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Blood on their hands?

The Indian Army’s 3-Corps and some of its officers have been accused of killing three Manipuri youngsters in 2010. The case is pending in Gauhati High Court

Yambem Laba |

It was this newspaper, which first broke the news in 2016, when it revealed how the Army, under the command of the Chief of the Army Staff General Bikram Singh and Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh Suhag, then General Officer Commanding-Chief (Eastern Command), had bent backwards to have Brigadier LI Singh’s otherwise illustrious career scuttled in the Indian Army.

With 57 known Pakistani kills in Operation Parakaram in the post Kargil operations in the Drass sector, a grateful nation had bestowed LI Singh with the Yudh Seva Medal. It was a time when things were all set for him to command a Mountain Brigade in the Sikkim Himalayas.

But he was handpicked by then COAS General VK Singh and asked to report as the Deputy Director General of the Army’s most sensitive unit — the Disciplinary and Vigilance Department. It was also a time when the young Brigadier thought his career was all set to end as Lieutenant General, if not the COAS of the Indian Army.

Also Read | Army whistleblower reveals ‘custodial killings’

But unknown to this Army officer from Manipur, things were unfolding nearer home in the Headquarters of the Indian Army’s now infamous 3- Corps located in Rangapahar near Dimapur in Nagaland. This Corps oversees counter-insurgency operations in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Without informing the top brass of the Indian Army, a group of officers under the then GOC were working to convert the Intelligence and Surveillance Unit into something it was never intended to be.

It was to be answerable only to the GOC. First, they picked up three Manipuri youngsters from the 7th Mile area of Dimapur. Two of them were former members of the banned People’s Liberation Army of Manipur but they had been living normal lives and running small businesses.

They were subjected to the most horrifying torture, which included being burnt with oxyacetylene flames and nails being driven into their heads. Finally, they were put to rest after being shot behind the Officer’s Mess. Their bodies were then dumped in the jungles of nearby Karbi Anglong district in Assam.

One of the brothers of the deceased filed a case with Nagaland Police stating that one Manipuri speaking Army man and another woman in uniform were involved in the abduction. Nagaland Police then approached Army Headquarters in Rangapahar but were turned away citing immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Soon Assam Police were informed about the discovery of three bullet-ridden and decomposed bodies in the Karbi Anglong area. All this happened around March 2010. Then in May of the same year, one Major Ravi Kiran, belonging to the Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, turned whistleblower and wrote to the then Brigadier General (Staff ).

When nothing happened after his complaint, Major Kiran wrote to the GOC-in-C of the Eastern Command that the three Manipuri youngsters were severely tortured before being shot behind their Unit’s Mess in March 2010.

Finally, the whistle blower’s complaint reached the desk of General VK Singh in New Delhi, then the Chief of Army Staff. He ordered an inquiry into the mess that the Army had got into. Eastern Command had it seems ordered a sham inquiry and almost indicted Major Kiran for trying to tarnish the “good image” of the Army.

Then came the botched up Jorhat Operation in which the Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, led by Captain Rubina Kaur Keer, raided the house of an Army contractor by the name of one Gogoi.

Once there, they tied up Gogoi’s wife and children before allegedly looting about Rs 20 lakh in cash and jewellery, took away his licensed pistol and three mobile phones. All of that was reported to Assam Police, who eventually traced one of the mobile phones to a place in Haryana. They traced a call made to a Havildar of the Unit who had taken part in the raid. It was perhaps the last straw on the camel’s back for General VK Singh, who ordered a Disciplinary and Vigilance Ban on Lt General Suhag.

The man who was made to sign that letter happened to be Brigadier LI Singh. However, by a twist of fate, General VK Singh’s tenure could not be extended and he had to relinquish office. Then General Bikram Singh became the Chief of Army Staff and one of his first acts was to lift the Disciplinary and Vigilance Ban on Lt General Suhag. And subsequently, on a charge of having stolen two carpets measuring 2×5 feet from the Flag Staff House of the Brigade, which he was commanding in Sikkim, Brigadier LI Singh was placed under a Disciplinary and Vigilance Ban.

General Suhag went on to become the Chief of the Army Staff. Other officers who were part of this exercise were also rewarded. Then in 2016, Lt Colonel Dharamveer Singh of the same Intelligence and Surveillance Unit wrote to his superiors in the 3-Corps, asking them to reopen the case of the killing of the three Manipuri youngsters in 2010.

The higher-ups in the 3-Corps tried their best to persuade him to withdraw the letter promising that his complaint would be looked into. One morning a Lt Colonel, accompanied by a Major and a Captain, came and picked Lt Col Singh up from his quarters in Imphal.

His distraught wife first reported the matter to police and then moved the Manipur High Court on a Habeas Corpus case. About 10 days later, he was released by the Army, who had been claiming all the while that he was being re-posted. Thereafter, in his counter-affidavit to the Manipur High Court, Lt Colonel Dharamveer Singh laid it all bare.

He recollected how the three Manipuri youngsters were picked up, tortured, shot behind the Officer’s Mess in Rangapahar and their bodies dumped in the jungles of Karbi Anglong. And also how an assistant publicity secretary of the proscribed People’s Liberation Army by the name of G Jiteshwar Sharma, alias Gypsy, was picked up from his rented house in September 2011 and eventually killed after failing to meet the Army’s demand for Rs 20 lakhs.

He was buried behind the Unit’s Mess. Then came the case of the abduction of a Manipuri girl with a child who was released only after she was able to cough up Rs 1 crore. Also mentioned was the killing of a Manipuri student called Sawaijam Nectar and Captain Rubina Kaur Keer figures quite prominently in that report. The Army in the case of the three Manipuri youngsters, now pending in Gauhati High Court, had stated that they had not killed them but that they died in an inter-gang fight.

Then came the report made available to The Statesman about the recommendation of a Sena Medal (Gallantry) for Captain Rubina Kaur Keer for her brave efforts in infiltrating the group of the three Manipuri PLA activists and successfully eliminating them.

It was signed by Col G Shridharan. Another officer, a Major, was given the Kirti Chakra and is now a Colonel commanding the 12th Assam Rifles posted at Tennoupal on the Imphal-Moreh route supervising the flow of Moreh trade.

(The writer is the Imphal-based special representative of The Statesman)