Empowerment and Exploitation
There is a reason why there is a separation between the military and the police; while the former fights the enemies of the state or country, the latter serves and protects the people. But, when the military serves both the roles, then the enemies of the country tend to become the people as implied by the numerous murder of innocents in Manipur under Draconian laws especially under the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958.
AFSPA was first enacted as the Assam and Manipur Special Powers Act in 1958 which was later amended in 1972 and 1987, and applied to all the Northeastern states; and subsequently made applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. The law in the Northeast which was meant to have been a temporary measure has been in existence for more than 58 years despite the claims of normalcy in the region by all political parties. Yet, most chief ministers especially the CM of Manipur of Manipur has remained silent or ambiguous on retaining AFSPA in the State despite his claims that episode of violence from insurgent groups and armed conflicts have almost become Nil. The question that now remains is do we still need the armed forces in a democracy to stem opposing sentiments of some section of the public when it is clear that AFSPA is almost of no use according to the statistics provided by the State government.
It is worth mentioning that several State politicians have also alleged AFSPA of allowing greater central intervention in violation of Schedule 7 of the Constitution while human rights activists contends that it gives unfettered power to the central government and state police, which is not allowed under normal laws. It is also a fact that AFSPA contravenes several international human rights conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials amongst others.
Meanwhile, Binalakshmi Nepram, a rights activist from Manipur who has been supporting the women survivors of violence in Northeast India especially for victims of AFSPA, was recently felicitated with the ‘Reach All Women in WAR (RAW in WAR) Anna Politkovskaya Award’. Certainly, most well-informed people of the State would have find it appalling when the news of Binalakshmi being conferred the international award, was meted with reactions from certain sections of the State public alleging her of being an “Exploiter or contractor of victims who is hogging the limelight” just because she happens to belong to the elite classes of the society while doing nothing for the empowerment of the victims so that they can speak up on their own.
As a general definition,Empowerment is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power in people with the capacity to use it in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important. And so, the criticisms might have been based on the proposition that she has been “hogging the limelight in the expenses of the victims” when she could have empowered them to be their own spokespersons.
But, Binalakshmi, who is the founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, has extended help to more than 20,000 women who have a history of dealing with decades of armed conflicts and ethnic violence through the network. She is also a witness of the killing of a 27-year-old man in a village in southern Manipur and has helped out the young wife of the victim with means to earn her a personal living. And as such the opinions of blame on the particular activist seems to be worthless piece of opinion; although it might be true in the case of certain NGOs of the State who have come to view “empowerment” as nothing more than a popular buzz word to be thrown in to make sure old programmes get new funding.
Certain NGOs of the State especially those focusing on the marginalised populations of the society such as drug-users, victims of domestic violence or crime against women amongst others, have been disingenuously exploiting the victims to achieve “Stardom” while still maintaining a facade of empowering them.
People Empowering People programmes connect research, theory, and practice while focusing on the strengths of people, providing opportunities and resources for people to gain experiences and skills so that they can express their OWN issues at various platforms. However, this has not been the case with most of the NGOs in the State with only the president or chairperson attending various International forums and garnering funds for their own vested interests in the guise of representing the marginalised community while also exploiting them under the illusion that they are voicing their concerns. Although people cannot give people power; opportunities, resources and support ought to be provided by the NGOs concerned, so as to ensure that victims need to become involved themselves and ensure skills and knowledge that will make them take steps to improve their own lives and speak up on their own, or to be EMPOWERED.
Leader Writer: Danny Haobam
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