On 4th of March 2009, when it was touching noon,(around 11:50 am), Mohd Azad Khan was reading a newspaper in the courtyard of his house along with one of his neighbouring friends, in Phoubakachao Makha Leikai Yumnan village of west Imphal district, Manipur. Azad, a barely 12 year old boy and a student of class seventh at the local high school, was sitting with his friend Kiyam Anad Singh (14 years), when some personnel of the Manipur Police Commandos rushed in to his house. One of the personnel dragged Azad by both of his hands and started beating him severly. Meanwhile, the commandos asked Kiyam the reason for keeping company with Azad. Didn’t he not know, Azad was an activist of an underground organisation. The commandos showed him a gun saying that it belonged to Azad and slapped him on his face. Subsequently, Azad was dragged out some 70 metres towards the north.
While Azad was being dragged out of the courtyard, the commandos fired some rounds in the air and at the same time other commandos prevented his mother and family from following them, pointing guns and forcing them to go inside their house. After dragging Azad, he was pushed down on the paddy field and shot dead. Almost immediately, the commandos threw a pistol near the dead body. The whole incident was witnessed by his family members as well as neighbouring villagers, as all of this happened in broad daylight. After the killing, the dead body was taken away by the raiding commandos in their vehicles. The villagers tried following the police commandos but were stopped.
Azad is not alone
Believe me, this is not the script of a horror/action film but a real life story. What is most disturbing is that the case of Azad is only one amongst the hundreds killed in cold blood. Over the years, cold blooded murder, or ‘encounter’, as they call it, has become a routine of Manipur. Like Azad, you would be reading the newspaper today and be a news item in tomorrow’s newspaper, which too would be limited to those published in Manipur and neighbouring areas. In the same year, on 23rd July, Chongkham Sanjit (27 years old), was killed in cold blood in broad daylight, barely 500 metres from the state assembly. But it was only when the newsweekly Tehelka, published the photographs of the episode by an anonymous photographer, that news of Sanjit’s cold blooded murder reached us.
Cold blooded killings, and, in particular, fake encounters by the Manipur Police Commandos (MPC) have become a day-to-day affair in the life of Manipuris. In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killings by the MPC. In several cases, ordinary civilians carrying money and valuables have been robbed and sometimes killed. In few of the cases, official ‘action’ has been taken but for the most part, their extra-judicial activities goes scot free. In fact, it happens the other way around. Take the case of Azad. Her mother Garamjan Bibi deposed before an Independent People’s Tribunal headed by Justice (retired) K K Usha of Kerala High Court, during 11-13 December 2009. “When I tried to bring out the truth, filling a case with police, the police commandos, warned me to withdraw the case if I wanted to save my life.” It must be mentioned, in all of the cases, Commandos repeatedly threatened the petitioners to withdraw the cases. What is more glaring is that it is not just happening in Manipur only, but different parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir as well.
The root Cause
Why is it happening so? What makes these forces so powerful, or rather, so brutal? The answer is, Arms Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)-1958, a draconian law in the name of maintaining law and order in the so-called disturbed areas. According to the Act, in an area that is declared as ‘disturbed’, even a non- commissioned officer of the armed forces has powers to: “Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the extent of causing 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 on anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so and to enter and search any premise at any time in order to make such arrests. It gives army officers legal protection for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the law.
The act is not only problematic because of violation of rights that occur in ‘disturbed areas’. But it is also problematic because once the AFSPA is in force – as it is in all Northeast Indian states – the government through a simple notification can declare any area, the entire state, or parts of the state, as ‘disturbed’ without any public debate. The deployment of the armed forces, the suspension of fundamental freedoms and the ‘special powers’ of the armed forces can immediately come into force. An area can remain ‘disturbed’ for years with no end. The act legitimizes a localized form of indefinite emergency rule in the areas. Ironically, the Act is nothing but a replica of the 1942 Ordinance framed by the colonial powers to control the wave of Indian freedom struggle.
AFSPA must go
It has been 53 years, since the act came into being. And over the years, it has become an established fact that due to the draconian law, hundreds of ordinary citizens of the so-called disturbed states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir have lost their lives. Extra-judicial killings, illegal detention, rape, torture has become a routine affair for the people—men, women, old and child all alike, of these ‘disturbed areas’. The act has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness by the one who is supposed to protect their life, liberty and dignity. Even the Justice Reddy Committee, appointed by Government to study the issue during UPA-I admits it, “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness.” And without an iota of doubt, the impacts of the draconian laws like AFSPA are far reaching and disastrous. These are tools of the Indian government, through which it is alienating and pushing towards the wall its ‘own-people’. Government after government, no matter which party is at the helm of affairs, is not worried about these people, nor ready to scrap this tool of oppression.
This 22nd May, when the draconian law is compled its 53th year of enactment and entered into the 54th, it is the duty of us, the people from the so-called mainland India to stand up by the side of (or with) the oppressed and demand to scrap the AFSPA. After all, injustice anywhere is everywhere. It is time to join Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is on her fast unto death, now going to enter in eleventh year, with the firm resolution to see the Act meet its end and an end to the injustice (mostly unaccounted) by the armed forces on the innocent civilians. Today when hundreds and thousands of people from Kashmir to Manipur are demanding to scrap the AFSPA, let us come together and join hands, stand in solidarity with the people of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir and say : AFSPA must go now and by now. Enough is enough.
(Mahtab Alam is a Civil Rights’ Activist and an independent Journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.