AFSPA Down Down. Remembering Manorama. In Solidarity with Sharmila

afspa down down!

in solidarity with sharmila.

in memory of manorama.

Newsletter Sept 2013 - Aug 2014

It is the 10th anniversary of the killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi of Bamon Kampu village in Imphal, Manipur. In 2004, Manorama was arrested by soldiers of the Assam Rifles for interrogation. The next morning her body was found in a mutilated condition - it was apparent she had been subjected to custodial torture and sexual assault before being killed. Five days later, women from the Apunba Lup gathered in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters and protested by stripping, raising banners and slogans with an angry message “Indian Army Rape Us.”

If the image of that protest is seared into our minds, Manipur is also home to another very powerful image of protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1959 (AFSPA): that of Irom Chanu Sharmila, the young poet whose hunger fast against this law is now in its 14th year.

Soon after Manorama’s killing, the central government set up the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee to review the AFSPA. Yet, despite its recommendation for repeal, AFSPA is still in force!

“The Protest against Impunity to Armed forces in Armed Conflict Areas” on 11 July 2014 was jointly organised by Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), Manipur Students’ Association of Delhi (MSAD), North East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS), Stree Mukti Sangthan (SMS), Women Against Sexual Assault and State Repression (WSS), Saheli among organisations. Prior to the protest, we leafleted in various parts of the city to inform people about the disproportionate ‘powers’ the armed forces exercises in areas of conflict, and mobilise them against the impunity ensured for extra-judicial killings, torture, rapes disappearances and fake encounters. In our interactions, we realised many of them were keen on knowing about the Act and its impact on people. Some of us were also able to have conversations about why Manorama cannot be seen as an isolated case. The importance of such campaigning was obvious.

At the protest, members from different organisations made strong arguments against AFSPA. It was asserted that the incidences of violations under AFSPA were too many to be recorded and have remained unchecked for too long. The gathering also cited the Justice Verma Committee on sexual violence which took serious note of the impact of AFSPA on women, and recommended its repeal. Along with speeches, a play and several songs were also performed. Our demands included the withdrawal of the armed forces from these areas; that army personnel guilty of torture, rape and other forms of violence be brought to justice and that the JVC guidelines relating to sexual offences in conflict areas be implemented – all long standing demands against a draconian Act that has been in force too long. But the real question is, will we ever be able to write an obituary of the AFSPA?

Box 1

On 30th March 2014, a march was organised in Delhi by the ‘Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign’ with many groups and individuals, including Voices Against 377. In this pre-election moment, the message directed at all political parties was unequivocal: and promises are largely centred around development, secularism and corruption. It is being believed that with these issues, you all will be able to woo all sections of the population. However, the truth is that you have missed out on millions of people, residing in the AFSPA imposed states, for whom these promises hold no meaning. Their voices, their concerns have been ignored for decades....”