Anger and disbelief were the reactions to the video clips that were played at a meeting entitled "What is happening in Manipur?" at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay on 21 September 2004. How could the army be so oppressive? What are the army men making the Manipuri youth brutally beat each other for? Why don’t the political parties do something to stop such atrocities? We have an educated Prime Minister and President, they could certainly not allow this. Why don’t we send these video clips to the Home Ministry so that they will know what the armed forces are doing and stop them?
Indeed, the brutal violence that Manipuri people are facing today came home to about 50 students and faculty at IIT Bombay.
Equally shocking to the audience was the fact that Armed Forces Special Powers Act allowed even a non-commissioned officer to order killing merely on suspicion. Thangjam Manorama was taken into custody on suspicion of having links with the insurgents. She was raped and killed while in custody. The incident was like the last straw that broke the camels back. The protest in Imphal by womens’ groups, whose members disrobed in public and challenged the Assam Rifles men to rape them, showed how desperate the situation had become. The protest shocked and stirred the conscience of the nation.
The audience were stunned as they listened to Dr. L P Singh, a prominent surgeon in Manipur with a post graduate degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and founding member of Committee on Human Rights and Northeast Coordination Committee on Human Rights. He informed them that a few days before Manorama was murdered, a pastor was killed by the army and buried without telling anyone.
Dr. L P Singh pointed out the colonial mentality that the Indian central government has adopted in dealing with the states of the Northeast. After the human rights movement gathered momentum in the states of the Northeast in 1992, the central government systematically tried to create a rift within the people of the region. It was nothing but the policy of divide and rule being practiced – inherited from the British.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act was directly taken from the statute books of the British colonizers. While the British passed an Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance in 1942 in the wake of widespread rebellions against their rule, the government of free India went a step further and passed it as an Act in the parliament in 1958. Once a region is declared ‘disturbed’, this act can be applied providing sweeping powers to the armed forces. There is no recourse to atrocities committed under this Act as one has to take permission of the Home Ministry before a case can be filed in a court and the Home Ministry is known to not give permission for any such prosecution. It is the unchallengeable draconian powers that this Act provides that gives rise to unbridled power to armed forces and atrocities being committed in broad day light with impunity as shown in the video clippings. What happens in the night is even harder to imagine. Every torture in world is being practiced on the people of the Northeast.
When someone from the audience opined that judiciary should provide relief to the victims, it was pointed our by the speaker that unfortunately the judiciary was aiding the implementation of the AFSPA. For example, the Act was challenged in the Supreme Court, and the Court found it constitutional and was satisfied with merely issuing a code of conduct for the armed forces, which have again been breached time and again.
The Act has been applied in Manipur continuously since 1980. Dr. Singh said that before 1980, one hardly knew of any underground groups. But with all these atrocities, being carried out under this Act; many militant groups have sprung up. What would a youth think when his parents are shot dead and he has no recourse to obtain justice? What will a youth do when his mother and sister are raped and perpetrators of the crime roam around scot-free? It is the lack of democratic avenues for political problems that gives birth to insurgency.
When asked why they are committing such atrocities on the population of Manipur, Dr. Singh said that this is a question that we should ask the Home Ministry. If people from all over India asked this question, that will help the people of Manipur. People, all over India should demand to know how much of taxpayers money is being spent everyday on the armed forces in Manipur and why are they being used to kill innocent people. Someone from the audience added that the justification that such acts are necessary to protect the unity and territorial integrity of the country is a lie. This slogan is a hoax and shows the colonial mentality of the rulers to control the land and natural resources with no regard to the aspirations of the people inhabiting the land.
It is not just Manipur where such an Act can be applied in India. This very Act has been used against the Kashmiri people as well. After all TADA and POTA have been applied all over India. The need of the hour is for all democratic Indians to declare that they are against atrocities against any innocent person no matter where he or she may be. There can be no case for review of such a draconian Act – our only demand can be to repeal it.
The audience thanked Dr Singh for enlightening them on this vital subject and expressed support for the struggle of Manipuri people for democratic rights.