Archive for the ‘AFSPA’ Category

Reap The Whirlwind

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment
Reap The Whirlwind
The alleged rape and killing of a young girl by Assam Rifles personnel has the
Imphal Valley up in arms against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act Updates

Wasbir Hussain outlookindia

The olive-green armoured vehicle comes to a halt,

reverses and takes up position.

Three helmeted armymen disembark and stand guard around it.

At a nearby traffic intersection, two other paramilitary

troopers hold a light machine gun.

This is Imphal, capital of Manipur, seething with anger

ever since a 32-year-old woman was

arrested by the Assam Rifles and then found dead

with bullet marks a few hours later on July 11.

The violent public protests have come as a deep embarrassment for the security forces.

The Act, as it stands, empowers forces to open fire, arrest sans warrant.

Photographs of a dozen women activists in the nude protesting the murder

outside the headquarters of the Assam Rifles have become symbolic of the

public outrage against the act. Manorama Devi’s killing is being cited as yet

another example of the high-handedness of the security forces. Imphal has

never been the same since that July day.

Violence threatens to erupt in the city without notice. On August 3, things

looked relatively peaceful. But all of a sudden, there was hectic police bandobast.

Roads were blocked with barbed wire barricades and the paramilitary was out in strength.

That was because groups of students and youth converged on the streets and staged

a sit-in on the road that Congress chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh,

returning from New Delhi,

was to take. Rubber bullets were fired and the protesters were lathicharged and dispersed.

At least 100 protesters were injured and an elderly man collapsed and died.

All this happened on a single day. Since the upsurge began, about 500 protesters

have been injured and several government properties set ablaze.

The people’s anger just refuses to die down.

The intensity of it all is such that the Opposition parties and even some members of the ruling

Congress have sided with the agitators in pressing for lifting of the stringent

Armed Forces (Assam & Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA).

Soon after reaching Imphal, Ibobi closeted himself with his cabinet.

He was apparently discussing means to defuse the crisis over AFSPA,

in force in the state since September 1980. The UPA government at the Centre,

after consultations with Ibobi as well as his Left allies,

seems to have come up with a way out.

New Delhi is keen on forming a panel, headed by a retired high court judge, to monitor

the use of AFSPA by the security forces. There is also a move to tone down some of the

harsher provisions under the Act. There is talk that all future arrests would require to

be cleared by an officer of the rank of a colonel. And those arrested will have to be

produced before a magistrate in 24 hours. The idea is to ensure accountability of

those engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

At Bamun Kampu, a locality on the outskirts of Imphal, the situation is tense.

It was from here that men of the 17 Assam Rifles—a paramilitary force that is

under the army’s operational command in Manipur—arrested Manorama Devi on July 11.

Near Manorama’s home, Meira Paibi volunteers, a vigilante group

of Manipuri women, sit on a dharna in hushed silence.

Thangjam Dolendra Meeti, Manorama’s younger brother and a

BA second year student,

recounts what happened on that fateful night. “Three of us, me,

my mother and sister

Manorama slept soon after dinner on July 10. My younger brother

was watching TV. Around 12.30 am,

some people started kicking our front door. When seven-eight of

them barged in, we realised they

were members of the security forces.” He says for the next three hours,

the soldiers, who had asked for Manorama, ‘tortured’ her in front of

the others and whisked her off after making the family sign an ‘arrest memo.’

The Imphal Valley, home to over 60 per cent of Manipur’s 2.3 million people,

was outraged.

On July 15, a group of 12 Manipuri women, all Meira Paibi

frontliners, vented their anger by

stripping in front of the Assam Rifles’ headquarters in the

heart of Imphal, bringing thousands to the streets and

forcing the authorities to clamp indefinite curfew. The protests, spearheaded by a conglomeration of 32 organisations,

has been directed against Manorama’s death while in custody as well as to press

for withdrawal of the AFSPA. The Act empowers “any commissioned officer, warrant

officer, non-commissioned officer, or any other person of

equivalent rank in the armed forces” in a disturbed area

to either open fire, arrest or conduct search operations

“without warrant”. It was these powers that the Assam

Rifles soldiers used to storm into

Manorama’s home unannounced.

Her family denies she was a PLA militant as alleged by the security forces.

Says dgp A.K. Parashar: “The issue now is not whether she was a militant, the issue

is about the circumstances leading to her death.” The Assam Rifles ordered a court

of inquiry on July 12 and took the men involved off duty.

The paramilitary force has

denied rape charges levelled against its men, and is awaiting a report from the

Forensic Science Laboratory, Calcutta, to wrap up its internal probe.

That the army is on the defensive was indicated by a statement

from Lt Gen Daljeet Singh,

goc of the Dimapur-based III Corps, under whose jurisdiction

Manipur comes. Singh said all

soldiers found guilty would be “dealt with in an exemplary

manner,” and described the incident as “unfortunate.”

The incident has pushed the Congress-led secular progressive

government of Ibobi Singh to the wall.

Going with the popular mood, eight Congress legislators

(including two ministers) announced their

decision to resign if New Delhi fails to withdraw the AFSPA.

Says N. Biren, one of the eight legislators: “The people

here just have no confidence in the politicians, and excesses

by the security forces have made matters worse for the government.”

“The law and order situation in Manipur has worsened during Ibobi Singh’s tenure.

There have been fake encounters and custodial deaths,” says Thokchom Ramani,

general secretary of the All Manipur Women Social Reformation & Development Samaj,

one of the larger Meira Paibi groups. Ramani has no regrets over protesting in the nude,

along with 11 other women, on July 15. “What is the point in wearing clothes when our dignity

and honour is not safe?” she asks. Police records show that between

January 1 and July 11, 33 people were killed by security forces.

As many as 17 of them have no listed linkages with insurgent groups.

Ultimately, it is the question, posed by Congress MLA Biren and the vast

majority of the common people, that New Delhi has to answer: “When insurgency in Manipur could

not be contained even with the application of AFSPA during the past 24 years, what is the harm

in withdrawing it and exploring alternative means to deal with the situation?”

Categories: AFSPA