Though an Indian by birth, I have lived outside India most my life. I grew up in the country of Saudi Arabia, and I always had this romanticized idea about the Indian Democracy. I always boasted to my Saudi friends that I came from a DEMOCRACY! But in the past two days, when I met people from the north eastern states of India and heard of the plight of Sharmila Irom, I realized that I had been labouring under a delusion. India was a “democracy” only in theory; in practice, it was far from it!
What democracy enacts a law that gives powers to its Armed Forces to shoot its own citizen on the question of mere suspicion? What democracy involves the Army in its internal affairs? What democracy ratifies a draconian law, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, (not so) lovingly shortened and called AFSPA?
The AFSPA was enacted in September 1958, to ensure law and order in the so-called “disturbed areas” of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
According to this Act, in an area which is declared “disturbed” an officer of the armed forces have powers to:
§ "Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law" against "assembly of five or more persons" or possession of deadly weapons.
§ To arrest without a warrant and with the use of "necessary" force anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so
§ To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests.
Even though the law was already very much being implemented in the north east for over 30 years, the people of mainland India came to know of it only in 1990, when it was extended to include Jammu and Kashmir. It was only when Kashmir was subjected to this draconian law, that our media focused on its issues; possibly because of the involvement of Pakistan.
I myself was not aware of all these atrocities, even though one of my closest friends in college is Manipuri. It was only when I saw Ojas Suniti Vinay perform a mono act based on the life of Sharmila Irom, in Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, on 2nd February that I knew anything of their plights. Women are raped and murdered by the Army. On an average 300 women are widowed every year by the Army. Children are orphaned, fathers and brothers are killed. Is this how our government hopes to maintain “law and order” in the north east?
Many countries over the globe have “special” laws; the US has the USA PATRIOT Act, Singapore has the CLPTA. But no country across the globe allows its military to interfere in its internal civil affairs; no country but India.
According to the speakers at the “Seminar on AFSPA” organized by the Human Rights organization People’s Solidarity Concerns, this law has reduced India from a democratic state to a colonial one. In India somebody or the other is always “othered” and “the other” is criminalized or vulgarized.
This time around India has “othered” the people of north east. They want to know if it is because of their flatter noses and slant eyes? But who is an Indian? Every Indian looks different. India boasts of “unity in diversity,” but alienates its own citizens because they have distinctly different features?
In India, where everyone is talking about communalism and how we need to “hit hard and make it die,” we need to realize that racism is much a threat as communalism. The law of AFSPA is a clear indicator of this. Even after 63 years of Independence, the people of north east are in no better position. In the words of Mr. Babloo Loitongbam, who is a Human Rights activist from Manipur, after being ruled over by “white sahibs” during the British rule, they are now being ruled by “brown sahibs.”
Many people may argue that the law was implemented for a “reason.” they ask, “What about the insurgencies? What about the disturbances?”
Prof. Bimol of JNU, who was also one of the speakers at the seminar, probably answers it best when he says that he doesn’t have the answers neither does he need to answer those questions. He has some questions of his own, why is the government getting the army involved in its internal affairs?
According to him, violence is administered only for two reasons; to institute new order and to preserve order. AFSPA has been implemented to institute new order; the Kashmiris, Nagas and Manipuris do not consider themselves Indians. India does not consider them Indians! Our National Anthem does not even mention the people of North east.
And India will destroy itself because of its draconian laws and policies and its negligence! It will destroy itself because sure it has the power to kill its citizens and annihilate them. But does it have the power to let the people of north east live? Does it have the power to nurture the many Irom Sharmilas of this land? Does it have the power to protect the “chinkies” with “pro-Mongolic” leanings?
These are the powers it should be seeking and these are the powers that will make it all powerful.