By: Jiten Yumnam
In November 2017, Nagaland and Manipur, two states in India’s North East with ongoing indigenous peoples’ Self Determination movement witnessed the extension of Disturbed Area, a precondition for promulgation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, 1958 (AFSPA, 1958), permitting the suspension of non derogable rights, like the ‘Right to Life’, ‘Right to Justice Remedy” etc. While the Government of Nagaland tendered objection to the extension of Disturbed Area tag by the Government of India, the Government of Manipur voluntary extended the Disturbed Area tag for a period of one year with effect from 1 December 2017 . Under this Act, Indian armed forces have been conferred unrestricted and unaccountable power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared as “disturbed area”. Indian security forces personnel up to the rank of a non-commissioned officer are granted powers to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion to “maintain public order”. Further AFSPA provides legal immunity to the Indian army personnel involved in human rights violations. The recommendations for AFPSA, 1958 figures at United Nations human rights mechanisms including in the Universal Periodic Reviews of India at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and 2017.
The extension of the controversial piece of legislation, AFSPA, 1958 becomes a regular feature since its phased application in the two States since inception of the act in 1958. The AFSPA, 1958 facilitates the extensive deployment of Indian Armed Forces all across the terrains of Manipur and other parts of India’s North East, wherever the act is promulgated. The militarization processes is further exacerbated by the aggressive push for large infrastructure projects, extractive industries, viz, mining, oil exploration etc under India’s Act East Policy and indeed, Manipur is one of most militarized terrains in the world.
The extensive militarization of Indian armed forces has led to wide human rights violations, civilian casualties, extra judicial executions, arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, sexual harassment etc with lack of accountability for the violations by the Indian Army officials operating under AFSPA, 1958. The Supreme Court of India continues to hear a PIL seeking probe in the 1,528 extra-judicial killings in Manipur from 2000 to 2012 by security forces and police. The Supreme Court had directed a probe by the Central Bureau Investigation into the extra-judicial killings, mostly youths by the Indian army units and police commandoes in Manipur. Another horrendous impact of militarization is rape and sexual harassment of indigenous women by Army personnel, the most infamous being the rape and murder of Miss Thangjam Manorama by 17 Assam Rifles personnel on 11 July 2004. The nature and pattern of Indian Army violations in Manipur already constitutes a crime against humanity & genocide.
Conscription of prime agriculture land, occupation of sacred cultural and religious sites for military camp establishments is another impact of extensive militarization. Most of the hills in Imphal Valley, including the Chinga Hills, the Patsoi Hills, Langthabal Hills and Cheiraoching Hills etc, revered as sacred cultural and religious sites to the Meitei people are currently occupied by various units of Indian Armies. The Assam Rifles for long occupied Kangla, the sacred political and cultural centre of the indigenous peoples of Manipur in Imphal, till it was withdrawn due to peoples’ protest against the brutal rape and murder of Ms. Thangjam Manorama by personnel of 17th Assam Rifles, then based at Kangla.
The Kaimai Village Authority in Tousem Sub-division, Tamenglong District expressed concern with the media that the construction of military barracks by the Assam Rifles units in the compound of the Kaimai Baptist Church in their village since 2005 disturbed the social, cultural life and freedom of the villagers and affected the religious services and participation of villagers in the Church services. Women villagers are reluctant to attend church services, especially those held during night time, due to army presence in Church compound. The villagers’ request to remove the army barracks from the Church compounds remains unheeded both by the Army authorities . The continued army occupation of the Langthabal Palace, a historical site in Langthabal Hills inside Manipur University has long been a concern. In July 2017, students of Manipur University Students Union and North-East Forum for International Solidarity protested the continued military deployment inside the university reasoning that the Army presence in the university has negated academic life and freedom.
The army’s acquisition of massive tract of land led to much controversy in several places including Sekmai, Namching, Waithou etc, with villagers resisting the conversion of prime agriculture land and forest land into army camps and military establishments. Militarization also adds much pressures on communities’ agriculture, forest land and water sources. Villagers of different communities settled in Sekmai area staged protest against setting up of an army camp at the agricultural land of Sekmai area, following by a protest rally on 13 September 2017 . Communities feared that the Army camps at Leimakhong, Koirengei Air Field and Pallel Air Field at Kakching may establish and expend their camps on the agriculture land located at an area covering 1800 acres in Sekmai and adjoining villages. The people have also appealed the government to forbid Indian Army to set up their camp at their paddy land asserting that their agriculture land is their main livelihood source. The villagers already sacrificed much of their agriculture land and forest for establishment of Leimakhong army base nearby and additional land alienation would be suicidal for them.
The location of army camps and check points right in the middle of villages also led to much controversy due to the restriction imposed on villagers’ movement. In early February 2015, an indefinite bandh was called by the villagers of Tengnoupal Village, Manipur along the Imphal-Moreh Road calling for shifting of the Assam Rifles posted in the village. Protesting villagers’ contended that the Army officials denied free movement even for sick patients requiring urgent medical treatments .
Other than land loss, many villages also are impacted by other military facilities. In October 2012, the villagers of Namching resisted efforts of Government of Manipur to acquire 24.51 acres of land from their village to hand over to 9 Sector Assam Rifles for use as firing range. Villagers demanded the cancellation of eviction order by the SDC of Kangchup on 18 September 2012. Villagers also contended that the Government earlier acquired and arbitrarily transferred 209.98 acres of their land to 28 Assam Rifles in 1991 without their consent and rehabilitation . The village authorities of Khunkhu village located near Leimakhong Army base complained the Army authorities continuously used a portion of their village land field firing range since 1938 without compensation for damages caused to the village, constituting a direct violation of the Maneuvers, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938. The Khunkhu villagers also contended that field firing and artillery practice in the area, including use of bombs and stray bullets have killed and injured villagers and their domestic animals. The villagers even petitioned the Guwahati High Court in 1997 and lamented that the Court’s direction in September 1998 to shift the firing practice and to award compensation for any casualties has not been honored .
Militarization also led to use of education complex as military camps. The excavation of Eight (8) skulls at Tombisana School, right in the heart of Imphal Town in December 2014 had been attributed to prolonged deployment of Central Reserve Police Forces, BSF and other paramilitary forces in the school . The skulls are believed to be those disappeared in Manipur in the hands of armies.
The inconveniences and harassment caused by armies in national highways, such as Highway 37 along Imphal to Jiribam towns with frequent and regular checks presents an inconvenience and utter disrespect for the people of Manipur, who are often subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment with men passengers commanded to alight from vehicles and to cross military check point on foot, an experience one feels in an occupied land and territories. Indian army military operations also led to restriction on the traditional livelihood and displacement of indigenous communities, such as due to Loktak Operation and the Summer Storm operation in 1999 and 2008 .
The aggressive introduction of unsustainable and large scale development projects such as Trans Asian Railway, construction of big dams, like the 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric project, the Mapithel dam also involves extensive establishment of military camps for the protection of infrastructures and the personnel manning such projects. The proposed oil exploration, mining plans, other infrastructure projects and proposed plans to build dams all over the Rivers of Manipur under the Manipur Hydro Power Policy, 2012 will lead to further militarization of Manipur’s land, forest areas and other survival sources. Extensive militarization both for countering the self-determination movement of Manipur and to pursue development aggression under India’s Act policy will only exert more pressure on the land, forest and resource to further undermine Manipur’s food sovereignty and its peoples’ survival and self-determination. An assessment of the cumulative land acquired for militarization alongside with the myriad mega development projects in would entail a significant loss of land, forest and destruction of peoples’ survival sources in Manipur.
Militarization process has disturbed the intrinsic relationships of Indigenous peoples with their land, territories and resources in Manipur. The presence of army camps right in residential communities also interferes with the social and cultural life and fabric of communities. Militarization also led to securitization of civilian affairs and functioning with programs such as Civic Action Programme. Confiscation of prime agricultural land and resources without the consent of the communities has led to social, cultural impacts while threatening the physical integrity and survival as peoples.
Manipur currently strives to protect its agriculture land towards ending food dependency on outside. Any further diversion of agriculture land to other non-agriculture purposes such as for militarization purposes will destroy its primary economic bases and foster dependency. There should be no land acquisition without the free, prior and informed consent of the villagers, such as Sekmai village. Article 11 of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stipulates that no military activities shall take place in the lands of indigenous peoples, unless freely agreed upon by the indigenous peoples concerned. The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights, Mr. James Anaya expressed strong condemnation with the Mapithel dam construction and the militarization process in his communication with the Government of India in 2008. Any military occupation of sacred, cultural and religious places, such as Church in Keimai Village should be withdrawn. As recommended by various UN Human Rights bodies, including the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women etc, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, should be repealed and subsequently, Manipur should be demilitarized. The ongoing armed conflict in Manipur should be resolved with due recognition of indigenous peoples’ self-determined rights as per international law and UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007.
Source: Imphal Free Press