Did you know AFSPA, 1958 before Sharmila’s hunger strike ?


It will be interesting to accentuate that most of our friends honestly admitted that they came to know about the AFSPA, 1958 only after Irom Chanu Sharmila’s protest against it. It was her continuous protest against this Act that made us go through the background and contents of the AFSPA, 1958. Prior to Ms. Sharmila’s stand in 2000, most of us were unaware of the details in this Act. However, today most of us know that the AFSPA, 1958 provides special powers to protect military personnel from prosecution against the violation of human rights, civil liberties and even for causing civilian death during their counter offensive operations. Now, it is not only you and me but almost the whole world knows about the AFSPA issue. Thanks to the media houses, human rights groups, and obviously, the continuous hunger strike by the Iron Lady of Manipur. Moreover, various civil society organizations, human rights groups, the UN representatives, the Indian Govt’s committees and commissions  have also acknowledged and expressed the same concerned against the special clauses and the entrenched impunity enjoyed by the Armed Forces bestowed by this Act.
On the 15th August, 1942, at the background of the Quit India movement and the combined march of Indian National Army (INA) and Japanese force, the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared emergency all over the British India, and promulgated the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942. Under the independent India, it became the AFSPA, 1958. In Manipur, the scene of insurgent groups fighting for national liberation surfaced in the later part of 1970s. Because of the Indian Govt’s perception of the insurgents’ ideological doctrine for liberation of Manipur from India as a destroyer to the India’s nation formation, Manipur was designated as a ‘disturbed areas’ on the 8th September 1980 accompanied by the introduction of the AFSPA, 1958 with heavy military deployments. In this conflict situation, the civilians’ fundamental rights and liberties are often violated under these extrajudicial laws. Unfortunately, in one of such conflicts between the armed insurgents and Assam Rifles, on the 2nd day of November 2000, ten innocent civilians lost their lives due to armed personnel’s indiscriminate firing. After this incident, Irom Chanu Sharmila adopted hunger strike as a means to protest such inhuman killings and the immunities enjoyed by the security forces against the projected goal of maintaining law and order in the ‘disturbed areas’.
Ms. Sharmila’s non-violent means of protest or marathon hunger strike for the cause of human rights is unprecedented. For nearly 16 years, she employed hunger strike as an instrument to question the Indian govt.’s decision regarding the requirement of the AFSPA, 1958 in a democratic state. Failing to win Govt’s favour with respect to the repeal of this Act, she has now resolved to continue her struggle by contesting the upcoming Manipur Legislative Assembly election, 2017. Unfortunately, her new strategy is being misread and misinterpreted by the public. Let us not forget she has sacrificed her youthful days and good health for a better tomorrow of Manipur. Let us also remind that her continuous struggle for civil rights and liberties reflects her love for humanity as a whole. Moreover, we need to understand that breaking fast and contesting upcoming elections do not imply that she will not continue her fight against the extrajudicial laws. In fact, she will remain a human right activist so long as civil rights and liberties are violated in the society.
Obviously, Ms. Sharmila is an epitome of iron will and champion of human rights. Significantly, her new strategy raises various queries in our minds: Do you think the Manipur CM has the power to remove ‘disturbed areas’ status?  Is there any potential CM candidate or political party that can declare the removal of the AFSPA from the state as one of their election agenda? Do the people of Manipur seriously want the AFSPA, 1958 to be removed? Ms. Sharmila’s recent decision implicitly appeals to the people of Manipur to elect the right representative whose agenda are towards the welfare of the people. Even her decision to end hunger strike, and to join political mainstream for the cause of civil rights and liberties is a welcome step. Indirectly, her recent decision is an acid test for the public opinion with respect to the removal of the AFSPA, 1958. Election mandate will explicitly expose if masses vote for removal of the so-called draconian Act or the otherwise. After the 2017 Assembly elections, the world will know if the people of Manipur genuinely support her sacrifice for the people’s rights and liberties. To conclude, whatever the consequences of her new strategy may be, the fact remains that she will continue her endeavour for peace and justice.
(These views are personal and not related to any organization. Ravi Longjam may be reached at longjamba@gmail.com)



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