Remembering the anti-AFSPA heroes

IFP Editorial: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act or simply AFSPA has been out of the public radar for quite some time. Out of action out of mind, as they say, till the Friday night incident when Assam Rifles personnel in mufti killed a 29 year old father of four children in Kangpokpi district.


(Representational Image: Unsplash)

 

Exactly one month after the now famous incident of 12 Manipuri women leaders disrobing in front of the historic Kangla Fort, a student leader by the name of Pebam Chittaranjan self-immolated himself in Bishnupur Bazar demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 from Manipur. Now, his ultimate sacrifice has been observed as Students Martyrdom Day. On 15 July 2004, these 12 Meira Paibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, then the headquarters of the Assam Rifles, carrying banners with messages painted in red.

"Indian Army Rape Us", read one. "Indian Army Take Our Flesh", said another.

The women were protesting against the brutal killing of ManoramaThangjam, a 32-year-old woman who had been picked up by Assam Rifles personnel in suspicious circumstances four days prior.

Manorama’s bullet-riddled body with gunshot wounds to her private parts and thighs was found near a paddy field hours after she was taken away from her home. Semen stains reportedly found on her clothes in a forensic exam suggested she had been raped. A judicial commission set up to look into the case painted a scathing account of torture that Manorama allegedly suffered in her final hours. The case proved a flashpoint in Manipur, where anger against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 which allows use of force in certain situations in disturbed areas was already pervasive. At the time, activist Irom Sharmila was already four years into a hunger strike against AFSPA that would last until 2016.

AFSPA was used sporadically in the hill districts of Manipur to tackle insurgency before being imposed across the whole state in 1980. Resentment against the security forces’ alleged excesses began as early as 1974, when a local woman named Rose committed suicide after she was allegedly raped by a BSF officer who faced no action for the suspected crime. The protest, whose anniversary is observed by activists in the state as ‘Anti-Repression Day’, brought the world’s gaze to alleged military excesses in the state and the number of extrajudicial killings in Manipur has fallen since. But justice for Manorama and 1,528 other victims who were either killed or went missing in similar circumstances remains elusive, and the AFSPA is still in place. The anti-AFSPA movement ignited by the Manorama incident led to lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies, while the Kangla Fort was handed over to the state by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act or simply AFSPA has been out of the public radar for quite some time. Out of action out of mind, as they say, till the Friday night incident when Assam Rifles personnel in mufti killed a 29 year old father of four children in Kangpokpi district. In the aftermath, an enraged mob, including men and women of Twilang area, stormed the 44 AR outpost at Gelnel village and torched two vehicles of Assam Rifles. There were demands for repealing the Act from the whole of Manipur from various sections of the society as a result of overall improvement in law and order situation of the state, but it has not moved forward since the 2004 decision.

Conditions have changed greatly, then and now. Now that the Army and MHA are on the same page regarding the Manipur situation. Not so long ago, the Army Chief General MM Naravane said in January this year that the Army is planning to gradually reduce the number of troops deployed for internal security duties in the Northeast. As a result, the Army has already pulled out one of its brigades from the region and now plans to move out another one or two in the near future.

The defence lobby has been at the forefront of opposing the withdrawal of AFSPA from areas where it is in force and states have always been reluctant to go against the lobby. But now, the Army Chief is openly admitting that law and order situation has greatly improved in states including Manipur. The view of the Home Ministry is the same and it says thatoverall the security situation in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura has improved to a satisfactory level.

_IFP Editorial

First Published:Aug. 18, 2021, 9:20 a.m.

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