10 people were killed in the firing in November, 2000
The Manipur High Court has ordered Rs 5 lakh compensation for each of the families of 10 people killed by the Assam Rifles in November 2000, in what was later alleged to be a fake encounter. But for the families of those who were killed 14 years ago, compensation is just the first step towards justice.
The incident became famous as the 'Malom massacre', and prompted Irom Sharmila to start her hunger strike, that continues till this day against the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that grants immunity to security forces when they operate in disturbed areas.
Among those killed were Sinam Manichandra's two brothers and aunt who were waiting at a bus stop on the outskirts of Imphal.
"At one point I felt pretty satisfied that the 10 people who were brutally murdered on November 2 were proven innocent by the law. But on the other hand, I was expecting the Assam Rifles should be punished by the law," Manichandra said.
While troops of the Assam Rifles claim they were exchanging fire with extremists after its convoy came under attack, the High Court observed there was no evidence of any encounter.
Though the court has ordered compensation, victims' lawyer says they may move court again for criminal charges against the forces involved in the killings.
"There may be some legal hurdles like delaying in giving sanction for prosecution or even refusing to even do so by the central government. But we will fight it out because we now have the judicial foundation and clear judicial findings that there was no encounter at all," said lawyer S Lakhikanta Singh.
Manipur's troubled environment, beset by extremism, has meant many killings over the years, both at the hands of extremists and security forces. A Supreme Court appointed commission recently investigated about 10 encounters by security forces in the state, and said all of them were fake. This judgement by the High Court is yet another ray of hope for families who say their relatives who were killed, are innocent.