curated with Iona Fergusson
[Peckham 24, Copeland Gallery, London, 13 - 15 May 2022]

[photo credit: Sabine Hess]
It often happens... people are picked upon mere suspicion, taken to army camps, stripped, tortured and then they suddenly vanish. Only a lucky few are ever spared. It has been claimed by official sources such as the Extra-Judicial Execution Victims’ Families Association of Manipur (EEVFAM) that there are well over 1528 incidents of such logged case files concerning extra-judicial killings carried out by the Armed Forces between 1979-2012 in Manipur. Many circumstances leading to the disappearances are a direct result of fictitious clashes purportedly by security forces, which are called ‘fake encounters’.
Rohit Saha

In 2016, Rohit Saha travelled to Manipur after hearing about the end of activist and poet Irom Sharmila’s 16-year hunger strike. Sharmila’s long-running protest, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), had begun in 2000, in response to the killing of ten civilians at a bus stand by the 8th Assam Rifles in the village of Malom, near to Manipur’s capital, Imphal. The incident became known as the Malom Massacre.

Once in Manipur, Saha began volunteering with the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association of Manipur (EEVFAM), an organisation set up by the victims’ widows. Sifting through and digitising archives of victim testimonies and witness accounts, he found records of state- endorsed killing stretching back thirty years. It is alleged that between 1979 and 2012, over 1528 cases of extrajudicial killings were carried out by the armed forces in Manipur. Most of the killings occurred during fictitious clashes known as ‘fake encounters’, a term used to describe extrajudicial killings claimed by law enforcement to be self-defence.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a parliamentary act used in regions of India facing alleged threats of militancy, and it allows the armed forces the power to open fire on and detain individuals without warrant, on the mere suspicion of terrorism. In Manipur, a state in North-East India often described as a ‘disturbed state’, the AFSPA has allowed the armed forces to act with impunity.

1528 is Saha’s personal documentary odyssey through these archives of violence, trauma and fear, seeking to recover long-forgotten testimonies.

The exhibition is curated by Iona Fergusson and Vincent Hasselbach.