Saturday, May 9, 2009

AFSPA: The Tale Continues

It cannot get more appalling than this. Even after so many years of struggle and incidents, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has not been removed from Manipur.

And we were suddenly reminded of the plight of the general public of Manipur when on May 7 the security forces claimed another life under the aegis of this Act.

A team of Manipur police shot dead a suspected militant in an “encounter” at Leikai, Imphal West, during the wee hours. Police said the suspected militant, identified as Ng Nanao of Uripok Polem, was shot dead in an encounter. However, local residents allege that he was shot dead in front of his family members by the police team. They called him out from his house and opened fire at him. They also alleged that police resorted to indiscriminate firing in the area.

This incident is just another instance where the armed forces will get off without any matter of questioning. The immunity provided to the security forces by the Act has given them enough scope to commit crimes like harassment and rape among the civilians. One example in this regard can be the infamous Manorama Devi case that created a huge uproar throughout the state against the Indian establishment there.

Under Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of powers conferred by this Act.”

While examining the third periodic report of the government of India, an expert of the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated “Article 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which prevented all legal proceedings against members of the armed forces, was extremely worrying; if the Government’s fear was that citizens would bring vexatious or frivolous actions, that was a matter better left to the courts to resolve. It was inadmissible for citizens to be deprived of a remedy as was at present the case.”

Manipur was declared a “disturbed area” on 8 September 1980. According to Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh over 8,000 innocent persons and over 12,000 members of insurgent groups and security forces have lost their lives since then.

In practice, there are hundreds of armed encounters each year. Not every armed encounter is questioned. However, when people, whether innocent civilians, suspects or members of armed oppositions groups are captured from their houses or villages and routinely killed in fake encounters, allegations of extrajudicial killings surface. Yet, there has been little or no evidence to prove that the victims were indeed arrested as no arrest memo is issued, not to mention about evidence to prove subsequent extrajudicial executions.

But if we look at the other side of the story then the armed insurgent groups of Manipur have also created havoc with the life of the state. If the security forces harass the people, then from the other side the insurgents add more pain to the wound.

The armed insurgent groups have been responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions, hostage taking, extortions and blatant violations of various Human Rights Laws. The victims include innocent civilians, alleged police informers and corrupt officials or simply inability to pay extortion money.The people of Manipur are caught in a vicious cycle. The nexus between the political leaders and armed insurgent groups is a public knowledge in Manipur. The extortion, otherwise called as taxes by the insurgents, is also public knowledge and often collected under the noses of the administration. Across the highways both the security forces and armed opposition groups extort money from innocent people as well as businessmen. All government officials including the senior most officials allegedly pay taxes.

In such a scenario, it is but certain that the Indian Government as well as the local politicians want the confusion to continue. And this trend is something which is prevalent in the other states of the North-East as well. The existence of this Act is a slap on the faces of the people of Manipur. On the one hand, due to this Act, the security forces harass them and on the other hand, it has failed to contain insurgency at all. And what is most angering is that the Manipuri politicians don’t take much or any initiative to remove this Act.

All in all, this Act reminds us that our country’s democratic principles and ethos are sidelined and crushed in the name of maintaining the security and integrity of our country.
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