INDIA: Public official’s escorts assault High Court lawyer in Manipur

The Asian Human Rights Commission has taken note of the aggressive treatment meted out to Mr. Sevananda Laimayum by a Government official and his escorts. Mr. Sevananda Laimayum is an advocate, serving as the treasurer in the High Court of Manipur’s Bar Association. According to news reports, at around 5:10 pm on the 29th of June of 2018, Mr. Sevananda and his colleague were driving along the Sanjenthong bridge. While waiting for the heavy traffic to subside, there was an envoy of vehicles trying to make way. It was Mr. Suresh Babu, the Chief Secretary of Manipur, and his escort party making their way through the busy road from the opposite direction and they were trying to cut through to the lane of Babupura, MLA Quarter. Caught up in the midst of this, Mr. Sevananda was subjected to loud honking by the Chief Secretary’s driver. He was continuously asked by the driver to make way, even though the traffic flow was halted by the traffic police. When he could not do so, the driver abused him in foul language. Next, the Chief Secretary’s escort personnel got out of their vehicles and attempted to physically assault Mr. Sevananda.

This is not a one-off incident. In May 2015, Mr. Amitabh, a Sub-Inspector, was assaulted in front of his children and family, by the escorts of the former speaker, Mr. Lokeshwar. This was also not the first time that Mr. Sevananda has faced such harassment, he was previously assaulted in 2014 by two men who were following his vehicle and one of them turned out to be a commando with the Manipur Police.

In the present incident, the Government of Manipur has initiated a departmental inquiry upon the driver but has however failed to conduct an inquiry upon the Chief Secretary of Manipur, who is ultimately responsible over his escorts. The driver has been held to bear the responsibility of the happenings of that day, leaving Mr. Suresh Babu free from any liability.

This comes at a time when there has been a crackdown of VIP culture by the Central Government of India. In 2017, the Government of India ordered a ban on red beacons for government officials from the 1st of May, with only the Prime Minister, President, Vice-President, Chief Justice of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker being allowed the use of the same. The Government of Manipur should instruct its officials not to cause undue hassle to the common man and to follow the law. Government officials are citizens of India and must be treated the same as other citizens of the country.

This case shows the rampant abuse of power by state officials, especially army and police officers, and the lack of accountability, that allows them to continue to harass civilians and the people of this country. State officials are not above the law of the land the rule of law mandates that state officials cannot demand the right of way, in contravention of traffic rules and by harassing people on the road. This case also highlights the inequity of power structures that allow its exploitation to flourish without a check. The AHRC urges the Government of Manipur to take stringent action against the state officials who tried to abuse their power and harassed a lawyer in Manipur.