Statement of Lok Raj Sangathan, 28 August, 2014
Lok Raj Sangathan strongly condemns the utterly unjustifiable and arbitrary arrest of Irom Sharmila, the brave activist from Manipur, who has been relentlessly fighting for the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) for over 14 years.
Irom Sharmila was re-arrested just three days after being released from detention after a district sessions judge found that the state had totally failed to prove its case that she was attempting to commit suicide (a crime under the Indian Penal Code) by fasting in protest against AFSPA. For 14 years, the Indian state has been enacting this farce. Since Irom Sharmila cannot be charged with any crime other than ‘attempting to commit suicide’, the Indian state regularly arrests her, force feeds her, releases her after one year and then rearrests her within a couple of days. It is ironic that a state which has without any qualms taken the lives of countless innocent people in the North East and Jammu & Kashmir under the cover of AFSPA, repeatedly arrests an activist who is protesting against AFSPA, in the name of ‘saving her life’! In the meantime, Irom Sharmila’s health has gone from bad to worse on account of her repeated imprisonment.
This is a violation of every tenet of justice and democracy. It is a clear case of the real criminals trying to brand as a criminal a woman of conscience, whose only activity has been to try and draw attention to the crime – in this case, the unending persecution and violence by the state and its armed forces against the entire peoples of the North East and Jammu & Kashmir.
The existence and continuous use of a law such as AFSPA for 56 years is a wholesale assault on the rights and liberties of our people. AFSPA gives the central government the right to declare a whole state as a ‘disturbed area’ without even having to consult with the elected authorities of the concerned state. In such ‘disturbed areas’, the armed forces down to the level of non-commissioned officers have the right to kill, torture, maim and forcibly detain any person merely on suspicion or what they consider the ‘likelihood’ of someone committing some offence. They are protected from any legal or judicial punishment for any crimes they commit under this excuse.
Innumerable crimes have been committed under AFSPA. The killing of the villagers of Oinam, and the gunning down of 10 people waiting at a bus stop at Malom, following which Irom Sharmila began her fast, are just a few instances. The abduction, rape and murder of Manorama Devi, which was followed by mass protests for weeks all over Manipur and other parts of the country in 2004, is another such heinous instance. On a day-to-day basis, AFSPA means that youth are routinely picked up for questioning or beating, homes are broken into in the course of “combing raids”, women are molested and raped, and innocent people are made to ‘disappear’, never to be seen again, after they encounter military or paramilitary personnel.
After the 2004 mass protests, the UPA government was forced to set up an enquiry commission. The Justice Reddy Committee had to admit that "the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness." Despite this, the government did nothing more than promise to replace AFSPA with ‘a more humane law’. Even this has not been done.
When faced with public anger over AFSPA, the government always points to the Army as being adamantly opposed to doing away with it. But the fact is that every government that has ruled over the last five decades has deliberately chosen to keep this law on the statute books. First applied to Assam and Manipur, it was extended to all the 7 states of the North East in 1972, and to Jammu & Kashmir in the last couple of decades. This reflects the fact that the Indian ruling establishment as a whole is determined that, no matter what the national sentiment of the peoples living in these regions, the “unity and integrity” of the Indian Union has to be preserved at any cost. This is a carryover of the colonial mentality towards these regions from British colonial times. In fact, AFSPA is itself a direct carryover of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance promulgated by the hated British colonial rulers in 1942.
The demand raised by Irom Sharmila, by masses of people all over the North East and Kashmir, and by countless people of conscience all over India, for the immediate and unconditional repeal of AFSPA, is an absolutely just demand. All such laws that place the right to life and basic liberties at the mercy of the armed forces of the state are abominable and have no place in our society. Lok Raj Sangathan demands that AFSPA and similar draconian laws be repealed forthwith. All cases of abuse of people committed under these laws by those in authority must be investigated speedily and the perpetrators of the crimes punished. The courageous activist Irom Sharmila must be released forthwith!