Thursday, March 31, 2011

[Manipur] Writing on the Walls of People

- Seram Rojesh

Photo: Kangla online
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 was passed in the Parliament in 1958. AFSPA can be looked at not only as a problem for those people who live under this law, but as an aspect of neocolonialism, militaristic and undemocratic nature of the Indian State. It does not say that it is to counter the “armed rebellion” or that it is an ‘anti-terror law’. The Supreme Court said that it was required for the national interest and it was not due to the armed rebellion. The AFSPA has its roots from British colonial ordinance, called the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance promulgated in 1942 to assist in suppressing the "Quit India Movement". The AFSPA itself began as the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance, 1958 that came into force in May 1958, and was passed by Parliament in September. It has only six clauses. Clause 1 definesnehe edefined e the armed forces under the law including all the forces under Army, Nevy and Air forces. the name of the act. Clause 2 defines the armed forces are under the law including all the central forces including Army, Navy and Air forces. Clause 3 defines the power to declare disturbed area. The real law is the clause 4, 5 and 6. Clause 4 allows a non commission officer to shoot to dead on the basis of his suspicion, to destroy a property or any place, to arrest a person without arrest warrant. Clause 5 allows an arrested to person to be kept unlimited time and did not define numbers of days and time. Clause 6 says No prosecution suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the central Government in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. In short it is a colonial act.
In Manipur, it was recorded to have declared Tamenglong district at the first time as disturbed area under this colonial act in 1961 and latter extended to other hill areas of Manipur. Since 1980, in the last 30 years, all over Manipur has been under the extra constitutional law of AFSPA. In 2004, after Manorama protest, Government of Manipur de-notified 7 constituencies in Imphal from disturb area to deal the pressure of the people’s protest and also to save the congress government. 

People’s movement against the act has been up and down and even reached to the extreme point. From the very moment of the enactment of the AFSPA-1958, within the house of the parliament, a Member of the parliament from Manipur strongly opposed the act and even said that AFSPA was a lawless law and it would degenerate the society. After the whole of Manipur was declared under “disturbed area” in 1980, Manipur has been technically under the direct rule of Indian armed forces. With legal impunity in their hand, Indian armed forces (IAF) started extensive military operation in Manipur. They came in the midnight in their targeted houses in search of their suspected peoples and knock the door while people are sleeping in their houses and took away people for interrogation. Many such people got killed, tortured and disappeared under their custody. People’s life, security, dignity and being a human being is terrorized and threatened in the name of counter insurgency operation in Manipur by the Indian state for the protection of Indian Nation. Some kind of power and collective fight by the people has always comes to secure the dignity and life of the people as a resistance in every human society in the history of mankind. As a similar way, women in Manipur in the 80s came together and transform the already existing Nisha Band Movement (Anti- Alcohol/Drug movement) into Meira Paibe movement (women’s touch bearer) a women’s movement for securing life, physical health, humiliation, dignity etc from the hand of state armed forces. Civil societies particularly Meira Paibi, Mothers’ Associations and students’ organizations in Manipur have always called for the repeal of the AFSPA. But it was not up to the level of the kind of mass participation and powerful protest as surfaced in 2004 Manorama protest. People have fresh memories of the two major atrocities and massacre by IAF on innocent people of Manipur recorded in the 80s. One is 1984 Heirangoithong massacre that the armed forces open fired towards audience who were watching volleyball and killed 13 peoples and more than 50 people were injured by bullets. The sounds of the clapping and joyful cheers of the audience in the playground were immediately replaced by the voice of crying and pain of the injured people and the last call of the dead bodies that were lying on the ground. The Numbul River’s water just flowing behind the volleyball ground immediately colored with blood from uninterrupted bleeding from the helpless dead and injured bodies at the ground. One can easily imagine this with the experience of Jaliawanla Bagh massacre in 1919. Another one is Oinam massacre in 1987 at Oinam village of Senapati district in Manipur where 15 people were killed, the villagers were tortured for three months and forced to work in the army camp. Number of women were raped, molested, women’s body were frisked by the Indian soldiers on their duty of operation and even a pregnant woman was forced to deliver her child at the public ground where 100s of villagers were forced to assemble in that playground. None of the armed forces involved in the atrocities of operation and massacre were punished and rather they are protected by the impunity of the AFSPA. In 1992, Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) massacred 8 auto rickshaw drivers and one MBBS student from Arunachal Pradesh at RIMS hospital (a central government hospital) premises. Some of the hindi speaking non Manipuri workers who were standing along with the auto drivers were separated before the gun down. A medical student from Arunachal Pradesh was also killed because he looks like similar with those Manipuri auto drivers even he had shown his identity card of his origin. All the sequence of the way of cold blooded massacre was dually recorded in the RIMS massacre inquire commission and acknowledges the racial character of the killing in its report. Human rights organizations, students’ organizations and Meira Paibes called for justice and compensation. They were demanding for conducting judicial inquiry of the RIMS massacre. But the call for repeal the act was not became very popular among the common masses in the case of RIMS massacre too in the way that they were to protest on the street. Since 1995, after Manipur state commando forces were set up as part of the counter insurgency operation forces, many youths were reportedly killed in claimed encounters. It became so common that a civilian became a militant after being killed. People in Manipur, civil society organizations particularly students’ organization noticed what was happening but could not do without any evidence. People were waiting the right time to express their anger. 

In 1996, February 28, Manipur police commands led by Sub Inspector Mr. Krishnatombi and Rajendro killed Hijam Netaji a XI science student at Johnston Higher secondary while he was waiting his bus to school in his school uniform. He was a brilliant student and secured 71% in class X and wanted to become a doctor. There was no any way that state forces could have claimed that he was also a militant and killed in encounter. Some miles from the bus stop where Netaji was killed; another two persons were also killed. One was reportedly told as one of the student in our school, Ram Lal Paul Higher Secondary School in Inphal. I was studying in class XI- arts in that school and also a general secretary of the students’ union of our school at that time. Nitaje killing became very clear evidence that state forces had been doing extra judicial killing deliberately and it was believed as the right time to stop and say “No further killing and punish those state forces who takes the law in their hand”. One can observe that it was the first major mass protest across the population particularly from the student’s community, Meira Paibi and common people came on street and fight for justice continued for nearly one month. Annual class X examination was called for boycott by the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU). Higher secondary students groups were the major actors in this movement under the AMSU. Government of Manipur was forced to agree the four major demands of the movement. 1) Conducting an independent Judicial Inquiry headed by a retired high court judge. 2)1 lakh rupees should be given as compensation to the family of Netaji. 3) A stone monument should be build after the crimination of his symbolic body represented by a traditional wood at the same place inside his school premises. (Netaji’s dead body was criminated without his family members as unclaimed body by the state forces without the rituals). 4) A library should be built in the name of Netaji inside his school. It was a big major success of the student’s and Meira Paibes’ movement in Manipur even though more than 70 public offices were burnt and many government vehicles were destroyed and burned down by the supporters of the movement. Some of the 30 boys and girls studying in class XI/XII mostly hr. sec student’s union leaders have decided not to go back to their home until and unless justice was materialized. Police came to every student leaders’ house who involved in the movement to arrest and this police action indirectly supported our decisions not to go back to home. I (writer) went back to home after almost 20 days when I was informed that my grandfather got expired. I could not see him at his last moment. Finally, Government of Manipur officially suspended all those state forces that were suspected to have involved in the killing. People were expecting at least some positive actions from the judicial enquiry. One of the suspended sub-inspector Mr. Rajendro was killed in a heavy cross fire with some cadres of United National Liberation front (UNLF) and insurgent organization in Manipur before the announcement of the inquiry commission report at a place called Wangoi in Manipur. It was proved that his suspension was only on paper but practically he was on duty in uniform. After his expired, enquiry commission was not proceeded and nobody knows what happened to the enquiry commission till date. Gradually people got realized that judicial inquiry was one of the ways of government tactics to get time and a kind of joke. Its credibility got lost. 

On the other side, Indian Army and the Indian Para military forces have been extensively expended their military operation in both hills and valley since 1980. They took away people in front of his family members from his house and latter they claimed that the person was already released from the custody. Such people never come back and finally disappeared. From the disappearance case of Mr. Loken and Mr. Lokendro since 1980, many people have disappeared. In some disappearance cases, the Indian Armed forces were pretending that as they never arrested people after disappearance. People had no any evidence in paper to prove that their sons had been taken away by IAF because they never issued arrest memo to the family families till 1998. People believed that if the arrest memo was issued in every arrest than there would be no further disappearance cases after arrest. In 1998, a 15 years old school boy who was studying in class VIII got disappeared again. This time, under the leadership of AMSU and Meira Paibes, a big campaign and protest were organized in many parts of Manipur. Finally the agitation came into conclude with the assurance from the government and Military officials that issuing an arrest memo will be a mandatory in every case of an arrested person. It was a major psychological relief for the every people in Manipur who live with fear from disappearance and got killed in fake encounter in judicial custody. People were little smile on their face with a little confidence that there will be no more disappearance in Manipur. The smile was not last long in Manipur as another two cases of disappearance, Mr Khundrakpam Yaima and Mohammad Kayab Ali in 1999 was occurred. 

Since 1974, the gang rape of Miss Vally Rose by one of the major of Indian armed forces, women in Manipur have subjected for their sexual assault as it happens in many military oppressed society. A mother was raped in front of her disfigured son inside the house after her husband was put under the gun by other IAF while they were raping his wife. Many women were raped in Manipur till 2004. In 2004, Miss Manorama was arrested and tortured in front of her mother and her brother in the late night on 10 July. In the Manorama case, IAF issued an arrest memo before she was taken away by the armed forces. Her family was told that she would be released in the following day and not to be worried. In the arrest memo, nothing was mentioned to have recovered from Manorama’s possession by IAF. In the next morning she was found dead lying on the hillside. Her body was not properly clothed. She was shot 7 bullets; one was shot to her private part to abolish the evidence of rape. Manipur mothers dared to breast her unclothe body and asked to rape them at kangla. After the Manorama rape and murder, people got to realize that there was no use of arrest memo. This time people do not ask for compensation, judicial inquiry but directly ask for the repeal of the act the AFSPA-1958. This time people start saying “Go back Indian Army”, “We want freedom from AFSPA and atrocities from the Armed forces.” But common people in Manipur are still not saying “Quit Manipur” or Azadi as seen in Kashmir. It will not take so long to reach at the certain stage in future that common people start saying “Quit Manipur” if this kind of oppression and subjugation under the AFSPA goes on in Manipur. 

In the last 50 years or so, we have seen in Manipur how the demand and common people’s consciousness have gradually developed from one stage to another stage from one consciousness to another consciousness. Now it has gone through many demands as judicial inquiry, compensation, arrest memo, repeal AFSPA and go back Indian Army and freedom from army rule without the notice by media, great scholars in various universities in India. This protest discourse and people’s consciousness his been outside the academic discourses as well as public discourse in this country. This is the failure part of the researchers and academic community and political thinker in this country. Now, retired army and police officials who have worked in “disturbed” territories are taking the shoes of the scholars and the scholars are relying information and analysis on them. If they used their research capacities and made intervention in the policy matters in these areas, the situation would have been much better. It was only after 2004, Manorama protest that some informed intellectuals and academia outside Manipur in various universities in India and abroad got notice that in Manipur, there is also a political community existing in the far corner under the state of exception of Indian state in the border side with Burma. In such way, People start saying from compensation and judicial inquiry till the level of saying go back Indian Army as of now. 

Why people call for the repeal of this act. Some of the reasons are: Armed Forces ( Manipur and Assam) Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) is one of the most dangerous and draconian law enacted by the post independent Indian Parliament to suppress, oppress and repress the nationalities who are racially different from other mainland India and letter it was extended to the Muslim majority state of India. It is a racist law. With the implementation of the AFSPA in the last 62 years in many parts of the country, it is proved that India is a Multi political country where laws are made on the basis of the region, race, and religion. There is no one rule of law across the country. All the fundamental rights in the disturbed area have been totally suspended. People in the disturbed area live without the basic fundamental rights which are enjoyed by other Indians who live in non disturbed areas excluding the large part of the tribal areas in north, south and central India who are also have been exploited and oppressed by Indian capitalist state with the support of the multi national companies . The state order which is supposed to be an instrument of protection and providing security of the common people becomes an instrument of death and humiliation for the people who are living under the shadow of the law - AFSPA- 1958. People in the disturbed area are politically excluded even though they are within the territory of India. As Dalits are socially excluded from the Hindu social order even though they have been living with Hindu society from centuries ago. There is no any other country in the world which has similar draconian and fascist law as AFSPA in India. It is the shortest law of the world and the most dangerous law of the world. It is mush worst that any other anti terror law which was enacted around the world after the 9/11 like patriots act, UK security act etc. It rejected the very idea of constitution of India and also the progressive idea of India. The very fundamental problem of this act is, in the areas under AFSPA, all the people are treated as criminal/ Militant/terrorist or threat to the nation by birth. So, everybody needs to prove that they are not a threat to the nation or militant. It is totally contradictory to the non AFSPA areas or states that everybody should be treated innocent until and unless a person is proved to be a criminal by rule of law. That is why Mohamad Kasav a lone Pakistani terrorist is still under trial to prove that he is a terrorist. So, if technically speaking, a position of a terrorist from Pakistan or any other country is better then in Mumbai or any other non AFSPA states than being a Manipuri of Kashmiri or any other residence in disturbs area. There is no self dignity and self respect for a life of human being under AFSPA. AFSPA destroys the very existence of life. AFSPA is an act of exercising power by the state of executing death and destroy life of the whole population. That is why Irom Sharmila challenges the power of the state of destroying life by not eating herself in the last 10 years. Now, Indian state is confused to response but to force feed her to reclaim its power. Irom Sharmila is still in judicial custody in Imphal. People are not allowed to visit her freely. Her mother and she have not been meeting since the last 10 years. 

In the neighboring country of our nation, Burma, the Pro-democracy leader Ms Aund San Suu Kyi was released recently from 7 years continuous house arrest who have spent 15 years in 21 years under house arrest by the Burmese military regime. But India is not moving any further from her stand that “we can’t rule without AFSPA”. Interestingly in case of Burma, every subject of the Burmese state is subjected under the same rule of law that is Military regime and one law for all. It is quite disturbing in the case of India that laws are made and implemented on the basis of race and religion and region. AFSPA is the classical example of this. It is much more than military rule. With AFSPA in the last 50 years or so, Indian state became a racist state. 

To conclude, If the ruling class and the middle class of India, who claims to have love to the very idea of the Indian nation have no courage to say that lets the people decides for their own destiny to solve the problems and tell to those people who are fighting for their right to self determination be it Kashmir, Manipur, Nagas or any other nationalities, they should have at least to have the courage to say treat them equally as per with the rest of the people under the same rule of law , i.e Repeal the act and stop neocolonial policies against people and state and recognize that they are also human being who can think and look after for their state of affairs. State of exception can’t be a way of governance. Politics and principle of state should be based on the principle of securing the existence of people and not against the people’s aspiration, life dignity and well being. We should always remember that there are no any other forces or powers in the universe that can stop human aspiration, existence and its collective being.

Seram Rojesh is a political activist and an research scholar based in Delhi.

[Note: This article was first published in the Dec-Jan issue of CRITIQUE - the monthly brought out by NSI Delhi University Chapter]


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