Manipur’s so called ‘War on Drugs’ is getting intriguing after the acquittal of Lukhosei Zou (Accused No. 6 hereafter), the main accused in the high profile Rs. 27 crore drugs seizure case in a surprising December 17 ruling by the Special Court (ND&PS), Manipur, along with most others of his alleged accomplices arrested in the same case. The detailed 147-page ruling by the court does give a picture of an important case handled sloppily by the police, for there did seem to be some serious discrepancies in the prescribed procedures of investigating such cases. But more than these, there were even instances of statements of different police personnel involved in the raid, falsifying each other while deposing before the court. As for instance one police officer described a body search conducted on a female accused by a female constable during which contraband material from accused were recovered, but another police officer denied there was a body search done at all on the same person.
It is also surprising that the raiding party did not think of video recording their course of action on that fateful morning to fool-proof against any contrary narratives challenging their account of the sequence of events. This is especially so because mobile phone video recording devices are now in practically in every pocket, easily accessible and very user friendly too. But the court ruling has thrown up the old question yet again. Can procedural lapses completely negate facts on the ground? Court victory or no, in material terms, there is a huge consignment of narcotics substance worth Rs. 27 crores still in existence, therefore needs explanation how this came to be. It quite obviously could not have dropped from the sky or materialised from thin air, and had to belong to someone. Who then is the owner? This person would also have to be extremely rich.
Of the total of 13 who were facing trial, four had already been discharged earlier, and of the remaining, the court’s ruling acquitted all except two. Among the acquitted is Accused No. 6, a BJP politician and former chairman of the Chandel Autonomous District Council. According to the police, it was from his residence the bulk of the Rs. 27 crore drugs consignment was confiscated.
Since the case is important, and now mystifying as well after the court ruling, it deserves to be discussed further in the hope a clearer picture of what actually transpired emerges. Again, since the case involved very serious charges that would have commanded heavy penalties on the accused if convicted, their acquittal now cannot also be without legal consequences for those who had made the accusations against him. This is even more so because the court ruling seems to also be suggesting that the case is a frame up. In its own words printed on page 94 of the ruling, giving the court’s verdict on Accused No. 6, it says: “Considering all the oral evidences mentioned above, I am of the view that there was no seizure of 2,00,000/- (Two lakhs) amphetamine tablets from the barrack of the Government Quarter occupied by the accused Lukhosei Zou on 20.6.2018 at 5.15 a.m. as well as there was no seizure of such WY tablets from the possession of the accused Lukhosei Zou A6”.
Without going into the cases of all the others, let us examine the ruling in regards the main accused only. The ruling is based on the testimonies by several witnesses. All of them agree a huge amount of contraband substance was seized during the raid from the premises of the government quarter Accused No. 6 occupied. However, the descriptions by the witnesses of the raid operation at the house that led to the seizure varied. Some said the bag was pulled out of an almirah in the bedroom, without particularly specifying whose bedroom, others said the bag containing contraband substance was found during a raid at the barracks etc. These differences in the accounts of the action during the raid by the witnesses, are interpreted by the court as mutually contradictory therefore nullifying the charge made on the accused.
Often the logic of the court of law is beyond easy comprehension of lay persons. In this case too, in layman term, a contradiction would have been when one witness says there was a raid and another denies there was one. Or if one says drugs were seized, and another says this is not true. This however was not the case at all. All said there was a raid at the said quarter of Accused No. 6, and all said a large consignment of contraband substance was seized. Again, in layman logic, the accounts of the raid by these witnesses, if they did not recreate an exactly congruent picture, would still not have been treated as cancelling out each other. They would still have been seen as indicative evidences of the crime being investigated, though not conclusive ones. We are certain there would be many who wish the relevant court would explain these logics more elaborately so lay follower of the case can comprehend better. For indeed, the ruling itself seems to also be prone to similar vacillations, and those who have read the judgement will have noticed the 2 lakh tablets of what is colloquially known as World is Yours, or simply WY, are referred to in several passages as “amphetamine” and at other passages as “methamphetamine”. As even a cursory search on the internet will reveal, the two are similar in chemical content, but are not the same psychotropic substance. Using the same logic applied to the witnesses’ accounts, can this variation in naming the drug, probably inadvertently, cancel out the ruling altogether? Certainly not, but as the saying goes, what is sauce for the goose should remain sauce for the gander.
The intrigue which has developed around this case should also remind all of the problematic nature of nature of memory, therefore also witnessing. The idea of the congruence or the lack of it between history and memory is indeed one of the hot areas of academic researches in the post-enlightenment world, especially in the study of trauma experiences. The fact is, memory is not camera, and therefore not completely objective. It is influenced by the state of emotion an individual, and in extreme states of emotional agitation, people can remember things that did not happen in a phenomenon known as confabulation, just as much as they can forget what happened in bouts of amnesia. Memory also has the tendency of filling up gaps between related sequence of events registered in the brain so that the narrative of the totality of the particular experience becomes coherent. All these happen not necessarily because anybody is dishonest or is lying, but because this is the way the brain’s response to external stimuli is moderated by its own expectations, aspirations, anxieties etc. To take a simple example, five people walking into a market together at the same time will not obviously come back remembering all the things sold in the market, but they will also not necessarily remember the same things on display. What each of them remembers most will depend on the things each was interested in, and therefore on the alert of. This is at the crux of what has been described as the crisis of witnessing by academics of repute working in the field such as Soshana Felman, Dori Laub, Saul Friedlander, Pierre Nora, Cathy Caruth and so many more trauma scholars. Memory is indeed a very important input for history, but in its raw state, it cannot be a complete and ultimate evidence. The general and most current consensus is, for memory to become accepted as conclusive historical evidence, it needs to be first put through the filters of psychoanalysis.
In the heat of the discussions about the court ruling in the case in question, what is paramount and must also not be lost sight of is, witnesses cannot change the reality. Even if they completely and antagonistically disagree on what happened, the reality that there is a consignment of drugs worth Rs. 27 crores in hand cannot be altered. To use an easy-to-understand analogy, if the opinions of two people who have visited Japan differ diametrically, one calling the country beautiful and the other ugly, it cannot mean Japan does not exist. It only would mean the matter of Japan’s beauty is yet to reach a consensus, therefore the need for further scrutiny of the issue at hand before an acceptable answer emerges.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author