For years the people of J&K, of Manipur and other North eastern states as well as revolutionary, progressive and democratic organizations and individuals throughout India have been fighting for the repeal of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). This is an Act which allows India’s armed forces to legally function virtually as an occupation force in the areas where it operates. There are fully documented cases galore of fake ‘encounters’, mass gang rapes with or without murders thrown in, killing of children, disappearances of thousands of people ‘picked up’ in the midnight knocks for questioning. All these are written off in the name of ‘course of duty’, are legally disallowed from being brought before the criminal courts of the country and no army court has ever admitted any wrong doing. The Supreme Court in a bench headed by the then Chief Justice J.S. Verma upheld the validity of the law. The Army establishment promptly squashes any demand for any reform or repeal from any areas and the Indian ruling classes –politicians, judges, armed forces and even sections of media- have been one in declaring that demanding any accountability will only amount to ‘demoralizing’ the armed forces.
Yet the struggle against AFSPA has burnt bright. There have been powerful movements, for instance, against the mass gang rapes of Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir, against the abduction, brutal gang rape and murder of Manorama in Manipur, in several fake encounters in both Kashmir and Manipur and in scores and scores of other cases. While it is true that the guilty could not be brought to book in even one case, the brutality of the armed forces against the people of this country and the complicity of the different organs of state in them have been well and repeatedly exposed. This entire struggle has borne fruit in other ways- in at least documented lists of ‘disappeared’ persons, in documentations of fake encounters, in forcing the erstwhile UPA Govt. to pretend to review the law, etc. Recently, the documentation has forced a bench of the Supreme Court to take cognizance of such cases in Manipur, to state that crimes under the shelter of AFSPA cannot totally be sheltered from the reach of criminal courts, and to make the all important pronouncement that those perceived as the ‘enemy’ in the AFSPA areas are “citizens with rights under Article 21 of the constitution”. It has refuted the Govt. of India’s contention of a ‘war like’ situation in Manipur and said that the area is merely ‘internally disturbed’. Importantly, it is considering ordering an investigation into some of the cases that have been brought before it. All these are no mean achievements.
This struggle against AFSPA has not been without laborious work, commitment and sacrifice of all those who have fought and are fighting against this brutal law in various ways. A shining spot belongs to Irom Sharmila , the Iron Lady from Manipur, who for 16 long years has been on a fast demanding that AFSPA be repealed. Now 44 years of age, her fight began after she saw 10 people being ‘encountered’ by the Assam Rifles in Imphal. The method of protest she chose involved tremendous personal sacrifice, self torture and discipline. This the Indian state answered with repeated imprisonments, cases under ‘attempted suicide’, repeated court appearances in trials instead of engaging with the very genuine demand of this brave citizen and of respecting her struggle. Sharmila’s struggle has been an inspiration for the fighters against AFSPA. Now she has declared that she has decided to change the form of her fight calling off her indefinite fast. But the struggle for repeal of AFSPA will go on, fought in a hundred different ways as it has been and Irom Sharmila’s years of sacrifice will remain a beacon in this struggle.
( New Democracy News Service)