By Oken Jeet Sandham
Anna Hazare, famed anti-corruption activist, led his strongest “Anti-corruption movement in 2011” by launching a “Hunger Strike” at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The chief legislative aim of the movement was to alleviate endemic corruption in the Indian Government through the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement through “Hunger Strike” gained momentum from 5 April 2011. His anti-corruption movement through “Hunger Strike” was named the “Top 10 News Stories of 2011” by Time Magazine. Within 10 days, the Dr Manmohan Singh Government succumbed to the demands set by Hazare.
Strange but true that Irom Sharmila, known as “Iron Lady,” has entered a record 16 years of her “Hunger Strike” demanding the removal of the most controversial and draconian act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958. Her sixteen years of “Hunger Strike” in Manipur has become an epitome of millions of people worldwide. She has been continuing her “Hunger Strike” since the killing of 11 people at Malom near Imphal by Security Forces on 2nd November, 2000, demanding the removal of AFSPA.
The “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA)” and the “Disturbed Area Act (DAA)” are synonymous with the people of the Northeast India. The rest of the people of India might feel otherwise on hearing such Act imposed on the Northeastern States. But to the Northeastern people, it is not a new thing as they have been living with these Acts for decades.
What is AFSPA or DAA? Once any area of any State or Union Territory or the whole of any State or Union Territory of the country is declared as “Disturbed” as per the Section 3 of AFSPA, the members of the armed forces are empowered with certain special powers to act in those areas declared as “Disturbed.” And currently, most of the Northeastern States of India are under the purview of the DAA and thereby empowering the Indian armed forces to act under the most controversial and draconian AFSPA.
Under this Act, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area:-
(a) If he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force; even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire-arms, ammunition or explosive substances;
(b) If he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made or any structure used as a training camp for armed volunteers or utilized as a hide out by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence;
(c) Arrest without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;
(d) Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained and confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.
So the Act simply gives carte blanche to the Indian armed forces in the areas declared as “Disturbed” in the name of assisting the Civil Administration. In all these, they are immune as no prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.
This Act is draconian and simply an anti-democracy. This Act is nothing but a license to kill indiscriminately. This Act also fundamentally conflicts the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. This Act must go and it should no more be used in this modern and civilized world. But sadly, this Act is still in force in the many Northeastern States.
We should also be ashamed of what the UN and Amnesty International questioning the AFSPA some years back and they even already asked India to revoke it from the Northeastern States of India saying it had no place in Indian democracy, besides it clearly violates International Law.
The leadership of the country has not realized till now that the AFSPA is anti-democracy and against the very Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Irom (Iron Lady) Sharmila, hailing from a tiny State of Manipur bordering Myanmar, is a poet and civil rights activist like Hazare. She has been continuing her “Hunger Strike” the same method used by Hazare in 2011 at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
A former soldier in the Indian army, Hazare should have some feeling at least on Irom (Iron Lady) Sharmila who has been completing sixteen years of her “Hunger Strike” demanding to remove AFSPA. Can anyone including Hazare imagine what would be the feeling of the people of Northeast India who have been living with this draconian and anti-democracy act, AFSPA, for 58 years out of India’s 69 years of her Independence?