Peaceful Protest : Does State ever Listen?

A woman has gone on fast unto death for the repeal of “Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)”. Unparalleled in History, her fast has entered the 10th year. She is alive because State won’t let her die. She began her fast on 4th November 2000. Two days earlier, “A battalion of Assam Rifles had gunned down 10 innocent civilians at a bus-stand in Malom. The local papers published brutal pictures of the bodies the next day, including one of a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner”. It did so enraged by the bombing of their column by an insurgent group. The afspa came into force to fight insurgent groups in Manipur in 1980. Then there were 4 groups. Today there are over 40.
The AFSPA “empowers even the non-commissioned officers of the armed forces to arrest without warrant, to destroy any structure that may be hiding absconders without any verification, to conduct search and seizure without warrant and to shoot even to the causing of death. No legal proceeding against abuse of such arbitrary powers can be initiated without the prior permission of the Central government. While introducing the AFSPA on 18 August 1958, the government accepted it as an emergency measure and it was supposed to have remained in operation only for one year”. Arbitrary powers are unfailingly exercised with arbitrary discretion totally unchecked by fear of being called to account.
Protest erupts in Manipur every time there is an incidence of arbitrary State violence. What made ordinary women of Manipur to parade nakedly in July 2004, an act they wouldn’t even dare to dream, in front of Assam Rifles Imphal unit taunting soldiers to rape them? Desperation! Indignation! Humiliation!
They were protesting against the arrest, torture, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama Devi – a 32 year Manipuri woman – by Assam Rifles men.
Sharmila has become an icon of peaceful protest against wayward State repression. To understand her struggle is to understand what is wrong with the government, with the society we live in, what is wrong with us? It is a soul searching journey. One may undertake it here “Irom and The Iron in India’s Soul” with Shoma Chaudhary of Tehlka. If you agree with Sharmila at the end of that journey, it is time to ask tough questions of Chidambaram – one who is ready to talk – as to why he has not talked to Sharmila. Her address is known. Her actions are Gandhian in whose name he, this nation, swears. It is far too late not to demand immediate repeal of AFSPA even now.
A Film by Kavita Joshi : My Body My Weapon.
O O O O O  O O O O O O O O O

5 Responses to “Peaceful Protest : Does State ever Listen?”

  1. Sudhir Bal Says:

    Part – IThere is a lot of misunderstanding about Armed Forces Special Powers Act-some of which is because of ignorance and some deliberately introduced by parties involved to suit there view point. I was in Assam when the Manorama episode errupted and was unfortunate enough to understand the nuances involved. While I do not condone any violance, I was some what convinced that some sort of act / law would be required for the Armed Forces to be involved in such sordid peace keeping missions. I was given an article written by a Judge Advocate General(JAG) branch officer posted there, mispeling some of the aspects which appeared convincing. As I have already said, this is a view from another party to the issue and the views need to be checked out by the legal luminaries. The article was never published – No news paper was ready to publish it in the flashpoint era. But you have to understand the dynamics of the area, who controls, what can be and what cannot be doneor said / published etc. And that one cannot do unless one has a first hand experience – certainly no wise cracks from far away locales! – the jist is as follows:-1. The Armed forces are trained and empowered to primarily fight the enemy and have no role what so ever in policing the state – that is a duty of the police and to some extent the paramilitary forces. When are the Army called in? Only after police and paramilitary have proved to be ineffective or incompetent or both. Therefore the situation has already gone out of hand when the army is supposed to bring sanity to the situation. A force which has not been empowered to do policing is now required to do the unthinkable in such a flashpoint situation. Therefore, there is a requirement that they are backed by a law that permits them to do their task – that involves sarches, firing etal! If they are not backed by the law they could be and would be held responsible of murder – in a situation gone so horribly wrong. That in essence is the 'Special' situation and 'unfetterd powers' given to the armed forces vide the act and nothing more or less.2. The situation in which the army is called in is well past the application of section 144 and other such sections to control the situation have been applied and the situation has not been controlled by the police/paramilitary. Therfore, a more dire situation would demand more firm action-sounds logical – isn't it?Continued…..

  2. Sudhir Bal Says:

    Part – II.3. The special powers mentioned by most are in fact already bestowed on the similar ranking police officers under section 144 and others (this needs to be checked out through a legal expert) and there is nothing very draconion about it – only diffrerence is that in the hands of the politicised police force the provisions are either not utilised as they should be or they are utilised selectively – thus proving to be non-productivend ineffective to control the dire situation. The army personnel implement truthfully without bias (hopefully) the same very provisions and are hence effective to control the situation.I do not think there have been any cases where the Army has not been effective in similar situation. Ongoing cases where slur is thrown on the army is not so much when the army was involved singularly – most of the situations have been when there were joint forces- but that is another story of politics being played in these regions and army probably has not much to do in that.While I have all the sympathies with the affected parties, I feel the AFSPA or similar act is very much required to allow the armed forces to undertake policing duties that are thrust upon them to bring a horrible situation under control. Fight to repeal the act is in some part ignorance and in major part politics of getting some breathing space so as to recuparate, rearm and relaunch the episodes of violance. You will notice when the govt goes in for peace talks etc there is little if at all any talk about this AFSPA repeal. It is only when the security forces have got a firm handle on the groups involved and about to get success in curbing further spread of violance these voices become louder.As I said earlier, the politics of this whole sordid aspect is too dirty to even talk about Without the AFSPA or something similar I am afraid would make the only arm of the govt that works in such situations 'impotent'. Can we afford to let that happen. I think every right thinking man / woman needs to undetand the special aspect of the AFSPA before giving out their views – they will only add to making the matter worse – out of shear ignorance and I do not think the country can afford that to happen.Complete.

  3. Air Cmde SN Bal AVSM (Retd) Says:

    Dear All,Sudhir has indeed a point to make. Unusual circumstances requireunusual measures and special powers. That they should be used, notmisused and certainly not abused is indeed not the fact in issue. TheArmed forces are called in only when others have failed (why have theyfailed : THAT is rarely questioned by our enlightened fourth estate),and have to bring the situation "on the rails". The Armed Forces wagewar according to the highest principles enshrined in the GenevaConvention…they dont need any armchair advice on how to do the job(which in the first place was not theirs anyway).That is the essence.Armchair moralists can sit in comfort and pontificate – that's theirjob.When the Armed forces are required to clean up the mess others have made…it is best to let them get on with the job.Air Cmde SN Bal AVSM (Retd)

  4. Sadanand Says:

    Part – IAn interesting declamation that needs a closer look.1. “I was in Assam when the Manorama episode errupted and was unfortunate enough to understand the nuances involved”. Do tell us of the ‘nuances’ that were involved and were brought to your notice.2. “……There is a lot of misunderstanding about Armed Forces Special Powers Act”. Please clear that misunderstanding. Merely saying that armed forces need some special act so that they are not subject to oversight is no justification.3. “I was given an article written by a Judge Advocate General(JAG) branch officer posted there, mispeling some of the aspects which appeared convincing”. Can that article be given now if available? There is no point in quoting an article that cannot be shared. It certainly would have had a ‘view point’, but unless it is shared it is not possible to say whether it is convincing or not.4. “- certainly no wise cracks from far away locales!”. Basically it means if one is not from Manipur or Armed forces then shut up. This is a common ruse deployed to nip any healthy debate. Are ex-armed forces members (not serving in Manipur) too covered by this gag order?Contd… Part – II

  5. Sadanand Says:

    Part – II5. “Therefore the situation has already gone out of hand when the army is supposed to bring sanity to the situation…. Therefore, there is a requirement that they are backed by a law that permits them to do their task – that involves sarches, firing etal!. ” Sure, how long does it take to restore ‘Sanity’? In Manipur, government said AFSPA will be in force for 1 year when promulgating it. That was in 1980. Since then 29 years have passed. Insurgent groups have multiplied from 4 to 40. How long should this state of affairs go on? Some would say as long as it is necessary. That would mean Manipur and other places will continue to be perpetual mental asylums where armed forces will be acting as wardens and will be sole arbitrators of wrongs committed, punishment required, and of liberty & life. Wouldn’t a sane person ask that if ‘medicine’ is not working may be it is time to change it? 6. “I do not think there have been any cases where the Army has not been effective in similar situation. Ongoing cases where slur is thrown on the army is not so much when the army was involved singularly – most of the situations have been when there were joint forces”. 1984 anti Sikh riots, 2002 Gujarat riots, army was successful in stopping pogrom (encouraged & abetted by Congress and BJP respectively) though there was lot of deliberate delay initially in calling it. Armed forces have been singularly unsuccessful in north-east & Kashmir. I will leave the reasons for that now. In Mizoram insurgency ended when some political understanding was reached with Laldenga by Rajiv Gandhi.7. “You will notice when the govt goes in for peace talks etc there is little if at all any talk about this AFSPA repeal. It is only when the security forces have got a firm handle on the groups involved and about to get success in curbing further spread of violance these voices become louder”. That is bit like putting the cart before the horse. A human rights activist, Dungdung, from Jharkhand put it very well, Have you seen a mother giving toys or bestowing attention on a child when quiet? It is only when it howls and throws tantrums that it gets what it wants. This is true of government and aggrieved people as well. Peaceful protests go nowhere. Violent response gets attention. But unlike the mother, government instead of redressing grievances turns more violent & brutal. Mother has the welfare of the child in mind. Government has the welfare of those who bankrolled its success at the hustings. That is why poor people vote in the hope, which they too know is remote, of change. Rich don’t because they know who wins doesn’t matter. 8. “As I said earlier, the politics of this whole sordid aspect is too dirty to even talk about”. In fact, since it is so sordid, everyone should make it their concern to know what is going on, understand the underlying issues (don’t just buy the official line or whatever appears in mainstream media), and take reasoned position. Today it is happening in Manipur, tomorrow it could very well be in Maharashtra. Today it is happening to someone else, tomorrow it could very well be us.In fact General Deepak Kapur at a lecture in Pune University said to the effect that armed forces should not be deployed for internal “law & order” problems. Of course he was faulted for questioning the ‘wisdom’ of the government.Regards,Sadanand.

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