The Supreme Court on July 31 was met with silence from the Centre and Manipur government about the number of FIRs registered on crimes against women in the State from May till date during ethnic clashes.
While hearing the case of two women who were on video sexually assaulted and paraded by a mob in Manipur, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud noted that the May 4 incident was not an isolated one. “This is apparent from the Home Secretary’s affidavit. As much as we want to give justice to the two women, we want to put in a mechanism where justice is available to all other women. We have to put in a mechanism to ensure complaints are filed, FIRs are lodged.”
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the two women victims objected to Centre’s move of transfering the case to CBI. The women had also objected to the government’s request to transfer the case to Assam
However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the Centre had never sought the transfer of the case to Assam. Mr. Mehta clarified that the Centre had sought transfer to anywhere the court thinks fit.
Mr. Sibal sought an independent agency to be constituted by the top court to investigate the May 4 incident. Meanwhile, Mr. Mehta said that the Union Government had no objection if the Supreme Court monitored the investigation.
Mr. Sibal further alleged “collaboration” between the State Police and the mob. He drew his submission from statements by the witness. “The police, instead of taking the women away from the mob, took them towards the crowd and abandoned them to their fate. One of the woman has lost her father and brother to the mob’s violence. There is no information still about their bodies,” he submitted.
The Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the video on July 20.
Mr. Sibal added that only after the court took cognisance the State acted. “There may be a number of incidents like this. It is a very sorry state of affairs if the Centre and State have not informed the Attorney General and the Solicitor General of the number FIRs registered so far.”
The video went viral on social media, leading the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the May 4 incident besides giving the Centre and the Manipur government an ultimatum to either bring the culprits to justice or make way for the court to step in.
The listing of their petition coincides with that of others on the Manipur violence. The same Bench will also hear an affidavit filed by the Centre informing the court that the case of the two women had been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation with the consent of the State government.
Too heinous, says Centre’s affidavit
In the affidavit, the Home Ministry said that what happened to the women in Thoubal district on May 4 was “too heinous”. It said the crime called for a kind of justice that should be “seen to be done” and have a deterrent effect throughout the nation.
Seven men had been arrested and were in police custody, the Ministry said in the seven-page affidavit.
The Centre has also requested the court to transfer the case to another State. It said the investigation ought to be completed at the earliest and trial conducted in a time-bound manner.
The government has urged the court to direct that the trial be concluded within six months from the date of the filing of the charge sheet.
The Ministry affidavit assured the court that the Centre had zero tolerance towards crimes against women.
It also mentioned the government’s inability to get in touch with either of the two women in person or on the telephone. The Home Ministry said the State government had already formulated “rehabilitative measures” for the women and was willing to provide them expert medical care at a place of their choice, anonymity, security, legal aid, avenues for further education and livelihood assistance, etc
Further, the Centre had said that instructions had been given to the police to mandatorily report such incidents or cases to the Director General of Police as a step to prevent recurrence.
Reward for informants
The Ministry said informants, whistleblowers who provided information of such incidents and helped nab absconding culprits would be rewarded.
On July 20, Chief Justice Chandrachud had summoned both the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, the two topmost law officers of the government in the country, to convey that the court was “deeply disturbed” by the visuals of a woman paraded naked and sexually assaulted in strife-ridden Manipur.
The Chief Justice, speaking for the court, had given the Centre and the Manipur government an ultimatum to either bring the perpetrators to book or step aside for the judiciary to take action.
Taking suo motu cognisance of the video, the court had said the visuals indicated “gross constitutional violations and infractions of human rights”.
“Using a woman as an instrument of perpetrating violence in a charged atmosphere is simply unacceptable in a constitutional democracy,” the court had emphasised in its order.
Chief Justice Chandrachud had said it did not matter if the video was not a recent one and dated back to May.
“What matters is that this is just simply unacceptable… This is the grossest of constitutional and human rights,” the Chief Justice had observed.