By Madhu Chandra
The forgotten struggle of Iron Lady Irom Sharmila against Arm Forces Special Power Act 1958 (AFSPA) for last 11 years, has finally appeared in national debate today. Team Irom Sharmila took advantage from Anna Hazare movement against corruption, though both are totally different issues altogether.
Team Irom Sharmila’s movement intensifies in midst of ongoing economic blockade imposed by Sadar Hill District Demanding Committee from August 1, 2011 and counter blockade by United Naga Council, which led the scarcities of essential commodities, petroleum products and life saving medicines throughout the state.
Observing the socio-political development, particularly, in the state of Manipur, the situation has become much better now compare to what looked like few years ago. Probably, Tehelka’s exposure on 2009 fake encounter at Imphal and 2010 Mao episode led the public outcry against military regime under the shadow of AFSPA.
Union Government’s involvement in diktats culture of police commandos and directive has subdued the highhandedness of military operation in the state. The killing has drastically came down, otherwise there used to be killing two to three persons everyday.
53 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to fight the internal armed rebels was signed into law in 1958 after it was passed as ordinance on May 22 of that year by the Indian Parliament.
The AFSPA was formulated to meet the challenges of the arising assertions of the Naga tribes in the then Naga hills of Assam and the then part of North Eastern Frontier Agency, which was later extended to the whole of the North Eastern states of India. The law was applied only as far as the North Eastern states until it was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.
The outcry of the public in Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern communities, who look different from rest of the country, question, “Why this draconian law is only applied to us?”
One may find that this draconian law is applied for first forty years to people whose features are mongoloid and different from the rest of the country. It is draconian and xenophobia law.
The anti-AFSPA forces have termed it a draconian law, which enables certain special powers to be conferred upon members of the armed personnel in the North Eastern states of India to suppress the armed rebels.
Those who are anti-AFSPA are of civil societies, scholars, activists and students. They marked its 50th year of draconian law in a symposium held at the Press Club of India on May 22, 2008. Panellists – Mr Sanjoy Hazarika – Member of Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, Dr Bimol Akoijam – A JNU Professor, Mr. Ravi Himadri – The Other Media, and Siddhartha – The Hindu. They described how the AFSPA has failed to suppress the internal arm rebels in its 50 years of implementation.
Their belief is that the 53 years of sustained violence and impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, has been racially discriminating.
The AFSPA has been a tool to answer the armed rebel groups in North East India and Jammu and Kashmir for last 53 years. Very little, or nothing is done to sort through the ideology of why the youngsters of the community are taking up the arms. The AFSPA has failed in its objectives.
Mr. Sanjoy Hazarika reported to the symposium when the Jeevan Reddy Commission asked the state Chief Ministers of North Eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir, that “Chief Ministers said that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has caused the increase of armed rebels in North Eastern India and Jammu and Kashmir.”
The concern of the civil society is the consequences that have sprung up from the implementation of the AFSPA. The civil human rights have been violated in outnumbering cases while encountering the armed rebels.
Section 4 (a) of the AFSPA gives power to armed forces personnel to shoot at anyone suspicious; Section 4 (b) to destroy the shelter of the armed rebels and Section 4 (c) to search and arrest without warrant. A power is bestowed upon armed forces personnel to arrest and interrogate suspicious civilians as cognizable offences.
The backwards thinking AFSPA has left many uncountable incidents where civilians have been tortured unnecessarily and it has resulted in the violation of many civil rights. Whether India should still consider using this law is the million-dollar unanswered question since it has actually failed to achieve it target.
When 53 years of the AFSPA have failed to solve the armed rebel issue, arming the villagers to defend themselves will only be another story of failure. Could there be any other alternative means to solve the issue with other better laws or efforts?
The alternative means to tackle the issue will be crucial. Could the alternative be ideological combat to discover why youngsters are taking up arms? The uprising of the civil public now opposing the diktats culture of militants, will be more important than the arming of the civil societies.
The armed rebellion of Mizoram was brought to an end at the table through negotiation in 1985, and the current cease fire negotiations of Naga rebels is a good gesture and another positive example.
The public of Manipur wants peace and development. The parents of GenX desire their children to study and choose sports rather than guns. Rejection of the gun culture was demonstrated in the towns by burning the replica of guns – and footballs were replaced in their hands.
Should government of India consider removing the AFSPA in respect of a Gandhian form of non-violence led by Irom Sharmila begun from November 2, 2000 onward, is the honest question of concerned citizens at large?
To gain public aspiration, team Irom Sharmila must learn, rather refrain from what was Team Anna. Civil societies, social activists, thinkers and reformers stood away from Team Anna movement against corruption. The method used was unconstitutional, invisible forces behind Anna Hazare and had different motive apart from corruption.
Similarly, the long struggle of Irom Sharmila must be honoured and Team Irom Sharmila must not allowed any other invisible forces to take advantages and the movement should be under constitutional and democratic manner.