Manipur’s misery: Living under the shadow of AFSPA

By: Maitreyee Boruah
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Over the years, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has become almost synonymous with the northeastern state of Manipur. Or, even Jammu and Kashmir for that matter.

On Thursday (January 14), the Supreme Court minced no words when it questioned the validity of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958, and its never-ending presence in the state.

Irom Sharmila

It was in September 1980, when AFSPA was imposed in Manipur to fight home-grown insurgent groups in the state. Even after 35 years, lawlessness continues in the state with more than a dozen insurgent groups operating in Manipur.

Clearly, AFSPA has done no good to the residents as more than 1,500 alleged extra-judicial killings were reported in the last three decades.

Democracy and AFSPA--two sides of the same coin?

"AFSPA was supposed to be a temporary measure. But it has been there for the last 35 years. Two generations have grown up under the presence of the Army. It was supposed to only aid the democratic government in tackling the law and order situation created by insurgent groups," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U.U. Lalit told the Manipur government, while hearing petitions against the AFSPA.

In their petitions, NGO 'Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Association of Manipur' and former director of Manipur Health Services Th Suresh Singh had sought the withdrawal of the AFSPA.


Army is not equal to peace

Questioning as why the presence of armed forces has not brought peace in the hill state, the bench said, "AFSPA was imposed after declaring the state a disturbed area. You mean to say that in 35 years of Army presence in the state, the situation has not improved to remove the disturbed area tag from the state? Has nothing changed on the law and order front for the last three decades?"

Yes, it is the same AFSPA which has traumatised Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya since ages.

These "special" states in India under the "exclusive" rule have been ravaged by years of bloodshed by both militant groups and the Indian army.

Demand to repeal the draconian act

The story of Manipuri activist and poet Irom Chanu Sharmila has become a legend across the globe.

The peace activist has been on a fast-unto-death since November 4, 2000, demanding the repeal of the AFSPA which gives carte blanche to the security forces while combating the insurgents.

It was the horrific incident of gunning down of innocent civilians by the army at a bus stand in Malom that triggered her indefinite hunger strike.

While her struggle has moved people across the world, the 43-year-old activist's own state government has kept her arrested at a special ward at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal, Manipur, where she is force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose.

Along with the Iron Lady of Manipur (as Sharmila is popularly known as), several human rights organisations across the country are demanding to repeal the act for greater good of the nation.

Irom demands plebiscite on AFSPA

Recently, Irom said a plebiscite on AFSPA should be held for the people to decide whether the Act should continue or not.

Views of the United Nations and Human Rights Watch

On March 31, 2012, the UN asked India to revoke AFSPA saying it had no place in Indian democracy. The act has been criticised by the Human Rights Watch as a "tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination".

AFSPA in a nutshell

The Act was passed by Parliament in 1958 which grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces in areas deemed "disturbed" by the Act.

Controversial points of AFSPA

After giving due warning, officers can fire upon those acting unlawfully, even if it causes death, for the maintenance of public order.

Destroy any arms dump, or fortified shelters or training camps which are used to attack from.

To arrest without warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offence or is suspected to have done so.

To enter and search any premises to make such arrests.

To stop and search any vehicle reasonably suspected.

Army officers have legal immunity over their offences. There can be no prosecution, suit or legal action taken against them.

The government's decision on any area deemed disturbed cannot be brought under judicial review

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