She was 34. Born the year that I was. I knew what it meant to be that age, for a woman living in a city and pursuing a career and vibrant social life. One juggled deadlines at work and invitations to wine and cheese soirees, the struggle with self doubts and body image was giving way to a strange but unsettling peace and irreverence, making me wonder if it was the signs of menopause. But I couldn't possible imagine or know what Manorama's life was like. And yet, the news of her passing and the manner in which she was brutally murdered by security forces set me thinking and reading into the life and times of women caught in the web of militarism and violence.
The year was 2004. Thangjam Manorama had been found dead in a field, her body ridden with six bullets including one in the genitals. The forensic report found semen stains on her skirt, suggesting that she may have been raped before she died. She was pronounced a separatist leader who specialised in improvised explosive devices and security forces claimed that she was responsible for several bomb blasts by the People's Liberation Army of Manipur, a revolutionary group that was trained by some of India's neighbours and was fighting for an independent socialist state of Manipur. Her family claimed that she was a peaceful activist, though many journalists privately agreed that she did belong to an underground outfit. She was picked up from her home, without an arrest warrant and was tortured and brutalised before being killed in cold blood. Even if Manorama was guilty, she deserved a process of interrogation, court proceedings and then a jail term. Not a brutal death at the hands of uncouth men in uniform. Her death remains shrouded in controversy even today, with security forces refusing to adhere to norms, refusing to attend court hearings and taking cover under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which insulates them from the mandate of ordinary law.