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In Manipur, AFSPA: A Tale of Tyranny

The contentious AFSPA rule was extended in the violent Manipur for a further six months, excluding the 19 police stations’ jurisdictional regions. Since the unrest began on May 3, these exempted regions, which are mostly in the Imphal Valley and are Meitei-dominated, have been responsible for about 170 or so fatalities. The current outbreak of violence started in Imphal when two Meitei students were kidnapped and killed by armed criminals. While the state reinstated its internet ban and enforced a curfew in certain places, dozens of students were hurt.

The ‘disturbed regions’ label will once again take effect on October 1 in unrest-plagued Manipur. Since 1980, the proclamation of “disturbed areas” notice has been in effect under the AFSPA; it was finally removed from a portion of Imphal in 2004 as a result of vehement protests after the death of Thangjam Manorama, 32, earlier that year. Since 2022, there have been a lot less “disturbed areas,” and on April 1, the designation was removed from the 19 Metei-dominated areas.

As it stands, the divisive AFSPA law has been a major contributor to unchecked violence in Manipur and other areas that have long been affected by the harsh legislation. Activists who feel that this alone ‘was’ and ‘is’ never a solution to solve Manipur’s socio-political problem have harshly criticized the bill.

Irom Sharmila, a well-known activist who went on a nearly 16-year hunger strike to call for the repeal of the AFSPA, has harshly criticized the federal government. According to press sources, Sharmila said that the N Biren Singh-led state government’s misguided policies had plunged Manipur into an unparalleled catastrophe.

Since the early 1970s, AFSPA has been in effect in certain areas of Manipur. The whole state was brought under the statute by the 1980s. Civil society organizations have organized a number of protests and calls for its repeal, including unusual ones like Irom Sharmila’s 16-year fast calling for the repeal of AFSPA or the sensational 2004 nude protest by 12 bereaved mothers in front of the historic Kangla Fort—then the Assam Rifles’ headquarters—in the center of the state capital, Imphal.

The alleged gang rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama, a young lady, by paramilitary troops, served as the catalyst for that protest. About 3 miles from her house in Imphal East, her dismembered corpse was found with signs of sexual assault.

Similar incidents of sexual assault, rape, violence, and human rights abuses have been reported in states in Northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir during the AFSPA administration.

The murders in Oting in December 2022 serve as a sobering reminder of the Central Armed Forces’ unrestricted ability to engage in deadly exercises in the name of national security thanks to AFSPA. The implementation of AFSPA simply raises additional concerns about the law and order of the state at a time when Manipur is heavily involved in ethnic conflict and administrations are mainly mute on the matter.

In contrast, Outlook examines the discussions around the divisive AFSPA in its January 2022 edition, “Point Blank,” which emphasizes the tyranny it involves.

 

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