Ten years ago, student activist Pebam Chittaranjan laid down his life against imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in the State. Chittaranjan self-immolated on August 15, 2004. Internationally acclaimed and national award winning film ‘AFSPA 1958’ directed by H Pabankumar is worth recalling, those familiar with the film cannot forget the last scenes of the 77 minutes long documentary film. Chittaranjan spoke on camera about his strong opposition against the Act, catching his breath in between words. Apparently the shot was taken when Chittaranjan was nearing his end, with burn injuries all over his body. This is not to valorise the act of self-immolation by the young activist, neither to initiate a debate on suicide. But this is to put on record the act of resisting the Act, which is still in imposition in the State today. Chittaranjan’s decision to self-immolate with fire may be extreme. Yet he was firm with his opposition even during the last minutes of his life. Here, it is important to recall that 2004 was a significant year in the protest history of Manipur against the Act. The alleged rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by paramilitary forces on July 11, 2004 evoked widespread protest against the Act. Women activist disrobed themselves in front of the Western gate of Kangla, which was then occupied by the 17 Assam Rifles, in protest against the atrocities of the securities forces meted out to Manorama. They demanded punishment of the personnel who were involved in the act, and also shouted slogans against the security personnel to come and rape them. This was when Manorama’s body was still lying at the mortuary of the Regional Institute of Medical Science. Her family had refused to accept her body in protest. A few days later, activist of Manipur Forward Youth Front tried to self-immolate in front of the Chief Minister’s bungalow. Protest agitations were seen erupting at different corners of the State; this was in spite of the curfews which were imposed by the authority to control the situation. Chittaranjan’s self-immolation protest was very much part of the chain of events that have occurred. The then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had promised to replace the Act with a ‘human Act’. Assam Rifles was shifted away from Kangla as a symbolic gesture towards fulfilling peoples’ wish by the Government of India. A committee to review the Act, known as the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was instituted. Needless to say, the recommendations of the Committee was not made public, and it could have remained hidden within the confines of the Home ministry had not The Hindu published it for public scrutiny. The Committee has recommended for repealing the Act, no doubt about it. Yet the Government of India, it seems, has been trying to sweep aside the recommendations, which means the Act will stay. This is even more evident from the recent response of the Union Home ministry to the report submitted by Justice Hegde to the apex court, which inquired into alleged fake encounter killings by armed forces and police in Manipur. The ministry has defended the Act that ‘it provides the barest minimum legal protection to the security forces … and defended the protection to security personnel from local police and criminal trial’. It is left to be seen, whether the political parties, except Congress, which promised repeatedly to work towards removal of the Act would have anything to say on the matter. The civil societies, on the other hand should re-prioritise the issues in hand, for justice still eludes Manorama and her family, and many other families.
Leader Writer: Senate Kh