Assam Rifles major accused of killing civilian in Manipur; reopens debate on AFSPA

10 July 2021
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard in Manipur in August 2004. On 4 June this year, Alok Sathe, the commanding officer of the E Company of the 44 Assam Rifles posted at Kangpoki’s Banglabung outpost, shot and killed 29-year-old Mangboilal Lhouvum, a father of four, according to locals.
Jayanta Shaw / Reuters
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard in Manipur in August 2004. On 4 June this year, Alok Sathe, the commanding officer of the E Company of the 44 Assam Rifles posted at Kangpoki’s Banglabung outpost, shot and killed 29-year-old Mangboilal Lhouvum, a father of four, according to locals.
Jayanta Shaw / Reuters

Almost one month after a major of the Indian Army’s 44 Assam Rifles company was accused of killing a civilian resident of the Chalwa village, in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district, the terms of a compromise agreement—including compensation to the victim’s family—are yet to be fulfilled. On 4 June, Alok Sathe, the commanding officer of the E Company of the 44 Assam Rifles posted at Kangpoki’s Banglabung outpost, shot and killed 29-year-old Mangboilal Lhouvum, a father of four, according to locals. The Assam Rifles has claimed that the incident took place during an anti-insurgency operation to capture members of the insurgent group Kuki Revolutionary Army, and that it has ordered an inquiry into the matter. But according to Mangboilal’s family, local residents and civil-society organisations, there were no KRA members or insurgent activities at Chalwa, and the incident was yet another instance of abuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state. 

Six days after Mangboilal’s death, I spoke to his wife, Neikhochong, over a video call. She looked at the ground as she spoke, softly, with long gaps in between sentences. “It is a very difficult situation for me,” she said. “I am wondering how I will bring up these four kids. I am still in a state of shock.” Their eldest daughter is seven years old and studies in kindergarten in a local government school. The three younger children are aged six, three and one, respectively. During the call, the youngest child was crying in the background, while another watched me with curiosity. The four children and their mother lived in a two-room thatched house, with one room serving as a living room, kitchen and dining area, and the other one as their bedroom.

Mangboilal worked as a handyman and earned approximately Rs 300 per day. He was the only earning member of the family. Neikhochong described him as “a hardworking person, a quiet man who liked to keep to himself.” With her eyes still on the ground, she added in a low voice, “I want justice for my husband’s death.”

The exact circumstances leading up to Mangboilal’s death remain unclear. According to a release issued by the Press Information Bureau Defence Wing two days later, on 6 June, the Indian Army’s company, led by the major Sathe, had launched an operation in Chalwa “based on specific intelligence” about the presence of members of the Kuki Revolutionary Army in the village. The Kukis are a tribal community in Manipur who have long sought greater political power in the state. A resident of a nearby village, who is a member of the Kuki Students’ Organisation and a former member of the Indian Army, spoke to me about the incident on the condition of anonymity. “The insurgent was not there that night,” the former serviceman said. “He comes once in a while. If he was there, we would know. They looked for him but since they could not find him, they started quarreling with some locals … The army was drunk and while they were looking around, they made a mistake.”

This account was corroborated by Enock, the president of the Tuilang block of the Kuki Students’ Organisation, a unit that covers the Chalwa village. The block president said that he was informed of the incident by his colleague in the KSO immediately after the incident. “On the 4th of June, around 9 pm right after the incident, the Chalwa secretary called me and said we heard some gunshots—maybe around 7 to 8 gunshots were heard,” Enock told me. He said Mangboilal was shot during this firing, and rushed into a nearby house where he was later found with his intestines spilling out of his body. “The incident happened around 8.30–9,” he said. “After the incident, Mangboilal ran into one family house. After hearing gunshots, villagers started gathering—it may take ten twenty minutes for that. After that, the village secretary called me up. So even in between that after the gunshot maybe the army personnel must have run away and left the spot.”

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Manipur Assam Rifles Armed Forces Special Powers Act Extra judicial killings
COMMENT