15 years of Hunger Strike and 57 years of AFSPA

Officially, North East India comprises seven states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura) with Sikkim. A narrow corridor between Bhutan and Bangladesh links the North East to Mainland India. During British Colonial rule, it was treated separately from British India. After Independence, the North Eastern Region was brought into the Union in very undemocratic way. Apparently, the Indian government continued the colonial treatment of this region and never sincerely responded to the problems faced by its inhabitants. Most of the tribal population of India lives in the North East region. There are conflicts due to unequal power equations among different cultural and ethnic communities. So far Indian government is trying to solve political problem of socio-economic conflict by colonial oppressive military rule and continuously denying people’s right of self-determination. Much of the bloodshed and genocide could have been avoided if voices of habitant people have been listen by ruling class of India. Indian state looks at this region for its strategic importance and for its petroleum and tea not as part of country. Much of the North East region is under Armed Force Special Power Act (AFSPA) since 1958 to combat insurgency and militancy. AFSPA empowers armed forces to use lethal forces against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order, destroy shelters or training camps from which armed attacks are likely to made, arrest any person without warrant on suspense who has committed or about to commit a cognizable crime, enter and search anywhere without warrant, stop, search and seize any vehicle on suspense on acting personnel’s opinion. The law gives guarantee that no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Constitution.

Army in Manipur

Autocracies under AFSPA

On July 11, 1987 Assam Rifles launched a counter insurgency Operation Bluebird under the command of General PL Kukrety, General Officer in Command (GOC), Manipur Sector. During the course of operation gross human rights violations were committed. The Naga People Movement for Human Rights filed Court case against the 21st Assam Files in Guwahati High Court on eight specific human rights violations (a) deaths of 27 persons during Operation Bluebird (b) rape and sexual harassment (c) torture of 300 persons (d) illegal arrests and detention (e) burning and dismantling of more than 100 homes (f) dismantling of schools and churches (g) looting of property (h) forced labour. The area surrounding the Oinam Hill village, around forty villages suffered the brunt of Operation Bluebird. The whole area were sealed off, movement both vehicular and human were restricted. Press were denied access. Public leaders were detained and tortured. Medical supply/services were cut off. Village schools were closed down. Village grounds became concentration camps. Churches became concentration camps. Every going out and coming in were vigilantly monitored even after the operation was officially over.

In 1988 for three consecutive days from 31st May- 2nd June jawans of the 27 Assam rifles, who were on duty gang raped about 14 tribal women in Ujanmaidan, West Tripura. Many other autocracies under AFSPA in Tripura are documented here.

On September 14, 1991 Indian Army launched operation Rhino against ULFA. Severe human right violations by Security forces have been well documented by Human Rights Organizations in India.

On November 2, 2000 at around 3:20 pm personnel of the Assam Rifles shot dead 10 civilian in Malom, a town in the Imphal valley including one of a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner. They were waiting at bus stop. After firing, many people were dragged out of their house and severely beaten up by the personnel of the Paramilitary Force.

On July 11, 2004 at approximately 12:30 a.m. several 17th Battalion of Assam Rifles personnel picked up 32-year-old Thangiam Manorama from her home and assaulted her two younger brothers and her elderly mother when they tried to stop them. Security personnel forced family to sign “No Claim Certificate” and gave arrest demo which stated Manorama was arrested on the suspicion that she had links with the underground People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Her partially clothed body with scratch marks from fingers all over her body, a deep gashing knife wound on her right thigh, signs of bruises on her breasts, deep cut marks on her inner thighs, and genitals, and several bullet wounds was found dumped on the side of a road later that day. Family refused to take her body demanding inquiry to probe murder. Assam Rifles claimed that she was shot while trying to escape. However, no blood was found near the body despite six bullet wounds. No soldier was identified as having tried to run or detain her. In protest, many women walked naked through Imphal to the Assam Rifles headquarters, shouting: “Indian Army, rape us too… We are all Manorama’s mothers.” Till date nothing has been done to punish the people responsible for it.

In the writ petition filed in Supreme Court of India by Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) it is stated that during the period May, 1979 to May, 2012, 1528 people were killed in Manipur in extra-judicial execution. A memorandum prepared by ‘Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the UN’ compiles the list of 1528 people allegedly killed unlawfully by the State Police or the security forces. The writ petitioners submitted compilation of cases in which 28 people out of 1528 were killed. In all those cases the judicial inquiry found that the victims were not members of any insurgent or unlawful groups and they were killed by the police or security forces in cold blood and stage managed encounters and the High Court simply directed for payment of monetary compensation to the kins of the victims instead of any accountability for cold blooded murder which perfectly suits the security forces and they only get encouraged to carry out further killings with impunity.

There are severe human right violation and much more autocracies under AFSPA documented and undocumented. The region is kept virtually under martial law by Indian state. Foreigners are allowed to visit only restricted regions. Getting information and investigations of reports of human rights violations by the Indian Army and security forces is extremely difficult.

Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike

Irom Chanu Sharmila born on 14th March 1972 in Imphal, Manipur is youngest of nine siblings. From childhood, she has seen people suffering due autocracies under military occupation and heard stories of revolutionary war and lost in the conflict. To fight in solidarity with suffering people she started volunteering as an intern for the “Independent People’s Inquiry Commission” at Human Rights Alert, helping victim of violence, and taking part in protest and peace march.Irom grafitti

On 2nd November 2000, she was in Malom preparing for a peace rally when she came to know the news of 10 innocent people being gunned down by Assam Rifles personnel. She was deeply shocked after this massacre of innocent people. On 5th November, she started indefinite hunger strike to repeal AFSPA.

Three days after she stated her fast, she was arrested by police and charged with an “attempt to commit suicide” and was transferred to judicial custody later. To keep her alive while under arrest nasogastric intubation was forced on her on 21st November. She has been released and rearrested each year as she keeps continue her strike after every release.

Amnesty International has declared her a prisoner of conscience. Many human rights activists and organizations from all over the world have raised their voice in solidarity with Sharmila’s struggle to repeal AFSPA. This heroic struggle of Irom Sharmila for demilitarization of the region is a great example of peaceful resistance in the world.

While state seems in no mood to repeal bloody AFSPA and continue oppression on people by killing dissident voices with impunity, people are bound to revolt. A continuous humiliation and torture of people living under AFSPA is just unbearable. This colonial rule and bloody thrust of power and resources must end. When peaceful protest in world’s so called largest democracy is treated as crime, when woman on hunger strike from 15 year summoned in court as a criminal, when women are raped and children are killed in the name of national security, where maximum justice leads to only some monetary compensation with complete impunity to murderers, this state need not to be exist. Where all door to justice are closed, when oppressor state only aim to exploit natural resources, human labour, and a dream to live peacefully, struggle against murderer state must live. There are no other options. State can’t rule people’s dream on the gun power. One day these struggling masses will unite and destroy this powerful oppressive state and liberate themselves to make a society based on equality, justice, and love.

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Lalit Shukla Written by:

Lalit Shukla is a researcher and writer based in Ahmedabad, India. Email: lalitshukla007@gmail.com.

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