The state cabinet last Wednesday decided to extend the Disturbed Area Act, DAA, for another year. Accordingly, the Governor of the state, on the very next day, issued a notification that by the provision of Section 3 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, the entire state, with the exception of seven Assembly constituencies in the Imphal municipal area, was placed under the DAA for another year. The silence of the Manipur public on the matter should raise some relevant and perhaps disturbing questions. Have they become cynical that no good can come out of the demand for AFSPA’s repeal and have resigned, or have they become indifferent to the issue? It could also be a question of the AFSPA returning cleverly cloaked in all the seeming public largess of development packages that the BJP government has so eagerly declaring, and the public euphoria generated, false or otherwise, have seemingly lulled all senses on the question of the AFSPA. Even Wednesday’s declaration of the DAA extension was packaged with another Cabinet decision of rationalizing the extent and manner of transfer and posting of government employees. Indeed, most newspapers the next day led with the transfer and posting news, and the DAA development was buried deep in the same story away from easy notice, therefore removing the sting that it would probably have come with, had the media given it the space it deserved.
The extension of the DAA was expected. It has been doing so for as long as the AFSPA was in force in the state without much ado except for occasional explosions of public anger whenever security forces go on rampage in the name of counterinsurgency operations. It was indeed after one such explosions of public rage in 2004 in the wake of the custodial rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles, leading to the historic naked protest followed by weeks of violent street protests, that the Government of India had to reluctantly concede to the proposal by the then state government headed by Okram Ibobi, to lift the AFSPA from seven assembly constituencies in the Imphal municipal area, and law and order upkeep in these constituencies be handed over to the state police. Although there has been no tangible changes on the matter of containment of insurgency thereafter, the difference is, the state got to see that unlike forces acting under the AFSPA, state police do not have the impunity therefore victims are not totally disempowered. This was more than adequately demonstrated in the BT Road custodial killing case where the law ultimately caught up with those who broke it, regardless of whether they were in uniform. It is also not a coincidence that custodial killings took a dramatic decline after the case. In AFSPA all such mechanisms of moderations are done away with, therefore it remains a more cynical and draconian legislation. It is also for these same reasons that it is considered a law unfit for a democracy.
Are we then back to square one? Is this then saying that all that have gone by are of no consequence at all? Not Sharmila’s 16-year hunger strike or the naked protest outside Kangla that took the world by storm, or Chittaranjan’s self-immolation. As of now, few seem interested in the answers. It may be interesting to explore how such a state of mind might have come about. Probably there are a combination of factors behind this. One plausible cause is fatigue. People are tired so would want a breather. Two, is desensitization. When exposed to extreme conditions for a prolonged period of time, there is a tendency for these conditions to become normalized. In a skewed way, this is a show of life’s resilience. It absorbs and adjusts to whatever condition it is exposed to for long. The third reason probably is a clever design of subterfuge of the powers that be. It has through its own ingenuity succeeded in dissociating the DAA with the AFSPA in public consciousness. Indeed, when the news of the DAA extension was reported in the media, few brought up the fact that DAA is a precondition to the imposition of the AFSPA. But let there be no mistake, these are only a question of buying time and no solution can said to have been reached. The public rage now muted is probably ticking like a time bomb somewhere waiting for the next provocation to explode again. Thus while the present lull is encouraging, it must be said it is also deceptive. Let the government then not be too quick to celebrate and be humble that there is still much work left to be done.
Source: Imphal Free Press