Irom Sharmila -On hunger strike for 12 years , will continue


 

 

Irom Sharmila in India’s Manipur state is force-fed in detention, but refuses to give up protest against draconian Act.
Subir Bhaumik Last Modified: 08 Nov 2012, Al Jazeera 

Irom Sharmila has been demanding the repeal of a law that allows troops to act with impunity [AFP]

Frail and suffering after being on fast for more than 12 years, Irom Sharmila proclaims she will die on hunger strike unless India repeals the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) .

The AFSPA gives security forces sweeping powers,including the power to shoot people dead on mere suspicion, while operating in areas afflicted by rebellions – like in Sharmila’s Manipur state on India’s far eastern border with Myanmar (Burma).

“How can men in uniform enjoy such powers in a democracy which they so often misuse? This Act must be repealed if India  is serious about its democracy. Or else, I will continue my hunger-strike until I die,” says the frail Sharmila , who turned 40 on March 14 this year.

On November 2, 2000, troops of India’s elite counter-insurgency force Assam Rifles opened indiscriminate fire on a market at Malom near Manipur’s state capital Imphal. Ten civilians were killed on the spot – among them a 60-year-old woman and three teenage boys, one of whom had won the Prime Minister’s Award for Bravery.

The Assam Rifles forces were upset after one of Manipur’s more than a dozen rebel groups attacked one of their patrols – but the people they killed in retaliation were innocent civilians who had no involvement in the attack.

“That was a Thursday, the day I used to fast every week. I was so shocked by the massacre at Malom that I just decided to continue my fast unless the draconian law was repealed,” Sharmila said, lying on her bed in the Imphal hospital, where she is held in “judicial custody” and force-fed every day through a tube in her nose to keep her alive.

“This is a symbolic fight for the people of Manipur who have suffered so much at the hands of the security forces. Hundreds of our boys and girls have been killed on mere suspicion of being rebels. This is possible because the
AFSPA gives so much power to the security forces. This Act must go,” she said.

Brother Irom Singhajit Singh recalls that his sister had one last supper with pastries and sweets, then touched her mother’s feet to seek her blessings to begin the epic fast.

Popular weapon

Hunger strike has been a popular weapon of protest in India since Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, popularised it during the anti-colonial struggle. But nobody has been on fast longer than Sharmila.

Manipur has been ravaged by four decades of separatist insurgency, with close to a dozen groups involved in fighting Indian forces and, often, amongst themselves. Thousands have died – among them, many young men and women killed on mere suspicion of involvement with the rebel groups.

Once in a while, Manipur has erupted over such killings, as it happened eight years ago, when another young girl Thangjam Manorama was allegedly raped and shot by the Assam Rifles soldiers and left to die on a village road.

The Indian federal government set up a high power committee to look into the popular demand of scrapping the AFSPA, perhaps to pacify the people’s anger.

“The government has just one agenda now. To keep Sharmila alive , because if she dies, there may be an uproar.”

– Babloo Loithongbam, Human Rights activist

The five-member committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge Jeevan Reddy, unanimously recommended for repeal of the draconian AFSPA.

But under severe pressure from the Army and the para-military forces, the federal government backed off, even refusing to place the committee’s report for discussion in the parliament.

The Army says that it cannot operate against armed rebels unless covered by this AFSPA.

“Either keep the AFSPA and allow us to use it or don’t involve us in counter-insurgency operations. We will be happy to be back in our barracks,” says former Indian Army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury .

For the past 50 years, the Indian army and its para-military troops have battled scores of rebel groups in the country’s troubled Northeastern states, a region considered strategic by Delhi because it is hemmed in between Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

Last year, a group of 25 civil rights activists from across the country, went on a long march from the rebellion-scarred state of Jammu and Kashmir all the way to Manipur on the India-Myanmar border to draw attention to Sharmila’s epic fast and the cause for which she has sacrificed her youth.

The protest march attracted global media attention and rights activists across the world came out to express solidarity with Sharmila’s epic hunger strike to demand scrapping of the controversial AFSPA.

But it had no effect on Delhi as the Indian government conveniently turned the other way, retaining the AFSPA and ignoring the march and the world’s longest hunger strike.

“The government has just one agenda now. To keep Sharmila alive, because if she dies, there may be an uproar,” says Manipur’s leading human rights activist Babloo Loithongbam.

The ‘Iron Lady of Manipur

Three days after she started her hunger strike, Irom Sharmila was arrested and charged with “attempting to commit suicide”. Since then, she has been force-fed through a tube in her nose. Every year, she is released once and then promptly re-arrested on the same charges and the routine goes on.

Back in her heavily-guarded hospital ward, Sharmila is unmoved and determined to carry forward her struggle.

“I fast until the AFSPA goes. I have not wasted 12 years of my life to back off. Either my people live with respect or I don’t eat,” says Irom Sharmila, now called the “Iron Lady of Manipur” for her historic feat.

Brother Singhajit remembers his sister as being “always different “.

“She was always modest with few friends, never liked to dress up or use jewellery. She read religious books, practiced yoga and naturopathy,” he says. “She has not changed a bit.”

In her years of hunger strike, Sharmila has won many awards, including one for lifetime achievement from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has promised to take up her case before the United Nations.

“I will do my duty, I will do what I have to for my people, without really bothering what happens.”

– Irom Sharmila

Two Indian politicial parties, the Trinamul Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI(M-L), have supported Sharmila’s cause and her hunger strike, joining the chorus for scrapping the controversial AFSPA.

But while the Trinamul Congress rules the eastern state of West Bengal and has some lawmakers in northeastern states like Sharmila’s home state Manipur, the CPI(M-L) is on the margins of Indian politics.

In recent weeks, the chief minister of the troubled northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, who represents the regional party, National Conference, has pitched in to support Sharmila’s demand for scrapping the AFSPA.  Abdullah says the Act is often misused by security forces while fighting rebel groups and civilians end up as victims of their excesses.

But no major political party in India has so far come out in support of the “Iron Lady” who is making history by her unique protest.

That does not worry Sharmila much.

“I will do my duty, I will do what I have to for my people, without really bothering what happens,” says Sharmila.

#Irom Sharmila completes 12 years of Fasting , Anna Hazare’s fast……


आज मेरा रोम रोम चीख रहा है 
एरोम तुम्हारे लिए
चीख पुकार तो कब से दबी थी
गुस्सा भी चीख चीख के निकला था
vt स्टेशन पे तुम्हारी रिहाई की गुहार लगाकर
मानों तन और मनं ऐसा थरका था
लोगों को तुम्हारे बारे में बताना
लोगों को अफ्प्सा काले कानून के बारे में बता कर
मानो मनं कुछ तो हल्का हुआ था

लेकिन कुछ दिन से इस देश की गुहार देखकर 
अन्ना हजारे पर प्यार देख कर
देश के कोने कोने से भर्ष्टाचार के यह एक आवाज़ सुनकर
खुश तो हूँ,
पर मेरा दिल चीख चीख के रो रहा है
मेरा दिमाग, मेरा तन…. इस क्रांति पे खुश है
पर मेरा दिल मेरा साथ नहीं है
मेरा दिल तम्हारे पास है इरोम
वोह तुम्हारे लिए रो रहा है
वोह इस देश को समझ नहीं पा रहा है
आखिर एक दिल है……

तुम दस सालसे भी ज्यादा से भूख हड़ताल पे हो
तुम्हारे साथ एक भी भारतवासी नहीं आया
तुम AFSPA के काले कानून के खिलाफ हो
तुम्हें किसी ने नहीं अपनाया

किसी को मत बताना इरोम
यह एक ऐसी पहेली है
जिसका जवाब इंसानों के साथ बदलता हैं
हम अन्ना हजारे के साथ है
यह हमारी देश भक्ति है
हम अन्ना हजरे के साथ है
हम आम जनता के साथ है

जब हम तुम्हारे साथ है 
हम देशद्रोही है
जब तुम्हारे साथ हैं
हम फ़ौज और जवानों के खिलाफ है
हम इस देश की सुरक्षा के खिलाफ है

भ्रष्टाचार तो बचपन से हमें
हमारी किताबों में भी एक गलत चीज़ है बताया गया है
पर इरोम, देश भक्ति हमें
केवल अपने देश को बचाना ही सिखाएगी

देश, फ़ौज , पोलिस—देश भक्ति का अटूट अंग बन गए हैं
वह मेरी तुम्हरी लड़ाई में हमारे दुश्मन बन गए हैं
भ्रष्टाचार में लाखों करोड़ों के घपले हैं
पर अफ्प्सा , जैसे काले कानून के कारण
इस देश भक्ति के कारण
लाखों करोड़ों देशवासी मौत की नीद सो गए गए है
उनके मरने से उनके परिवार भी मर गए हैं
और हम सब उनको आतंकवादी के नाम देकर….
देशभक्ति का प्रमाण देकर कहीं सो गए

इरोम, हम सरकार की इस बर्बरता को
देशभक्ति के परदे में देख नहीं पाते
कब हमारे देश वासी जागेंगे
और हम देश वासी बाद में , पहले इंसान है
इस एहसास को जान पायेंगे

कब इरोम कब 
कब हजारों लाखों तुम्हारे साथ भी
भूख हड़ताल पे जायेंगे
कब इरोम कब
हमारे देशवासी
इस देशभक्ति का
मुखोटा हटाएँगे

अन्ना हजारे तुम्हारी जीत हो गयी है
तुम्हारे ८५ घंटों के अनशन से
लोकपाल बिल आएगा…….
इरोम शर्मीला के दशक के अनशन पे
AFPSA हटा नहीं है
अन्ना क्या आप इरोम के साथ बैठोगे ?
क्या आप कानून के नाम पर जो लहू बह रहा है ?
उसको रोक पाओगे ?

( This poem I wrote last year in april after the Anna illusion began )

English Translation

Today every pore of my body is screaming 
For you Irom
The screams were suppressed since when…
Anger was coming out in my screams and protests
As I was screaming and shouting for your release at VT station
My being had shaken within
To tell people about you, what you stand for
To tell people about draconian law AFPSA
I felt lighter

For the past few days the country has been screaming
I am happy to see
All the love being doled out to Anna Hazare
To hear voice against corruption
From nook and corner of each city
I am happy to see
But my heart is crying
My brain is happy thinking about this Anna revolution
But my heart is not with me
My heart is with you Irom
It is crying for you
And it is unable to understand the sentiments of this country

After all it’s a HEART
You have been on hunger strike for more than a decade
But not a single Indian came with you
You were against the black law of AFPSA
But no one owned you

Do not tell anyone Irom
This is a riddle
Whose answer changes with people?
If we are with Anna Hazare
We are true patriots
If we are with Anna Hazare
We are with the common people

When we are with you
We are traitors
When we are with you
We are against our army, our soldiers
We are against the national security
Corruption has been embedded as a bad trait
Since our childhood in our text books

But Irom, patriotism
Only teaches us to defend our country
Nation, army, police are inherent features of patriotism
They have become enemies in our fight for freedom

There have been many scams of crores under the banner of corruption
Because of AFSPA, BECAUSE OF THS PATRIOTISM
Lakhs and crores of Indians have been killed
Their families have also died eventually
And we have given them the certificate of terrorists
Very conveniently and gone to sleep in the bed of patriotism

Irom, we are unable to see the human rights violation of government
Under the garb of patriotism
When will my countrymen awaken, to the fact that
We are humans first, and Indians later

When Irom, when
Lakhs of people will join you in your hunger strike?
When Irom, when
Will our people remove the
Mask of patriotism?

Anna Hazare, you have won
After 85 hours of your FAST
The Lokpal Bill will be implemented
After a decade of your fast
Still the AFSPA has not been repealed
Anna will you sit with Irom?
Will you be able to stop the bloodshed
In the name of law?

Listen to my recitation at CGNET SWARA

Kabir Suman recites the Bangla Translation of my poem

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

 

‘ #Irom Sharmila feels fasting is what she is meant to do in life’


Irom Sharmila in her hospital ward prison

Rediff.com, Nov 5, 2012

Today, Irom Sharmila, the Manipur civil rights activist, marks 12 years of her fast in protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state. She remains in judicial custody where she continues to be force-fed through her nose.

Deepti Priya Mehrotra, author of Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur, recalls her association with the Iron Lady of Manipur.

I met her initially in October 2006 in Delhi just to pay my respects. But I kept going back to her, and met her on multiple occasions in the months to come. I found that she was extremely friendly and takes great interest in people and things around her.

She is very attractive, and is very sharp, quick and reactive. We hit it off and started chatting the instant we met. She really wants to know so much. She asked me questions about myself and asked what I teach — who were my students, how I travelled. I found that she preferred to do things the economical way; she would have preferred the bus.

She also started telling me about her own family. She is the youngest of nine brothers and sisters. She is very close to her family and extended family members who all live nearby in a village at the edge of Imphal.

She spoke very fondly of Manipur — her motherland, her birthplace, and has a sense of deep commitment, passion and involvement for it. She is also very close to many people in different generations of her extended family. She was readily involved with what other people in her family did, like spinning. She also liked to walk, and used to cycle around in Manipur.

She told me about her early school days. She said she didn’t like books in school.

Sharmila studied till class XII, and never went to college. The problem with text books, she said, was that they didn’t tell her anything about real life.

I feel the violence she witnessed triggered her poetry. She just couldn’t accept the violence and wanted to do something about it.

And then, one day, after the massacre at Malom village [an alleged encounter by Assam Rifles resulted in the death of 10 people in November 2000], she decided she had to do something. The next morning, she sought blessings from her mother and her elder brother, and the long fast began. I don’t feel that she could have gauged how long the fast would be. I doubt if she still thinks about it.

But she surely is very fond of food. When I met her in a jail in Imphal in 2007, the first question she asked me was if I had tasted Manipuri curries. She said she would cook for me once and then explained the dishes and ingredients in much detail.

She does have some skills in cooking. She is a vegetarian, a rarity in her family and the community.

Coming back to her education, Sharmila never attended college even though she experimented with many options after school. She learnt tailoring, worked with a social group for blind children, but it was her assignment a month before taking up the fast that I believe led her to a very strong belief in what she was doing.

The human rights group she was part of trained her for a few weeks about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and then she went along with this team to meet a cross-section of people. I feel it must have brought her to a kind of boiling point. She saw rape victims, spoke to them, went to villages where people had disappeared.

Irom Sharmila is produced at the chief judicial magistrate's court in Imphal every fortnight

I feel that she also connected very deeply with the Meira Paibis, a group of old local women, who have traditionally saved the community from alcohol and drugs, and later from the atrocities by the armed forces. This group is very special to Manipuri society and is present in every village. I feel she felt very strongly connected to them.

But as a person, I often think of her as a very quiet girl, sitting quietly in a corner, observing, feeling and thinking, and taking everything in. She is a very vibrant person, very warm, polite and close to nature.

She was briefly shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi in 2006, and could move around in a garden closeby. I remember one evening, she saw a squirrel and wanted to know everything about it.

During her stay in Delhi, I always found a pile of book neatly stacked next to her bed. Among those books was a Quran, the Bible, Upanishads, books on Buddhism, religion and poetry. She also read Manipuri newspaper and Japanese folk stories.

I think she was really happy when she was in Delhi, because she could meet people. But when she is imprisoned in Manipur, she is not allowed to meet anybody. I mean, she is arrested every year on charges of trying to commit suicide because she refuses to eat. She has not been arrested as a political prisoner.

And so she is imprisoned for a maximum duration of one year, freed for a few days, and then arrested again.

You would be surprised to know that she has neither spoken to nor met her mother ever since she undertook the fast. She believes that her mother would be very unhappy with her not eating and that might make her weak. Her mother has not met her for the same reasons.

There is a small hut a little distance away from the prison in Imphal. Each year she stays in that hut for while, before she is re-arrested. And her demand is a single sentence: repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state.

I have often asked her family members the question: where does she get her strength from? And I remember her elder brother once said to me, “I will tell you where she gets her strength from. It’s our grandmother.” Her grandmother lived for 104 years.(Smiles)

Lots of people suspect that people pressurise her to stay her on fast. Also because the fast has been very effective, there is no doubt that it brought international attention to the state and its people.

But I don’t think she feels any pressure to continue it. The government and the authorities would love it if she breaks the fast. They will immediately grant her bail and close the case. It has become a big irritant for the government.

She feels that undertaking the fast is what she is meant to do in life. She believes deeply that that’s her purpose, and that’s what God wants her to do.

As told to Priyanka.

 

Image: Irom Sharmila in her hospital ward prison
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

 

#India- #Irom Sharmila completes 12 years of protest against AFSPA MANIPUR #draconianlaw


,Posted on Nov 05, 2012 at 12:22pm IST

Imphal: Irom Sharmila, Manipur‘s ‘Iron Lady‘, on Monday completed 12 years of protest demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). On an indefinite fast, Sharmila, who is force-fed through the nose to keep her alive began her fast till death after ten persons, including a boy who received the national bravery award, were shot dead in an alleged encounter with Assam Rifles personnel at Malom near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000.

A newspaper columnist and social worker then, Sharmila, went on fast on November 5 that year demanding repeal of AFSPA. She was arrested a day later and charged with attempt to commit suicide. Since then she has been produced in court from time to time, rearrested and produced again in court.

She is force fed at a government hospital at Porompat where the ward she is in has been converted into a jail. Sharmila has received several global awards and several prominent personalities from different parts of the country have visited her in support of her demands.

Her brother and spokesman Irom Singhajit said social organisations including Just Peace Foundation would hold candlelight demonstrations in Imphal while public discussions would be held during the day. Official sources said security and police forces would be deployed in various parts of the city as a precautionary measure.

On eve of 12th anniversary of Sharmila’s fast, activists protest government apathy


 

Staff Reporter, The Hindu

The ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ Irom Chanu Sharmila, began her hunger strike after the death of 10 people in an alleged encounter with the Assam Rifles at Malom in Imphal Valley. File photo
The Hindu The ‘Iron Lady of ManipurIrom Chanu Sharmila, began her hunger strike after the death of 10 people in an alleged encounter with the Assam Rifles at Malom in Imphal Valley. File photo

‘Government ready to talk to Maoists but not to peaceful fighter against AFSPA’

Civil society activists on Sunday observed a daylong fast at Jantar Mantar here, urging the government to initiate talks with activist Irom Sharmila, who has been on a peaceful fast for the past 12 years for repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur.

 

Ms. Sharmila began her fast on November 5, 2000, a couple of days after Assam Rifles soldiers had mowed down 10 civilians at Malom village in the Imphal valley.

 

“We want to send out the message that Irom Sharmila is not alone. We feel for her because she is a true democrat and a true Gandhian. She has every right to be heard. Her struggle shows her faith in democracy and non-violence,” said Devika Mittal, from Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC), which is opposed to the neglect and suppression of the Manipuri activist’s peaceful fast.

 

“It is quite unfortunate that the government is ready to talk to Maoists but not to Sharmila, who responded to the extreme violence perpetrated by misusing the AFSPA with extreme peace,” said Rishikesh from Jamia Millia Islamia. Now the ‘Iron lady of Manipur’ was being force-fed through the nose at the state-run Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences close to her Kongpal Kongkham Leikai residence in Imphal East, he said.

 

SSSC member Ravi Nitesh said the Army had reduced the AFSPA to a tool for violating human rights. “In a season when people are going on fast and the entire country’s political class engages in talks with them, it’s quite shocking that in these 12 years the government has not acknowledged her peaceful fast,” said Mr. Nitesh, who was among the 12 civil society activists who observed the daylong fast.

 

Gufran Khan, a student activist, called upon the judiciary to intervene, saying the executive was oblivious to the blatant rights violations in the entire north-east. He highlighted the fact that Ms. Sharmila had last month refused the Kovilan Smaraka Activist India National Award given by the Kerala-based Kovilan Trust, saying she would not accept any honour from any individual or organisation until and unless the AFSPA was scrapped.

 

#India- #Irom Sharmila refuses award


KOLKATA, October 29, 2012

 

Irom Sharmila Chanu

Irom Sharmila Chanu (Photo credit: Prachatai)

 

Ananya Dutta

 

Brother asks Kovilan Trust to present it after she fulfils mission

Irom Sharmila, the civil rights activist from Manipur who has been on a 12-year protest fast demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be repealed, will not accept any awards until she has succeeded in her mission, her brother Irom Singhajit said.

On Saturday, at a function organised in Kolkata, a trust had decided to confer the first Kovilan Smaraka Activist India National Award in the memory of Malayalam poet A.A. Ayyappan upon Ms. Sharmila.

However, Mr. Sighajit, who attended the function, returned the award and asked the organisers “to keep it in their custody and present it to Irom Sharmila herself when she has achieved her goal.”

The decision not to accept any awards was taken by Ms. Sharmila earlier this month.

On October 9, at a routine hearing for the extension of her custody by another fortnight, she had sought the permission of the judge to address a press conference. But the permission was denied and in protest, she took the decision not to accept any awards, Mr. Singhajit told The Hindu over telephone from Imphal.

“The Kovilan Trust had announced the award before October 9 which is why I attended the function. We appreciate the award and have asked them to keep it in their custody,” he said.

Ms. Sharmila started her hunger strike in November 2000, after the “Malom Massacre” — an incident in which 10 innocent persons were killed by personnel of the Assam Rifles.

She was arrested by the police and when her condition began to deteriorate, she was transferred to the Jawaharlal Institute of Medical Sciences where she is force fed, he added.

The law under which Ms. Sharmila is detained allows the police to detain her for a year, after which she is released.

As she refuses to break her world-record fast, she is again arrested and then produced in court every 15 days for the extension of her custody, Mr. Singhajit said. She has been the recipient of several awards including the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2007 and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize in 2010.

 

#AFSPA has never stopped rebellion #Northeast #Manipur


Those who worry that repealing AFSPA would open a can of worms, may be better advised to let such insecurities go

Sudeep Chakravarti, Live mint

AFSPA is a legal prophylactic. It provides India’s armed forces and operational adjuncts such as Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles both immunity and impunity in areas that AFSPA is enforced.
India’s Wikileaks-like politics du jour has masked a byplay of a significant magnitude of security and self-respect—at least the perception of it. A public interest litigation is admitted to the Supreme Court challenging the extension of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, (AFSPA) 1958, in Manipur. A bench of the court on 19 October asked the government of India and Manipur to respond by 5 November.
The official response will likely parrot what it has in the past: without AFSPA, currently applied to parts or the whole of most northeastern states, India’s security will continue to be at risk, and the armed forces couldn’t effectively do their job. It will be another exercise in perpetuating myths in the name of national security; in quite the manner a country cousin of AFSPA is applied in Jammu and Kashmir. A sledgehammer where a nutcracker would do, they remain among India’s most controversial laws, nearly on par with separate legislation that anyway permit many states, those affected by the Maoist rebellion as well as those in India’s north and east to, de facto, do what they wish to even non-combatants in the name of law and order.
AFSPA is a legal prophylactic. It provides India’s armed forces and operational adjuncts such as Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles both immunity and impunity in areas that AFSPA is enforced. The sweep includes the standard modus of shooting to kill, if need be, anybody breaching law and order, ranging from a gathering of five or more unarmed protesters to those possessing weapons; to destroying suspected arms dumps and places thought to harbour any manner of rebel or sympathizer. “Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area”, do so.
It then leapfrogs to precognition by allowing such personnel to, without warrant, enter premises, search, seize whatever they wish, and arrest whomsoever they wish even on “reasonable suspicion” that “he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest”. This applies also to places “likely” to be used as shelters not only for armed attacks but by “absconders wanted for any offence”. And, for everything, to use “such force as may be necessary.” Such a law encouraged India’s official rage and revenge—including widespread torture, molestation, rape and the killing of non-combatants—in the Naga areas and Mizoram in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. And, later, relatively more isolated cases in Nagaland, Manipur and Assam, because “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.” (At the time of the parent law’s birthing in 1958, a prescient parliamentarian from Manipur described it as “a lawless law”. He was steamrolled.)
Since 2004, several government committees have repeatedly recommended the repeal of AFSPA, arguing that there exists without it, enough legal provision in national security for search and seizure, arrest, interrogation, even a firefight—where police, paramilitary and the armed forces can fire upon other armed or violent combatants. The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee conducted numerous interviews and sought representation all across north-eastern India from all players—victims to security forces—and submitted its report in 2005, suggesting AFSPA be repealed. The government buried it.
In 2007, the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily also suggested the repeal of AFSPA; suggesting instead that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act be bolstered, with a provision to enable the armed forces to operate in conflict zones. The government ignored it.
What such attitude disrespects is the undeniable proof that application of AFSPA has never stopped rebellion—it has instead consistently bred resentment against India by protecting prejudices and atrocities. Too, recent reverses for several key insurgencies in the northeast have not happened on account of AFSPA, but a combination of pin-point and coordinated policing and combat operations; effective Indian diplomacy and changing political realities in countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar that have made regimes there less inclined to harbour anti-India rebels, and creeping realization that active peacemaking, governance, development, and ethno-regional respect are the surest guarantors of India’s internal security.
Those in the security establishment who worry that repealing AFSPA would open a can of worms, as it were, may be better advised to let such insecurities go. The worms—the truths—have been out for decades. Prophylactics aren’t exactly foolproof.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

Manipur and its search for elusive justice


 

Manipuris want impunity to end.Not only has it shattered any existing faith in the justice system, many feel it has emboldened the security forces to commit further abuses.

Manipuris will soon stand in line to vote for a new state government. As with voters elsewhere, during the campaign they will be promised jobs, development and new infrastructure. The one promise on which successive governments have failed to deliver, however, is one of bringing justice to the people of the state.

Manipur has remained under the stranglehold of abusive armed groups and inept politicians. In each election, the armed groups — and there are many, with a range of political demands, though they are mostly extortion gangs — have called for a boycott of the polls. Those who participate, candidates and voters alike, risk violent attacks.

Things are so bad that earlier this month, all newspapers in Manipur published a blank editorial, in response to threats from armed groups that insist that the newspapers publish their statements. Newspapers face a double whammy: some militants have also demanded that they not publish statements of rival groups.
In the hope that an elected government will finally do its job, that of providing security and upholding fundamental rights, Manipuris have ignored the threats and turned out to vote. Yet, the government has failed to ensure even the most basic rights of life and liberty. Armed groups aside, Manipuris remain at risk of arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings by the government’s own security forces.
The state government and local administration have also failed to address grievances that feed public discontent and support for militant groups. All of these problems are made worse, though, by Manipur’s climate of impunity. The Central government, while claiming to be committed to protecting human rights, has largely ignored serious violations by its security forces, at best attributing abuses to a few “bad apples”. But even in cases involving “bad apples”, the government rarely investigates, let alone prosecutes those responsible. Manipuris want impunity to end. Not only has it shattered any existing faith in the justice system, many feel it has emboldened the security forces to commit further abuses. Impunity, fostered both by a lack of political will and by laws shielding the abusers, has led to an atmosphere in which security forces are effectively above the law.
The lack of accountability has become deeply rooted because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the 1958 emergency law under which the armed forces are deployed in internal conflicts and enjoy broad powers to arrest, search and shoot to kill. The law is widely despised among the population because it provides soldiers who commit atrocities effective immunity from prosecution.
When the Central government isn’t ignoring Manipur, it tries to sweep Manipur’s problems under the carpet. In December, the police in Delhi went so far as to refuse permission for a solidarity protest to support a decade-long hunger fast by Irom Sharmila, who has demanded the repeal of the AFSPA ever since soldiers gunned down 10 civilians in Manipur on November 2, 2000. She is nasally force-fed in judicial custody.
The AFSPA has led to abuses and serious hardships in other parts of the country. In Jammu and Kashmir, the repeal of the law has become a crucial election issue. Chief minister Omar Abdullah has spoken out against it.
But in Manipur, where the law has been in force much longer, political leaders have found neither voice nor wisdom. Irom Sharmila may have become known for her courage and her peaceful endeavour in India and beyond, but in Manipur’s capital, Imphal, the government has ignored her appeal. Instead, Manipuris remain hostage to an Army that claims it cannot operate without the powers and immunity provided by the AFSPA.
Hardly anyone in Manipur disputes that armed groups pose a serious security risk. Last year, two militant groups successfully imposed a three-month economic blockade on the surface supply of goods, crippling the economy and pushing prices out of control. Manipuris want law enforcement, but without human rights abuses or a blank cheque for the security services. The Army’s several decades of deployment in Manipur have not only resulted in widespread abuses but polarised the situation. The Army is damaging its reputation in India and abroad by insisting on protecting perpetrators of human rights abuses.
In 2004, following widespread anger over the custodial killing of a suspect, Manorama Devi, by the Assam Rifles, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Imphal with a promise to review the AFSPA. The review committee — and several other experts since then — recommended repeal of the law. The Army opposes repeal. Now halfway through his second term, Dr Singh has been unable to prevail over his divided Cabinet to deliver on the promise.
Manipur erupts into national news only when the rage brings Manipuris out onto the streets. The Central government takes notice when the Assembly building is burnt down, elderly women strip and invite the Army to rape them as they have raped others, prices become ridiculously high due to weeks of blockade or when mothers and schoolchildren engage in weeks of demonstrations. It should not take such drama for the government to wake up to the problems in this corner of the Northeast.

Meenakshi Ganguly=The writer is the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch

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