The Big Picture- Irom Sharmila and AFSPA Debate: Where Is It Heading?
After 16 years of prolonged fasting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Irom Chanu Sharmila recently ended her hunger strike. It is indeed remarkable that for so many years, she carried on her fight alone foregoing the sense of taste.
Reasons for her decision and reaction from people:
Opinion on her decision to end the fast remained clearly divided in Manipur. The 16 long years spent in the hope of a result didn’t bring out anything for the Iron Lady. There were no initiatives from the political parties on her hunger strike and apart from this the recommendations of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission Report were also taken into consideration. Therefore, this is a good decision on her part and she has all her rights to get into electoral politics to achieve her goal.
However, many people in her state felt strongly disappointed with the decision. People in Manipur do not have much faith in Indian politics. They have a thinking that by joining up Indian politics, Irom Sharmila might also end up like other politicians. Manipur has more than 40 underground groups (UG) which hold a partial sway over the State’s civil society. Because of their power, many people out of fear have not supported Irom Sharmila.
AFSPA and other issues:
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered ‘disturbed’ areas. The Act has often faced flak from Human Rights groups as it gave sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas.
Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission noted that “the Act is a symbol of hate, oppression and instrument of high handedness”. It unambiguously recommended the repeal of the controversial law for which people in Manipur and some other parts of the country have been agitating for years. It also said that while providing protection against civil or criminal proceedings to the army with respect to their acts and deeds, it is equally important to ensure that when they knowingly abuse or misuse their powers, they must be held accountable. There is a strong lobby of military and Indian intelligentsia in which there is a belief that the country cannot hold itself together without the use of AFSPA. This has been a reason for no action on the Report so far.
Though there are many violent insurrections in India which have to be handled militarily but in the short run. Even after so many years, if the situation in these states has not changed, it is quite evident that there is some serious flaw with this law itself. Military in these situations need to be put under the purview of civil laws if they are doing civil policing duties.
There is no situation that justifies AFSPA. Army can be deployed to kill insurgents but they cannot kill innocent people and commit atrocities on them without any accountability. This is one the major reasons why people from these far flung areas of India feel alienated from rest of the country. The indifference towards Irom Sharmila for so many years somewhere proves the attitude of the Indian Government not to treat them at par with rest of the country. Our government has to be sensitive to the issue of violation of Human Rights of the people in these areas.
It is high time now for India to realize that waging war against its own people will not help. The country needs to trust and respect its citizens. The end of hunger strike by Irom Sharmila cannot be said to be a failure because the decision taken by her shows that she has upheld the cause for which she was fighting. Although her 16 years of hunger failed to gain momentum and support from the people, moving towards electoral politics is the most practical decision she could have taken.