Last week when the world remembered the infamous 9/11, the day of September 11 in 2001 the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda attacked against the United States of America collapsing the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, Manipur observed Invisible 9/11 against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, (AFSPA) 1958.
On September 11, 1958, the President of India gave his assent to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup (AMKIL) observed this day as Invisible 9/11. AMKIL organised a women’s round table discussion on Invisible 9/11 at the Multipurpose Hall in the Head Quarter of All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), DM University Campus in Imphal.
The women’s round table discussion held on Invisible 9/11 was also attended by Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert (HRA. Acting Chairperson of Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Khaidem Mani graced the function as Chief Guest, AMKIL President-in-charge Lourembam Nganbi Leima as President and AMSU President Haobijam Chalamba as Guest of Honour.
The Women Round Table Discussion on Invisible 9/11 unanimously resolved to reiterate the long-standing demand of the people of Manipur to repeal AFSPA.
Secondly the gathering resolved to endorse, as an interim, the recommendation of the MHRC to the Government of Manipur to revoke the “disturbed area” status from the whole of Manipur and to recommend the Government of India repeal AFSPA.
In the event of the Government of Manipur ignoring the MHRC recommendation by the deadline of November 2, 2021, to initiate mass-action to save the future generations of Manipur from the harmful effect of the obnoxious AFSPA, the gathering resolved.
During the round table discussion, the writer of ‘India’s War on Democracy: The debate on AFSPA, 1958’, Dr Malem Ningthouja elaborated on ‘Sixty-three years of AFSPA in Manipur: A Historical Perspective’ through recorded voice.
MHRC Acting Chairperson, Khaidem Mani said that AFSPA was imposed to control terrorism in the State; however, on the contrary it has led to increase in terrorist acts. He said that under the shield of the Act, security personnel have killed many innocents alleging them as terrorists and assaulted many others just on suspicion.
Reiterating that many CSOs have taken up agitations and revolted to remove the draconian Act from the State, he said the death of Thangjam Manorama fuelled the movement to repeal AFSPA from the State which resulted in the naked protest by 12 strong mothers in front of the Kangla Gate. This move by the mothers of the State is a first of its kind in the world and it paved the way for removal of AFSPA from seven Assembly segments of Greater Imphal.
Mani stated that as an Acting Chairperson of MHRC he has submitted a memorandum to the authority concerned to remove the disturb area status from the State. He said that it is the right of the people to raise democratic agitations and there is a need for a new law for the unity among all the people in the State. He also appealed to the people to choose their leaders wisely in the time of election and elect leaders who are selfless and ready to sacrifice themselves for the wellbeing of the people.
Participating in the deliberation, Human Rights Alert (HRA) Executive Director Babloo Loitongbam elaborated on the events of 9/11 air attacks in the USA by Al Qaeda said that war against the Taliban has been ended in the USA however, inhuman acts conducted by soldiers under the shadow of AFSPA is itself a war against democracy.
Further Babloo Loitongbam on demanded answers as to why the disturbed area status is not removed yet from the whole state of Manipur when the chief minister himself declared that the law and order situation of the state had been tremendously improved.
He said that for the whole world, ‘9/11’ is remembered as the day when terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York. However, in the context of Manipur 9/11 is the day when the people’s right to live was suspended by enforcing the draconian AFSPA act.
If Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren was really a human rights activist as he had frequently stated, the disturbed area status would have been removed from the whole state of Manipur, said Babloo.
He said though incidents of fake encounter cases have stopped taking place in the state, the general public is still apprehensive and continue to live in fear as AFSPA is not completely removed from Manipur.
Pointing out that the investigation report of 39 fake encounter cases had been submitted to the Supreme Court by the CBI, he said prosecution sanction has not been given to any of the army personnel involved in the cases as they are protected by the AFSPA.
“AFSPA is an act of declaring war against democracy. We are hoping that the court will surely deliver justice to the victims of the fake encounter cases,” he further said.
The round table discussion deliberated on the catastrophic impact on the lives of the ordinary people of Manipur, leaving a trail of egregious human rights violations including rape, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary detention etc. by the 63 years of imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in Manipur.
The gathering on the Invisible 9/11 saluted the selfless sacrifices made by brave women and men human rights defenders struggling for the repeal of AFSPA in Manipur and beyond.
The round table discussion was outraged by the efforts of the Central Government to shield off the personnel of the armed forces of the Union found to be involved in the extrajudicial execution of civilians by the CBI/SIT investigations conducted on the direction of the Supreme Court of India the judgement in EEVFAM vs. Union of India [WP(Cril) 129 of 2012], by denying prosecution sanction under section 6 of the AFSPA in all the cases.
It may be mentioned that the people of Manipur has been struggling to repeal AFSPA for many years. Irom Chanu Sharmila alone fasted for four years until 2016 demanding repeal of AFSPA.
On 15 July 2004, these 12 Meira Paibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic old palace of Manipur, Kangla in the heart of Imphal, then the headquarters of the Assam Rifles, carrying banners with messages painted in red – “Indian Army Rape Us”, read one. “Indian Army Take Our Flesh”, said another.
In the same year on August 15, the 58th Independence Day of India Pebam Chittaranjan, a student leader self-immolated himself in Bishnupur Bazar demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 from Manipur.
The Apunba Lup, a conglomeration of 32 civil society organisations spearheaded the movement to repeal AFSPA.
Notably, the round table discussion acknowledged that all the official committee and commission that reviewed the application of AFSPA, including the Jeevan Reddy Committee (2005), Second Administrative Reform Commission (2007), Justice Verma Committee (2012), Santosh Hedge Commission (2013), etc. has all recommended the repeal of AFSPA.
They noted that United Nations human rights mechanism including the Human Rights Committee, Committee on Discrimination Against Women, Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defender, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women etc. as well the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review on India has all consistently recommended the review/repeal of AFSPA.
However, indication of repeal of AFSPA is still invisible. And initiation of mass-action demanding repeal of AFSPA is obvious as the Women Round Table Discussion on Invisible 9/11 resolved.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics