AGAINST FREEDOM, SHARMILA, PEACE, ACCEPTANCE – AFSPA

“They kept on pouring water into my nostrils until the water came out in my ears; it felt warm inside my ears. Then they stamped on both my thighs while two persons held my feet while another man sat on my head… They touched the wires’ ends to my chest and gave me shocks three times. Each time I felt as if my whole body had contracted… I keep remembering how they used to beat me and see everything that happened to me vividly.”
– 14-year-old child tortured by Indian soldiers in the Northeastern state of Manipur
(Witness statement of arrest and torture in Manipur cited in L.A. Pinto and N. Thockchom, Indigenous Children of North East India: the denial of childhood, Centre for Organization Research and Education, Imphal, Manipur, 2000)

This is just one incident that is expressed and recorded, just one among thousands. And this was not new for the region where such torture, encounters, murders and rapes were a regular affair. The people lived constantly under the shadow of the gun, under the shadow of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act).

THE SEVEN SISTERS WITH A ‘STEP-SISTERLY’ TREATMENT

The Indian states of the ‘seven sisters’ province are Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. These states were granted autonomy when the British left in 1947, but were merged with India two years later in a treaty. Many of the 38 million-strong population believe that this merger was forced upon their king. This led to freedom movements, further leading to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – the Indian Government’s attempt to regain control. The main aim of AFSPA was to counter the insurgency of opposition groups and to give immunity to the armed forces working in hostile environments.

THE LAWLESS LAW

The Armed Forces Special Powers Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament. A new ordinance was adopted by the Indian Government in May 1958, then endorsed by the Parliament in August 1958, and given presidential assent on September 11, 1958. It came onto the Statute Book as ‘The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.’
The AFSPA is a photocopy of the 1942 British ordinance intended to deal with the Indian independence movement (Quit India movement) during World War II. It was enacted as a short-term measure to allow the deployment of the army in India’s Northeastern Naga Hills. But since then, AFSPA has become a permanent act and exists for five decades.
States of Northeast – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland come under the act’s purview. Similar laws were also applied to counter militancy in Punjab from 1985 to 1994. Later in July 1990, the Act was extended to the Kashmir valley, when the insurgency was at its peak.

THE ACT

AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, to kill, arrest on insubstantial pretext, conduct warrantless searches and demolish structures in the name of ‘aiding civil power.’ Equipped with these special powers, soldiers have raped, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and killed Indian citizens without fear of being held accountable.
According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as ‘disturbed,’ an officer of the armed forces has powers to:

  • Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law against assembly of five or more persons or possession of deadly weapons
  • To arrest without a warrant and with the use of  necessary force anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so
  • To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests

It gives legal immunity to the Army officers for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under this law.

SOME HAIR-RAISING INCIDENTS

Instead of controlling the situation, AFSPA has over the years, made it more draconian and brutal. Some of the cases that have become known are just the tip of a huge iceberg.

Wee hours of July 11, 2004 and a 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi was arrested without a warrant by the members of the 17th Assam Rifles from her residence. According to the Assam Rifles, she was a hardcore cadre of the proscribed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and one who had been involved in a series of IED blasts resulting in injury and deaths of many civilians and members of the security forces. (This was never proved as no arms were recovered and no proofs were gathered)
The young woman was allegedly tortured, raped and murdered. The next day her bullet-ridden body was recovered from a field near her home in Imphal, entirely bruised and torn apart with several gunshots, one piercing her private part. A cloth had been inserted at that place to stop the blood from oozing out. 

This shook entire India. On July 12, 2004, 32 local organizations came together in a conglomeration called Apunba Lup, to launch a movement to demand the AFSPA be repealed. But this was not enough. What followed, on July 15, 2004 was an iconic protest by the members of Meira Paibis group, a mass-based Meitei women’s human rights movement, who protested in front of the Kangla Fort, the then headquarters of the Assam Rifles. 12 women stripped with a banner which said, ‘Indian Army Rape us.’ While they cried aloud “We are the mothers and sisters of Manorama, rape us!” The rage and the agony were clearly visible on the women’s faces and the image of Manorama’s corpse filled in their eyes. This surreal ‘Naked Protest’ sunk in the hearts and minds of Indians and the Government and Armed Forces’ acts were stripped naked. The statement was so loud that it echoed and reverberated across the nation and the world as a whole.
A few days after Manorama’s murder, Pastor Jamkholet Khongsai was inhumanly murdered by the Assam Rifles in Manipur. When his body was dug out, innumerable boot marks were found on his chest.
A new, brave chapter in the history of AFSPA was written by a ‘Human Torch’. In a daring protest, Pebam Chittaranjan Mangang, advisor of Manipuri Students Federation attempted self-immolation at Bishnupur on August 15, 2004. He sprinkled himself with inflammable materials. After torching himself, Chittaranjan ran from the CI College complex to the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Bishnupur, about one and half kilometer from the college complex. He said in his final wriiten note “I have embraced death as the right choice for me and after a deep thinking I have decided to kill myself as a burning Human Torch and leave this world ahead of you all. Hundreds will come to follow me.”

  • Back in the 1960s, a girl named Chanu Rose was raped by the Army, who later committed suicide. Ever since then, there have been several incidents of molestation, rape and torture by Army men; even pregnant women were not spared.
  • Thousands of parents have gone insane as their children go ‘missing’, never to be seen again.

We are neither protecting militants nor fighting the security forces. Our only concern is the safety of our nation, our future. The struggle is to protect the people caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces.

The death of the core of all fundamental freedoms and human rights, the slaughter of justice, right to life leads to bereavement and the devil AFSPA reigns!

Read the entire article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=Are%20You%20Against_616

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