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Why Manipur Security Forces Are Concerned About Fake Military Uniforms & Gear

Weapons and gear resembling military outfits were recovered in combing ops over the last 2 weeks.

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Amid the ongoing ethnic unrest between the Meiteis and the Kukis in Manipur, security agencies in the state now have a new problem to deal with – civilians and militants allegedly posing as security personnel using fake military outfits.

And their fears, perhaps, are not unfounded. Combing operations launched by security personnel in various parts of the state over the last two weeks have led to the recovery of weapons and gear resembling military outfits, which were allegedly looted by civilians from police stations and armouries, an Assam Rifles officer claimed to The Quint.

There have also been some recorded instances of misuse of uniforms by suspected militants, leading to the loss of civilian lives.

Snapshot
  • On 13 September, three unarmed tribal villagers – all Kukis were travelling from Kanchup Ponlen village in Manipur's Senapati district to the headquarters of the neighbouring Kangpokpi district for medical treatment – were allegedly shot dead by suspected militants disguised as police commandos.

  • On 8 September, several armed individuals wearing black commando outfits were among the large mob that fired at villagers in Pallel in the Tenugoupal district. Three people were killed and over 50 others, including an Indian Army Major, were hurt in the incident.

The Assam Rifles officer claimed that in the past, too, banned/proscribed terror outfits in the state have used this 'ploy' to attack civilians.

However, armed civilian volunteers told The Quint on the condition of anonymity they have their own reasons for donning military outfits – ranging from self-defence to the uniform lending them "an air of credibility."

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The Haul of Fake Military Outfits

A Manipur Police officer told Hindustan Times that over the past 12 days, a joint team of Manipur Police and security forces recovered around 100 fake military uniforms, military boots, 11 walkie-talkies, three radio sets, tear gas shells, as well as 80 bulletproof vests in searches across villages in both the hill and valley districts of the state.

The officer added that the recovery of fake military uniforms, bulletproof vests, wireless sets, and walkie-talkies show "how civilians were posing as security personnel during the ethnic clashes."

In fact, according to local news reports, there is a rising demand for military gear/outfits and they are being sold openly in Imphal, which is dominated by the majority Meitei community, and Churachandpur, which is dominated by the Kuki community and is the epicentre of the clashes.

A shopkeeper based in Imphal, speaking to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, said that the gear is procured from three places – Delhi, Silchar, and Guwahati.

The shopkeeper added that while the tactical vests cost about Rs 2,000-2,500 depending on the size, the boots and the headgear cost about Rs 500 each, and the uniform around Rs 800.

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Manipur security advisor IPS Kuldeep Singh (retd) explained to The Quint that stopping shopkeepers from selling such outfits is a tough task.

"There is no law which states that selling army uniform is not permitted or is punishable. Such uniforms, in fact, are even available online nowadays. So, to stop shopkeepers from doing so in Imphal and Churachandpur is tough since we have no basis for it. We are closely monitoring the situation and have apprehended some people who have been found misusing the uniform," he added.

What Are Security Forces Concerned?

This open sale of counterfeit gear has worried security agencies for primarily two reasons:

  • First, they fear that civilians having easy access to these uniforms will make it harder for the forces to distinguish between them and civilians. As per the Manipur Police, 162 Army columns have been deployed across Manipur. This is in addition to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Border Security Force (BSF), who have been deployed at 133 checkpoints in sensitive areas. In such a scenario, there are fears about potential impersonation of personnel.

  • Second, after violence erupted in May across the state, grassroots "village defence" forces have come up across Manipur in both Meitei and Kuki-dominated areas. These armed volunteers, too, mostly don the same uniform as the security agencies.

"It is getting harder to distinguish these days between the armed volunteers and an officer of the Army. It is just making our jobs harder."
Assam Rifles officer
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Why Civilians Are Wearing Fake Uniforms

Speaking to The Quint, John Haokip (name changed), a Kuki village volunteer, said: "I volunteered to protect my village as the state is not doing its job. There is no one to protect us. Donning the uniform lends us an air of authority and credibility."

"It helps us in two ways," he adds. "First, it helps us against attack from the Meiteis. And second, it also protects us against atrocities from the security forces. Let's face it, the security agencies of mainland India have not always had the best of relationship with the Manipuris (both Meiteis and Kukis). Excesses committed by these forces are well-documented. The outfit, therefore, acts as a deterrent against the excesses."

In July, the Manipur Police had circulated instructions to all its units to ensure that the black Manipur Police Commando uniform was not misused, after reports suggested that armed rioters were "wearing them to create mistrust," according to Hindustan Times.

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Topics:  Assam Rifles   manipur   Security Forces 

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