Arrest of 11-year-old girl latest human rights violation in Manipur

An 11-year-old girl is being treated for shock in the Indian state of Manipur after spending five days in police custody. Bidyarani Devi Salam was taken from her home by security forces on the morning of 14 August.

“Amnesty International calls for an immediate investigation and action against the policemen responsible for carrying out this shameful act,” said Madhu Malhotra, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Amnesty Programme.

Local human rights organizations have alleged that the police abducted the minor girl to make her parents – who were suspected of helping local armed opposition groups – give themselves up.

“A minor girl being targeted by armed forces to justify their action against armed opposition groups is an unacceptable act and should not be tolerated under any circumstances,” said Madhu Malhotra.

“It’s high time that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which gives immunity to security and paramilitary forces in conflict with armed opposition groups, is repealed.”

The police maintain that they had taken the girl for medical treatment after she fainted during their visit to her house to search for her parents. However, the police could not explain why she was not sent to a children’s home or to a hospital for treatment.

Bidyarani Devi Salam was released and handed over to relatives on Thursday, after police had arrested her parents under suspicion of helping the Manipur People’s Liberation Army.

On Thursday evening she was being treated at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Manipur. Doctors said it was too early for a diagnosis and that she was under observation. Mala Lisam, the Manipur state coordinator of Childline, said child welfare organizations are now deciding how to help her.

This is the second time in a month that Manipur has come under sharp focus for gross violations of human rights. On 23 July, Manipur police and security forces shot dead a 27-year-old unarmed former militant, Chungkam Sanjit, and a pregnant woman bystander in the main market of Manipur.

Manipur chief minister, Ibobi Singh, has ordered a judicial inquiry into the 23 July killings and suspended six policemen. However, the policemen are yet to be formally charged with murder. A court has given the state government until 25 August to file formal charges.

On 4 and 5 August, police detained seven human rights activists including three women after they led peaceful protests to the state governor’s residence, seeking the dismissal of the policemen for the murders and the filing of formal charges against them.

“Instead of taking legal action against the security forces committing gross human rights violations the state has chosen to punish local activists for peacefully raising their voices to seek justice,” said Madhu Malhotra.

Manipur has witnessed recurrent protests against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which gives immunity to security and paramilitary forces in the conflict with armed militias.

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have repeatedly demanded the repeal of this legislation which went against India’s international obligations to protect human rights.