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Kidnappers In Khaki

Posted by Admin on August 29, 2009

Manipur’s security forces detain an 11-year-old girl to force her parents out of hiding. TERESA REHMAN reports on the insurgency’s latest victim
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Battlelines The unending clash between security forces and civilians in Manipur has ruined the fabric of the state Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY

FOUR DAYS after personnel from a combined team of the Imphal West Commandoes and 12th Maratha Light Infantry picked her up from her home in Imphal Mayang, 11-year-old Salam Bidyarani Devi lies listless at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Imphal. Tended to by five aged women, Bidyarani complains of breathlessness, murmurs incoherently and stares into nothingness. She’s so afraid of strangers that she refuses to let the five women — one of whom is her grandmother — leave her bedside.

Bidyarani, a Class VI student of Immanuel Grace Academy in Nongmaikhong was picked up by security forces on August 14 when they came looking for her parents for allegedly harbouring militants and hiding their ammunition. Since her parents were not at home at the time of the incident, Bidyarani was taken to the Imphal Mayang police station and later admitted to a private clinic at night. She was released on August 18 after police arrested her parents.

The Bidyarani case has attracted global attention and Amnesty International has called for an immediate investigation and action against the policemen involved in the incident. “The targeting of a minor by armed forces is a shameful act. It is a direct violation of the Child Rights Convention. All law enforcement agencies should be trained to deal with children. A lot of things could have been avoided in this case,” said Madhu Malhotra, a Deputy Program Director of Amnesty International to TEHELKA.

Salam Bidyarani was released on August 18 only after police arrested her parents

The police, however, maintain that the girl was not arrested. They claim she was hospitalised after she fainted on seeing the team arrive at her house to search it. They say that because her parents had fled and there was nobody to attend to her, she was accompanied by her grandmother to the clinic. The police statement further states that at about 3:30pm on August 15, when the girl’s condition improved, she was brought to Imphal Mayang police station along with her grandmother for safe custody. Police claim that since nobody came to ask for Bidyarani and because her grandmother refused to take her home “fearing a gun battle between the security forces and militants,” she stayed at the police station till August 18 when she was finally handed her over to her maternal uncle.

But the police version is questionable. A joint team of Childline Imphal, the Child Welfare Committees of Imphal West and Thoubal district and a representative of the state’s Social Welfare Department on August 19 conducted an on-the-spot enquiry. A copy of the findings of the enquiry (available with TEHELKA) clearly states that Bidyarani was forcefully picked up by the security forces after a prolonged scuffle between them and the women of the neighbourhood. Women constables were called only when the combined team was about to leave the place with the detained child. The report also states that though she was detained at about 9:30am, she was admitted at the clinic only at 3:00 pm (as per the clinic’s record). In the five-and-a-half hours she was with the security forces, she remained unconscious. Even though she urgently needed medical attention, the 11-year-old was kept at the police station. What is startling is that Bidyarani was admitted to a private clinic instead of the government primary health centre, which is much closer to the police station.

‘THE POLICE VIOLATED THE JUVENILE JUSTICE ACT. SHE IS COMPLETELY TRAUMATISED.’

ANNIE NANGSATABAM,
Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee

AFTER SHE WAS discharged from the clinic on the following day (August 15) at about 9:00 am, Bidyarani was taken to the Imphal Mayang Police Station by some uniformed women constables. When she and her grandmother insisted that they be allowed to return home, they were told that she would be freed only after her parents were handed over to the police. When the investigating team visited the Imphal Mayang Police Station where Bidyarani was detained, they found out that she had been made to stay in a cramped room. She was released on August 18, 2009 – only after her parents were arrested.

On August 23, a protest rally was taken out in Nongmaikhong area by school students denouncing Bidyarani’s detention. They demanded that the government rehabilitate the girl and bear the cost of her treatment. They also called for a judicial inquiry into the incident.

Annie Nangsatabam, chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, Imphal West who was part of the enquiry team told TEHELKA that this was a clear case of police highhandedness. “She was kept in conditions not permitted by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2006. It’s a violation of her rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She is completely traumatised,” she says. Nangsatabam adds that they would pressurise the government to ensure that the rights of children are not violated like this anymore and stated that the use of children as pawns in counter-insurgency operations must end. From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 35, Dated September 05, 2009

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