In the wake of Oting Massacre, the movement against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 has renewed.
Besides condemnations against the Oting Massacre and protests in Nagaland demanding repeal of AFSPA, a number of civil society organisations in Manipur including All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), United Committee Manipur (UCM), Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations (CSCHR) and North East Forum for Indigenous People (NEIFIP) based in Manipur condemn the Oting Massacre and demand repeal of AFSPA. NEFIP represents civil organisations of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
In Manipur, members of the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) also staged a sit-in protest at Keishampat in Imphal on December 9 condemning the Oting Massacre and demanding repeal of AFSPA. The placards at the protest read ‘COCOMI condemns Oting massacre’, ‘Stop killing innocent people’, ‘Repeal AFSPA 1958’, ‘Respect North East people’, ‘Stop dehumanization of NE people’. A minute’s silence was also observed by the protesting members for the eternal peace of the civilians killed by Indian security forces.
In the chorus for repeal of AFSPA, NESO members take more active part shouting slogans in unison across the states of the Northeast and holding placards demanding immediate repeal of AFSPA and justice to the deceased civilians.
NESO a conglomeration of the student bodies of the Northeast comprising of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Garo Students’ Union (GSU), Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) and Twipra Students’ Federation (TSF) organised Sit-in-Protests across all the states of the Northeast demanding exemplary punishment to those involved in the Oting Massacre in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4 late afternoon.
In Manipur too, AMSU the constituent member of NESO staged Sit-in-Protest and took out a rally on December 9 condemning the massacre and demanding repeal of AFSPA holding banner and placards “Repeal AFSPA ”, “Stop killing innocent civilians” and “We stand against AFSPA 1958” in Imphal starting from the head office of AMSU at DM University campus and passing through Khuyathong and JN Manipur Dance Academy and back to the head office of AMSU.
Another team of AMSU also submitted a memorandum to Major General Alok Naresh, IGAR South, demanding the repeal of AFSPA from Northeast.
AMSU also held a candle light vigil in association with Manipur University Students Union (MUSU) at Manipur University gate against the killing of innocent civilians in Nagaland.
Notably, the movement for repeal of AFSPA sparked off with Irom Chanu Sharmila’s hunger strike in the wake of Malom Massacre on November 2, 2000 in Manipur.
In 2004 the movement against AFSPA gained momentum with Apunba Lup, a conglomeration of 34 civil society organisations of Manipur, spearheaded the movement after the killing of Manorama by the Assam Rifles. After July 15, 2004 Nude protest by the 12 brave mothers, the Meira Paibis (women torch bearers) in front of the western gate of Kangla where the Assam Rifles had been occupying since the British left in 1947, the Disturbed Area Status under AFSPA from Imphal Municipal Area comprising seven Assembly Constituencies was withdrawn by the Government of Manipur when Okram Ibobi was the Chief Minister and the Assam Rifles also vacated Kangla. Kangla had been the palace of Manipur since 33 AD till the British occupied in 1891.
Even after the withdrawal of AFSPA from Imphal Municipal area and withdrawal of Assam Rifles from Kangla, the movement against AFSPA continued with Sharmila’s hunger strike with continuation of campaigns by the civil society organisations and human rights groups within and without Manipur upto the floors of United Nations.
However, with the end of Sharmila’s hunger strike on August 9, 2016, the solely people’s movement against AFSPA didn’t attract much media coverage though it continues with periodic incidents.
It may be mentioned that Manipur has had Heirangoithong massacre, Operation Bluebird (Oinam massacre), RMC massacre, Malom massacre etc. under AFSPA.
Significantly, the difference of the movement this time from before is, besides the civil society and human rights organisations, the Chief Ministers of Nagaland and Meghalaya have vocally demanded to repeal the draconian and inhuman act which gives impunity to the personnel of the armed forces of India.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma who is also the National President of the National Peoples’ Party (NPP) on December 6 said that “AFSPA definitely is not the solution”. He also tweeted, “AFSPA should be repealed.”
The Chief Minister said that his government will urge the Government of India to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958.
“We continue to keep our stand against the AFSPA and we will urge the government of India to repeal this draconian act,” Sangma said.
Following the killing 14 civilians by the Indian security forces at Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio called for repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio tweeted, “Nagaland and the Naga people have always opposed #AFSPA. It should be repealed.”
Further, the Nagaland cabinet of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio on December 7 decided to write to the Union government to immediately repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act amid a major uproar over the recent killing of 14 civilians by the security forces in Northeastern state.
In the aftermath of the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Mon district, the Nagaland government on December 9 decided to hold a special session of the Assembly to discuss and pass a resolution for repealing the AFSPA.
Moreover, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoram Thangga has supported the move of the Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, with the Northeast simmering with anger on the Oting Massacre which Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Indian Parliament on December 6 that it was a case of “mistaken identity”.
Notably, reports said Nagaland police has filed an FIR claiming that the Army intention was to kill and injure the civilians. And that after the first round of fire in which several civilians were killed, the Army fired again ostensibly to ward off angry mobs, and killed more civilians.
Both the Governments of Nagaland and Meghalaya are the partners of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of the Union Government of India.
However, the BJP-led government of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in Manipur maintained a silence about the Oting Massacre till the media asked on December 8 at Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy in Imphal on the sidelines of BJP’s launching programme of Involving Public Aspiration in Party Manifesto for the coming 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election.
Breaking the silence of the BJP-led Manipur Government, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam said, “We also condemn the incident of Nagaland. We have been pressing the Government of India for withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur and now also we will continue to do so”.
Before the statement of Manipur Chief Minister, earlier on December 7 the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations (CSCHR) has urged the Chief Minister of Manipur to join the other Northeast CMs to press for repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA.
CSCHR, in a press release issued on December 7, the condemning of the indiscriminate shooting down of unarmed coal mine labourers by the armed forces of the Union and subsequent repression of the protestors using lethal weapons resulting in the death of at least 14 civilians and injuries to a score of others at Oting, Mon district, Nagaland on December 4, strongly urges the Government of Manipur to put its weight for the repeal of AFSPA in order to fulfil the long-standing demand of the people of Manipur.
Further CSCHR said, “It is encouraging to note the Chief Minsters of Nagaland as well as that of Meghalaya have revibrated that voice of sanity to repeal this draconian law. The issue has now echoed in the ongoing Parliament session in New Delhi. However, we are shocked and surprised by the stoic silence maintained by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur at this critical juncture. After all his built his political career using the anti-AFSPA movement.”
The release also said the Oting Massacre is not an isolated incident, but it is yet another manifestation of the consistent pattern of atrocities committed by the lndian military deployed under the AFSPA-1958, in the North East region for more than half a century.
The AFSPA gives the Army powers of firing, arrest and detention, enter and search in disturbed areas.
The Act provides immunity to the Armed Forces, “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act”.
Now, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren’s response amidst the renewed movement to repeal AFSPA that the state government has been pressing the Government of India for withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur while the declaration of entire area of the State of Manipur excluding the Imphal Municipal Area as “Disturbed Area” lapsed on November 30, 2021 attracts a question – Is it sensible to press the Government of India to withdraw AFSPA from Manipur while the disturbed area under Section 3 of the AFSPA has been declared in Manipur excluding Imphal Municipal Area by the State Government? Demanding repeal of AFSPA is a different from withdrawal of AFSPA.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics