October 18, 2004
Once described as the ‘Jewel of India’, by India’s maiden Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru, Manipur is in the news for the last two months ever
since the dead body of Thangiam Manorama was discovered on the morning of
12th July, 2004 by her neighbours in the streets of Imphal. While the
local residents charge that she was raped and brutally killed by the Assam
Rifles men, the AR-17 personnel have contended that she was a covert
supporter of (PLA) People’s Liberation Army and they had justifiably
killed her as tried to escape from their custody.
This incident has virtually become a rallying point for the people in
Manipur and practically the entire state population has been demanding the
immediate withdrawal of AFSPA (The Armed Forces Special Powers Act- 1958),
which according to them has been used as a tool of repression by the
The civil life in the entire Manipur valley has been disrupted and inspite
of the frantic visit by Indian home minister Shivraj Patil in the first
week of September, 2004, to the trouble torn state, there is no sign of
improvement of the situation. The home minister’s visit has already been
described as ‘waste of time’ by Apuna Lub, a strong apex body of
thirty-two different organizations which have been spearheading a campaign
for the repealing of AFPSA.
The death of Manorama has created such a strong reaction that nearly half
dozen women paraded naked in front of Assam Rifles head quarters in Imphal
in protest against her alleged killing.
The demand for repealing of AFSPA is not new, as one female activist Irom
Sharmila, who is on hunger strike since last three years and nine months
has been demeaning the abrogation of law and she is currently kept at
Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital under police escort and is being currently
feeded through her nose.
Although the chief minister was prompt enough to revoke the implementation
of this law from seven municipal wards of the city of Imphal covering a
distance of about 20 sq. kms to assuage the feelings of the disgruntled
elements, there is no sign of situation returning to normal, as some of
the agitators have now started demanding the screening of ‘Hindi’ film
channels on the cable television. As if this was not enough, the situation
took an ugly turn when the effigies of Indian prime minister, home
minister and the chief minister of Manipur were burnt on Thursday 23rd,
In its another attempt to assuage the feeling of the local populace, the
state government has ordered a judicial enquiry by appointing justice C.
Upendra commission to probe Manorama’s killing. Even if the AR headquarter
is situated right across the Kangla Fort, from where the commission has
started operating, this move is unable to break through the ice as Assam
Riffle is refused to co-operate with the commission and has been
successful in thwarting the probe, by obtaining a ‘stay’ by approaching
Gauhati High Court. Assam Riffle has been contending that that the
commission was summoning those (i.e. AR), which does not fall under the
Interestingly, the AR – 17 personnel contend that post mortem report of
Manorama totally rule out theory of rape, which further fuelled the anger
of local populace, who went to the extent of alleging that it was a
The lawyers who are intervening on behalf of civilians are keen to cross
examine AR personnel and their witnesses. However, after the reluctance of
AR personnel to co-operate with the commission, these lawyers have
withdrawn from the proceedings, which have culminated in the virtual
collapse of the commission’s work and the very purpose for which it was
The mess is further compounded by the contradictory statements made by the
home minister and the defence minister over the repealing of AFSPA.
Whereas home minister Shivraj Patil during his short visit to Imphal was
not averse for the revocation of AFSPA, the defence minister has strongly
opposed any such move. The latter has also pooh-poohed the idea of
replacing the existing twelve battalions of Assam Riffle in Manipur with
Border Security Force Personnel.
It would be interesting to see what made the things to come to such a pass
in Manipur during the last couple of decades.
A neglected state
Before we talk about the current impasse in Manipur, it would be
interesting to see how Manipur was amalgamated in the Indian union way
back in 1947.
Like Assam and Nagaland, Manipur too is plagued with unregulated
migration, the legal and the political status of migrants and inter-ethnic
rivalry. All this has resulted in demand of greater autonomy. With the
continued reluctance of the Union government to address the issues
concerning migration and ethnic problems, there is a growing demand for
A feeling persists in the section of the people in the state that their
charismatic king Hijam Irabot, was forced to sign a merger agreement by
the Indian government representative Krishna Menon on 11th August, 1947
when Manipur was reconstituted as a state from monarchy after passing of
the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Much to their dismay, this agreement
was never ratified by Manipur assembly and the territory was kept under
the control of Chief Commissioner.
The Manipur Congress which came into existence immediately after
independence, led to the move for the complete merger with India which was
duly completed on 15th October, 1949. Soon thereafter, the groups which
had leaned towards the ‘Left’ challenged the merger which ensued the
insurgency. The leftists leader like Irabot Singh started clamouring that
Manipuris were not part of the Indian mainstream.
As the majority of the state population belong to Tibeto – Chinese race,
they have not been able to assimilate with the Indian culture and the
languages, which are essentially either Aryan or Dravidian oriented.
The discontent essentially comes from Metei tribe. They are peeved that
Manipur was accorded full status only in 1972, much later than Himachal
Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Although Kerala is just 16,000 sq. Kms
larger than Manipur, Kerala has twenty MPs, in contrast to barely two MPs
The sentiments of Manipuris were further angered when India gave up its
claim over Kubaw Valley and gifted it to Burma in 1953. They are also
angry over the fact that their language was incorporated in the Eighth
schedule of the Constitution of India only in 1992.
The unstopping migration of Bangladeshis, Nepalese and also of Nagas has
created an identity problem. One is aware that greater Nagaland or Nagalim
movement has been championed by various Naga leaders in the majority of
the North East.
The people belonging to Meitei tribe are essentially fighting for the
complete secession from India. They can not buy land in the hilly areas of
the state. Moreover, they were originally clubbed with the ‘Other Backward
Classes’, in contrast to the hill tribes, which had been accorded
‘Schedule Tribe’ status and were been enjoying the reservations both in
education and government employment. However, after the Mandal
Commission’s recommendations, the Meiteis have now been put at par with
other tribes in the State.
As if the problems of Meiteis are not enough, there have been numerous
incidents of rioting between Meiteis and Muslim Pangals and another tribe
Hmars is also fighting for a separate state or local autonomy within the
State. All these phenomena are not new and instead of addressing the basis
issues of the upliftment of the people of the valley, the successive union
governments have treated the problem in Manipur as a pure law and order
Like other six neighbouring states, constituting seven sisters, Manipur
lacks infrastructure development. The entire North-East virtually got a
raw deal when maiden first five plan was unveiled. Even fifty seven years
after independence, Manipur is still 22% behind the national average for
infrastructural development. Only 2.1 lakh hectares of land available for
the cultivation out of 22,327 sq. km land of the State. Although handloom
is the third biggest industry, it is grappled with the problem of
extortions from the various militant groups.
Although this land is gifted with scenic beauty, the tourism potential has
never been exploited. The locals feel that the RAP (Restricted Area
Permit) is prohibiting the foreigners from visiting this land, as they are
required to obtain a special visa to visit this State. All this has led to
a feeling that the state is persistently being denied the economic
What is AFSPA?
The situation in the state is such that Manipuris have given an impression
that nothing can become well in the state unless AFSPA is repealed with
the immediate effect. This has landed both the local government of Ibobi
Singh and the Central government in a very precarious situation.
It may be recalled that the controversial AFSPA was promulgated way back
in 1958 to tackle the insurgency problem in the various parts of India.
However, it was made applicable to Manipur only in 1980.
Few would recollect that AFSPA was introduced in late fifties when the
tension had considerably mounted. At the beginning of the century, the
inhabitants of the Naga Hills, which extend across the Indo-Burmese
border, came together under the single banner of Naga National Council (NNC),
aspiring for a common homeland and self-governance. As early as 1929, the
NNC petitioned the Simon Commission, which was examining the feasibility
of future of self-governance of India. The Naga leaders were adamantly
against Indian rule over their people once the British pulled out of the
region. Mahatma Gandhi publicly announced that the Nagas had every right
to be independent. His assertion was based on his belief in non-violence,
he did not believe in the use of force or an unwilling union.
Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration,
Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas
would decide whether they should stay in the Union or not. However,
shortly after the British withdrew, independent India proclaimed the Naga
Territory as part and parcel of the new Republic.
The NNC proclaimed Nagaland`s independence. In retaliation, Indian
authorities arrested the Naga leaders. An armed struggle ensued and there
were large casualties on either side. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act
is the product of this tension.
This Act undoubtedly confers enormous powers to the military personnel,
once they are invited by the Collector i.e. District Magistrate to take
charge of the local situation, which indirectly means when the state
machinery fails and the areas is declared as a ‘disturbed area’.
There is a catch! Although there is a provision in Section 3 in AFSPA to
declare a trouble torn area as a ‘disturbed area’, this Act is silent as
to who whether the Central or State government will issue a notification
that an area can be treated as a ‘disturbed area’. Also no parameters have
been defined as to under what circumstances a particular area can be
called as ‘disturbed area’. Therefore, different criterion has been
applied for such declaration depending upon the location, the local
situation and the circumstances of a particular case.
Once an area is so declared for the use of armed forces in aid of the
civil power, the local police take a back seat. This law empowers the army
personnel to use force, whenever they feel it necessary for the
maintenance of public order, after giving a due warning to the trouble
makers and even Section 4(a) permits an army personnel to kill any such
person, who is acting in contravention of any law or order in the
Further section 4(b) also permits the army to destroy any arms dump,
prepared or forfeited position or shelter from which armed attacks are
made or like to be made or any structure used as a training camp for armed
volunteers or utilized as a hide-out by armed gangs or absconders wanted
for any offence.
Further Section 4 (c) empowers the army personnel to arrest, without
warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence against whom a
reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or about to commit any
cognizable offence and also permits such force in effecting the arrest.
Although Section 5 casts an obligation on the part of the army personnel
to hand over the arrestee with least possible delay to the nearest police
station along with the report of the circumstances causing the arrest.
The army personnel have been given a protection under Section 7 of AFSPA
that no civil or criminal proceeding could be filed against them,
challenging their action, except a prior permission is sought either from
the Central or the State government.
In 1972, some amendments were incorporated in this Act, which allows the
Center to overrule the decision of the State government to declare a
particular area as a ‘disturbed state’. There is an isolated instance,
when the Central government had declared a particular area in Tripura as a
‘disturbed area’, much against the opinion expressed by the State
The human right activists have been arguing that AFSPA is totally
contravening both the Indian Constitution, as well as International law.
They try to substantiate their point by saying that, whereas a person if
detained under NSA (The National Security Act) can challenge his detention
before the review committee under that Act, whereas if the army is to
detain someone by exercising AFSPA, then no such scope is available for
challenging the detention.
On the other hand, the government has always contented that the use of
AFSPA was absolutely necessary to restrain the secessionist tendencies, or
else the India’s sovereignty and security would have come into danger. If
the local government has to ensure the smooth passage of commercial
vehicles involving the transportation of goods, essential commodities,
etc. then there is no option to but to involve the Army in the whole
exercise of patrolling, or else, the truck operators are required to shell
out the moneys at various entry points in Manipur. Inspite of putting in
motion, the army has been facing torrid time in ensuring the smooth
movements of the vehicles and the functioning of the various industries as
they are often subjected to extortion and looting done by the various
insurgent groups. The situation in Manipur has come to such a pass, that
if the army is withdrawn then the government machinery in this tiny state
would collapse within no time. Precisely for this reason, the deployment
of army, not just in Manipur, but in other affected states of NE has
The observers feel that excessive use of AFSPA have fuelled the demand for
greater autonomy as the local populace want the army to be kept at bay.
There have been many instances in the past when the legality and the
validity of AFSPA has been challenged in the Supreme Court of India and
majority of the petitions are yet to be disposed by the Apex Court of the
country. There has been a solitary instance when the Delhi High Court had
upheld the validity of this Act.
The Indian Army has always justified their actions, once they were invited
by the civil administration to handle the situation in the ‘disturbed
area’. Not just in Manipur, but in the majority of the North Eastern
states the army had opened up liaison cells. The very purpose of these
cells to facilitate the disgruntled people to enquire about the arrest and
the status of those who have been arrested. But hardly any one from the
affected or disgruntled families has approached these cells to vent their
Now to quell the aftermath which has erupted after Manorama’s dead body
was found, the army has declared that the DNA tests of AR-17 personnel,
who had allegedly killed her would be done. The home minister has already
reiterated that those who are involved in the inhuman act will not be
spared. Even a suggestion has been mooted to rotate AR – 17 personnel not
just in Manipur but in the entire North Eastern states, lest similar
incidents occur in future. But all these assurances have not been able to
assuage the feelings of the local populace, unless their impoverishment is
addressed by the long term measures and with their strict implementation.
There has been an increasing tendency amongst the various groups in India
to demand the repealing of any particular Act or a particular provision of
any such act, when the members belonging to that group or community have
been booked (perhaps on a higher scale) under such law.
The tragedy of our nation is that over the years we have let bureaucracy
to rule in a such unchecked manner that, we have forgotten to infuse an
accountability in them. Be it police or in army, or even in revenue
administration, the word ‘accountability’ is absent in the administrative
dictionary of India. All this has happened due to casual approach of not
just that of bureaucrats, but those who are in power.
One recalls hardly any instance, where the erring bureaucrat, be a police
officer or a defence personnel or a revenue officer have been sent behind
bar, for acting high handed manner. Such officer is either issued a
reprimand or just transferred from one place to another.
If the implementation of AFPSA is halted in Manipur, similar demands would
be made from other trouble torn states like Nagaland, Assam, etc. and in
the ultimate process the entire North East could be thrown into
lawlessness which will ultimately result in anarchy.
Long term measures needed
If the Union government has to overcome the situation not just in Manipur
then an isolated economic package won’t solve the problem. There has to be
a long term strategy for the entire NE region coupled with strict
implementation and periodical visits by the union ministers who reluctant
to visit this area.
If the long term measures are not undertaken then the day will not be too
far, when the India’s unexplored region known as seven sisters would
virtually plunge into a civil war. According to rough estimate, in Manipur
there are nearly one hundred thousand jobless youths. Therefore, to wean
away these groups from violent and extortionist tendencies becomes a prime
task of the government before the day, as they have been able to generate
moneys in lakhs (millions) simply at the point of gun and therefore, these
youngsters are reluctant to undertake any serious lawful occupation to
As it is the moral of the police force all over the country has
considerably been affected with the repeal of POTA, by the Union
government two days ago. If the police machinery is not given an adequate
legal arm to tackle the law and order problem, then the police themselves
would be become the targets of the separatists or insurgent groups or
After the repeal of POTA, if The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act –
1967 can be amended by way of incorporating fifty-four different sections,
there is no reason why AFPSA can not be reviewed and amended. Not
necessarily it is scrapped.
Any further compromise by the union government for diluting or straight
away repealing a law would result in catastrophic situation which the
country can hardly afford to. Sooner it realises, the better!
(The author is Mumbai based
journalist - turned - advocate having considerable amount of experience in
various fields in writing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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