Source: Times of India
On Tuesday, Manipuri activist Irom Charu Sharmila, known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” is set to end a sixteen-year long fast which she began in 2000 to protest against the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). She said in July that she would contest the 2017 Manipur Assembly polls – the next chapter in her long struggle to get the AFSPA repealed. What is the AFSPA? How long has it been in force in Manipur? Why? Here are some answers for you.
1.The AFSPA: The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act was signed into law in September 1958, and was later renamed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). It authorizes the central government and heads of states and Union Territories to declare the regions they govern to be “disturbed areas.” The act gives armed forces extarordinary powers, including immunity from legal action, and the licence to shoot to kill and arrest people without obtaining warrants
Human rights activists have criticized the army’s alleged misuse of the act’s provisions, and have called for it to be repealed.
2.’Disturbed’ regions: Besides parts of the North East, the AFSPA has been in force in two other regions: Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh (withdrawn in 1997 in both jurisdictions) and Jammu and Kashmir (still in force).
3.The beginning: The state of Manipur was first given ‘disturbed area’ status in 1980. This was done to combat four insurgent groups who were active in the state at the time.
4.Partial withdrawal: The AFSPA was withdrawn from seven Assembly constituencies in 2014, but is still in force everywhere else in the state.
5.Extension of status: In December last year, Manipur’s ‘disturbed area’ status was extended by a year by the Manipur government.
6.Counter-insurgency role: The primary role of the Army in Manipur is to engage in counter-insurgency operations. The state shares a border with the Republic of Myanmar, from where several terrorist outfits operate.
7.Embattled army personnel: Terrorist groups active in the in the state have targeted army personnel posted there. 18 Dogra regiment personnel were killed last year by terrorists in Manipur’s Chandel district, in the deadliest terrorist attack in the state since 1982, when 20 jawans were felled.
8.Separatism Some Manipuris consider their state’s merger with India in 1949 to have been signed under “duress,” and a large number of insurgent groups demanding a separate state are active in the state. These include the United National Liberation Front of Manipur, the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak.
9.Extra-judicial killings: It has been alleged that over 1,528 people died in extra-judicial killings (‘fake encounters’) carried out by the army between 1979 and 2012 in Manipur. The Supreme Court in July said the army and paramilitary forces couldn’t use “excessive and retaliatory force” in Manipur, and asked for a report on alleged fake encounters in the state.
10.An “obnoxious” law: Congress veteran and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram in 2014 characterized the AFSPA as “obnoxious.” However, Babloo Loitongbam – executive director of Human Rights Alert – responded to Chidambaram’s comments by asking why he’d remained silent on issue when he was in office, and why the UPA government headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had failed to repeal the Act.
With inputs from agencies
Compiled by Ganesh Kumar Radha-Udayakumar