Everyone listens when the Naga civil society organisations demand the withdrawal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 from the Naga areas. One needs to remember that it was the Nagas who have had to bear the brunt of the Act for the first time in the Northeastern region of India and it was specially brought in with a design to crush the Naga rebellion.
As the Act was imposed massacre of civilians, wiping out of whole villages, widespread rapes and enforced disappearances and other atrocities followed in the state of Nagaland and parts of Manipur where Naga hostiles are active. It was only in the early 80s that AFSPA was imposed in the state of Manipur. So, it was a legitimate demand on the part of the Nagas to demand withdrawal of the draconian law, where In fact demand for repeal of the Act would be more appropriate. Let the Kuki CSOs also demand either withdrawal or repeal and it is for the Central government to consider the demand.
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However, demanding re-imposition of the draconian Act in the valley is quite contradictory even for them also. It was only by sheer grit of the valley populace and the intensity of the anti-AFSPA stir that the government was forced to lift the operation of the Act from some areas of the valley only to spread to the whole valley later on. AFSPA does not differentiate whether one is Meitei or Naga or Kuki. 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.
The government had recently ordered its extension for another six months excluding the areas falling under the jurisdiction of 19 police stations in the valley. The government order said, in view of the overall law and order situation in the state and capability of state machineries it has decided to maintain the status quo for another six months. Status quo means excluding the areas from which the ‘Disturbed Area’ status had already been withdrawn by a series of government orders beginning in 2004.
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The anti-AFSPA movement in 2004 as a result of rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama Devi by security forces operating under AFSPA was unprecedented in terms of intensity and resolute defiance not seen before. The entire valley was in flames for several months which ultimately led to the withdrawal of AFSPA from some police stations covered by the seven assembly constituencies within the Imphal Municipal area.
The anti-AFSPA movement was mainly concentrated in the valley areas then while it was given lip-service by others. The ultimate withdrawal was despite objections from the Centre. One needs to remember that, during the anti-AFSPA stir the demand of the valley population was of its repeal and not only of withdrawal from Manipur. The message then was that, other peoples should not fall victim to the Act and suffer as we have suffered. The demand for repealing the Act from the whole of Manipur as a result of overall improvement in the law and order situation of the state is still very much there.
We know that the defence lobby very much wants the re-imposition of AFSPA in the valley and they are still voicing for it in several forums. It is the life and property of civilian lives we are talking about. Time and again, it has been opined that AFSPA is a direct threat to the ‘Right to Life’ both at the national and international forums.
The recent extension order is nothing but routine. But they continue to hurl abuses on the state being bipartisan. They forget, they have also suffered under decades of AFSPA before the Suspension of Operations (SoO) by several armed Kuki militants groups became operational. The tripartite agreement between the Union Home Ministry and Manipur government with 24 Kuki militant groups was signed in 2008.