Bangladesh and Malaysia, ranks at the top of 10 hotspots for irreplaceability and in the top five for threat (endangered), with only five per cent of its natural habitat remaining and with more people than any other bio-diversity hotspot in the world.

The writer is a New Delhi-based freelance contributor
The Statesman NE page 
June 3,2013