This coming summer, it will be ten years since the brutal killing of Pastor Jamkholet Khongshai and Thangjam Manorama unfolded a summer of turmoil packed with massive protest against the inhumane perpetration by the security forces under the cover of the provision of the infamous AFSPA. The barbaric gunning down of the pastor and killing of a woman after forcing her to undergo the humiliation of rape were macabre enough. But, what shocked the common people further were the impunity with which the heinous acts were carried out by the personnel and the arrogance and absence of regret or atonement on part of the ranks of the security forces who played down the whole episodes as insignificant issues. Overwhelmed with hurt and shame, the people abandoned their personal chores and came together in protest against years of partial treatment and the free hand offered to the security forces. As people released their pent up anger, the street burned, the state administration was thrown upside down and Manipur became the cynosure yet again for the explosive protests by its denizens. But, when the Centre weighed the genuine discontentment, the nude protest by women to reveal their frustration and self immolation by student leader Pebam Chittaranjan, against AFSPA the scale was found skewed markedly in favour of the central forces and Act. Now, as the tenth anniversaries of the death of Manorama and Jamkholet near, different organizations have come together with the objective of giving a ‘determined push’ to realize the long-standing demand for revocation of the Act by the end of 2014, through using legitimate means and participation of all sections of the society.
The action planned by them is in part a way of reminiscing the summer of 2004 and how terribly horrified the public was and still is at the mention of AFSPA. The organizations that participated at the convention held on January 5, 2014 at Lamyanba Sanglen in Imphal constituted a working committee and agreed to adopt an action plan at the earliest. One of the unique features of the meeting was the emphasis paid on participation of the masses and different sections of the society. If we observe, since the anti-AFSPA agitation of 2004, the major responsibilities and workload have fallen on the shoulders of a few committed organizations and public participation has been very passive and limited. The lack of participation by the general public, of course, is not a true reflection of their opinions on the continuation of the law. Even then, by not expressing their deep seated opposition into overt actions, they have hindered the anti-AFSPA movement which over the last decades had moved only a few strides. Public are underestimating the prowess of their contribution and this unawareness had became the shortcoming in the bid to uproot AFSPA. The leading beacon of light in the struggle, Irom Sharmila Chanu has been making repeated pleas to individuals to understand that they are the real fighters in repealing AFSPA. The plain truth is it was neither political arm-twisting by the state leaders, nor a change of heart by the power that be behind the partial removal of the Act – it was the cries of anger by the bereaved public.
The deadline of a year for removal of the Act appeared impractical. However, without losing too much sleep over the outcome, the committee must keep its plans on the right track and spare ample room for public participation. Their stir has the hallmark of a democratic movement. It is not a call for a referendum or a cry for civil war but an imploration for equal treatment of all citizens of India as promised in the Constitution of India. The argument that without AFSPA the law and order in the state will capsize is a fallacy and must be defeated by the voice of the people.