A single voice against AFSPA
IFP Editorial: Will Northeast states, irrespective of public leaders, politicians and CSOs, be able to come up with a single voice in demanding the repeal of AFSPA unqualified by political compulsions or regional considerations.
Updated on 13 Dec 2021, 7:19 pm
(Representational Image: Unsplash)
As we said before, the Oting massacre has woken up many dormant voices and the general public to the reality of living under AFSPA and CSOs are demanding its repeal now. Only question is, will the North-east irrespective of public leaders, politicians and CSOs be able to come up with a single voice in demanding its repeal unqualified by political compulsions or regional considerations. During the Foreigners issue, Assam and Manipur student groups were united in their demand and struggle. However, except for the common issues raised in the forum of North East Students Organisation (NESO), the Northeast never really acted as one. And the demand for repeal for the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) could find a mere mention in the charter of demands put up by CSOs, except for Manipur where a sustained mass movement for its repeal was staged in 2004. Besides Irom Chanu Sharmila’s 16-year-long lone battle of indefinite hunger strike seeking its repeal, the state of Manipur witnessed an unprecedented movement against AFSPA in 2004.
On 15 July 2004, twelve Meira Paibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, the then headquarters of the Assam Rifles protesting against the brutal killing of Manorama Thangjam, a 32-year-old woman who had been picked up by Assam Rifles personnel in suspicious circumstances four days prior. Manorama’s bullet-riddled body with gunshot wounds to her private parts and thighs was found near a paddy field hours after she was taken away from her home.A judicial commission set up to look into the case painted a scathing account of torture that Manorama allegedly suffered in her final hours. The anti-AFSPA movement ignited by the Manorama incident not only led to lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies, but restoration of the Kangla Fort over to the state government by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Years of experience tell us that under the shadow of AFSPA, the armed forces operate with impunity and get away with torture, rapes, killings and fake encounters while prosecution is a mirage. Compared to other north-eastern states, Nagaland was most affected by the AFSPA regime where entire villages were razed to the ground. Assam had also witnessed atrocities and several instances of human rights violations. There were a few voices of solidarity to the 2004 movement beyond the state. However, the recent civilian killings at Oting of Mon district in Nagaland seems to have ignited the general public in the Northeast to openly voice for its repeal. One may note here that the 2004 movement was not for withdrawal of AFSPA, but for its repeal. This time, the demand for repeal of the Act is led by the Chief Ministers of Nagaland Neiphiu Rio and Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma after the Oting incident while the BJP Chief Ministers of Northeast, including our own N Biren Singh, remained silent for quite some time.
When queried by journalists, N Biren Singh had commented that one needs to convince the Centre as regards withdrawal or repeal of the Act though the state has been all along demanding its repeal. Mention may be made here that, it was the state government which ordered the withdrawal of AFSPA from the Imphal Municipal area in 2004 against the objections of the Home ministry. Lest he forgot, he was one of the prime movers of the withdrawal. It must also be remembered that both the Centre (MHA) and the state governments have got concurrent powers to issue notification under Section 3 of AFSPA. For instance, the notification extending it in Manipur, right from the 1980s, has been issued by the state. The latest AFSPA notification in the state in December 2020 was issued by the state government. It is up for renewal on December 17. Now, we will have to see what sort of decision it takes when the time comes.