Indian Army involved in raping and killing the innocent girls

rBy Simon Denyer

IMPHAL, India — Tens of thousands of Indian troops are deployed to these remote borderlands, their mission to fight a decades-long armed separatist rebellion.

But for years, residents here have alleged that security forces have also waged a separate war of rape and murder of civilians, one they continue with impunity because federal law virtually prohibits the prosecution of soldiers in conflict zones.

Now, 1,500 miles away in the capital of New Delhi, there is a new demand to change that. A committee established last month in the wake of mass protests over a gruesome gang rape recommended that the law be reexamined. At the very least, the Justice Verma Committee said, soldiers accused of rape should be tried under civilian law.

But the government has dragged its feet. Although it implemented many of the committee’s suggestions for new protections for women in an emergency ordinance passed this month, the recommendation to curb the armed forces’ immunity was set aside. The government said it was reluctant to tell the army what to do.

While the New Delhi protests prompted India to reexamine its treatment of women, the debate over soldiers’ immunity — and the dark history in the border region — have underscored the limits of the power of India’s democracy to effect change when it comes up against entrenched vested interests such as the army, a supposedly apolitical institution that wields significant influence.

“We can’t move forward because there is no consensus,” Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a recent speech on national security, according to local media reports.

Referring to the immunity law by its full name, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, Chidambaram continued: “The present and former army chiefs have taken a strong position that the act should not be amended. . . . How does the government move forward . . . to make the AFSPA a more humanitarian law?”

The Defense Ministry declined to comment.

Here in the state of Manipur, where a local human rights group has documented 1,528 alleged extrajudicial executions and many cases of rape and sexual assault carried out by the police and army in the past three decades, the stalling of momentum has caused little surprise.

In 2004, soldiers arrested 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi in the early morning, then left her bruised and bullet-ridden body by the roadside a few hours later. Police forensics experts concluded that she had been tortured and shot at close range while lying down. They also found evidence that she might have been raped.

For months afterward, the tiny hill state on the border with Burma erupted in protest. A group of women made national headlines when they stripped naked in front of an army barracks and held up a large banner that read “Indian army rape us.”

But the Manipur incident changed nothing.

For eight years, the Indian government has blocked the release of a judicial investigation into Manorama’s death, fighting a long legal battle that has now reached the Supreme Court, nor has it made any move to prosecute those responsible.

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