Cambridge, Massachusetts: Armed Forces Special Powers Act known by its acronym AFSPA violates rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution, said Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network.
Ms. Nepram was participating in a panel discussion on Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur and her 11-year hunger strike in judicial custody demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958) in India.
Ms. Nepram who was recently honored with the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year award said that more than 20,000 people have been killed in Manipur since AFSPA first came into force here in 1958. “There is no security in our lives,” she declared.
Babloo Lotongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur highlighted the problem in using army for policing. “Police uses power to maintain order while army use of power is to overpower the adversary,” he said. The whole of North East is declared a “disturbed area” to deploy the army. Mr. Lotongbam argues that army is not used in mainland India even though level of violence in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand is much higher.
Irom Sharmila started her career working as an intern for a Public Commission on AFSPA that Mr. Loitongbam organized in 2000. Just a few days later, after ten civilians were killed by members of Assam Rifles, she started her fast that has continued for more than 11 years.
She was arrested for three days after beginning her fast and is re-arrested every year for “attempting to commit suicide.” She is being force-fed through a nasal tube. She has been kept as the highest security prisoner and no one is allowed to meet her without permission from the government.
Declaring that AFSPA has failed, Pradyot Deb Barma, Chairman and Editor of The Northeast Today magazine said, “AFSPA is our 9/11,” referring to not only the date when it was first imposed in 1958 but also the terror that residents of North Eastern states continue to face due to this law.
Dr. Angana Chatterji, Co-convener of the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir talked about AFSPA use in Kashmir and its effect on the civilian population.
The story of Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur, and her 11-year hunger strike in judicial custody, demanding the repeal of AFSPA, frames the first US symposium on the Act and its use in Jammu & Kashmir and in Manipur, Tripura, and other states in India’s remote North Eastern region. Aspects of the deployment of the Act, the special powers it gives to India’s security forces in handling the country’s border regions, and its impact on India’s democratic, constitutional, and judicial practice, were discussed by a panel moderated by Charlie Clements, Executive Director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Film and media curator L. Somi Roy of New York, and Hun-tré! International Manipur Projects, New York/Imphal, made an introductory cultural background presentation on Manipur.
The event was co-sponsored by the Harvard India Caucus, Kashmir Initiative at the Carr Center, North American Manipur Association (NAMA), European Manipuri Association (EMA), and Manipuri Diaspora Association.