AFSPA in retrospect
IFP Editorial: Why the delay till December 8 to issue for extension of 'Disturbed Area' status in Manipur? Was there some kind of resistance from the N Biren Singh-led government for extension?
Updated on 12 Jan 2022, 6:30 am
It was rather strange that the Manipur government had to issue orders for extension of the ‘Disturb Area’ status which lapsed on November 30, 2021. The order issued on December 8 stated that the “Disturbed Area” has been extended in Manipur, excluding the Imphal Municipal Area for another year. It also stated violent activities of various extremist or insurgent groups as the cause of such extension.
Extension of the Disturb Area Act means the provisions of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1985 are in effect. The order said, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1985 (Act No.28 of 1958) as amended from time to time, the Governor of Manipur hereby accords ex-post facto approval to declare the entire state of Manipur excluding the Imphal Municipal Area as “Disturbed Area” for a period of one year with retrospective effect from December 1, 2021.
Now the question is, why the delay till December 8 to issue for extension of the Act? Was there some kind of resistance from the N Biren Singh-led government for extension of the Act and what ultimately led to the order of extension? Was there extreme pressure from the Defence lobby and the Union Home Ministry for issuing the order? In Nagaland state also, the extension order was issued even as calls for repeal of AFSPA after the Oting massacre went on.
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 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 was 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 although 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 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 yearlong lone battle of indefinite hunger strike seeking its repeal, the state of Manipur witnessed an unprecedented movement against AFSPA in 2004.