New Delhi: Manipur chief minister Biren Singh, for one more time, appealed to the people on Monday, June 19, to surrender arms which had been looted from police armouries ever since the violence erupted in the state.
Earlier, on May 31, the chief minister had made a similar appeal, even warning tough legal action against those who do not surrender arms. Even Union home minister Amit Shah, when he was in the state for three days, a fortnight ago, had made a similar request.
According to various estimates, more than 3,000 weapons have been looted during the recent spate of violence. And, they are being used by civilians to ‘protect’ or to launch an assault against the opposite community.
In fact, Singh, in his latest statement said, “I appeal to the Meitei people who are with arms not to attack anything and maintain peace and harmony so that we can resort to normalcy in the state of Manipur.”
These arms have played a critical role in exacerbating the violence. When The Wire‘s team was in Manipur in the last week of May and the first week of June, despite the curfew, we could see several men dressed in black, riding on various vehicles in groups, with sophisticated weapons.
The Wire team also met a team of such men at a Meiti village in Bishnupur district, bordering Churachandpur – a Kuki-dominated area. They were holding double-barrel guns with a cache of bullets. However, they claimed that most of their weapons were licensed. Asked why they needed to pick up the gun, one of them said, “We are here to assist the police,” right in front of the police check-post which was being manned. But not everyone there told us that their guns were licensed.
Which weapons were looted
While there is no official figure but Indian Express, quoting sources, said on June 3, as many as 4,000 weapons had been looted from the police and state armoury. It also said that till then only 650 weapons had been recovered and the government feared that more than 3,000 civilians had been armed with them.
Some of the publicly available FIRs, lodged in various police stations of the state, do give an idea as to which weapons have been looted by the miscreants. A majority of these looting incidents did not happen during the dead of the night but either post-noon or in the evening, according to those FIRs.
As seen by The Wire, according to an FIR lodged by the Indian Rifles Commando battalion at Heingang Police Station miscreants stormed their headquarters at Khabesoi on May 28 at 3 pm They took away 322 Insas rifles of two versions, 9 AF rifles, assault rifles ExCalibur, and various other modern ammunition. Heingang Police station falls under the Imphal East district.
According to yet another FIR lodged by a subedar of Manipur Police Training College on May 4, a mob forcibly entered the gate of the campus at 1.45 pm. They crashed the main gate, opened the locks of armouries and looted 157 Insas rifles, 54 SLRs, 34 9mm carbines, 22 Insas LMGs, 9mm pistols, several magazines, AK-47s, .303 rifles, among others.
Yet another FIR lodged at Heingang Police Station says along with various sophisticated arms, bulletproof jackets, seal guard helmets and fibre sticks were also stolen. The loot happened on May 4 at 5 pm.
According to an FIR lodged by Manipur Rifles on May 28, “an unruly mob of valley-based miscreants bombs, arms and ammunitions were snatched at 13:30 hours [1.30pm].”
The incharge of Irilbung police station falling under Imphal East district lodged a suo-motu FIR on May 4 stating that a mob of 2,000 people, including women, armed with “sticks and deadly weapons” vandalised the police station. Besides taking away weapons, the mob also damaged the CCTV camera and the hard disk of the CCTV.
Similarly, another mob pelted stones at Lamlai police station at Imphal Ukhrul Road on May 4 at 4:40 pm and damaged several vehicles of the police parked there. The police station incharge, in a suo-motu FIR, wrote that not only key arms and ammunition were stolen but several police personnel sustained injuries, too, in the retaliatory action which didn’t prove enough to shoo the looters away.
Several FIRs lodged on May 4 at Keikul Outpost falling under Heingang PS indicate that the miscreants not only took away the weapons but also torched public property.
Most of the police armouries now stand empty. In fact, a Manipur minister L. Susindro Meitei installed a drop box at his residence in Imphal East on June 12 asking people to put the looted arms in it in lieu of which no action would be taken against them.
“This was done because people are scared to go to the police. They are coming here and dropping the weapons freely, with no questions asked,” Telegraph quoted a locality resident as saying.
These weapons, as the FIRs also suggest, were looted in two phases – first on or before May 3, when the violence started. And subsequently, on or after May 27, when the second phase of arson took place.
Besides adding to the scale of the violence, this mass loot of weapons is also a matter of concern because Manipur is a bordering state with two regions of Myanmar.
Kuldip Singh, the security advisor that the Centre had dispatched to Mainpur, had told The Hindu on May 4 that the politicians of the state had sought more time to convince the people to surrender the weapons.
Meanwhile, armed miscreants are now also resorting to attacking the army men deployed in the state. According to a tweet issued by the Spear Corps division of the Indian Army on June 19, the assailants did unprovoked firing at Chingmang village (Senapati district) on the intervening night of June 18-19. An army man sustained injuries and was taken to the military hospital. He was reported to be stable later.
The fresh appeal of the CM, in the wake of this attack on an army man, indicates that a lot needs to be done to bring the modern weaponry of the state back to where it belonged – police and other security agencies.