There is another dark reality of this game of power. Assam and Manipur have been two neighbors and many in these two states suffer from deep rooted prejudices against each other. Placing Assam Rifles in Manipur was a sinister game plan of the Centre or the Army, as it brings the same old prejudices of Assemese against Manipuris. It is similar to the Naga-Kuki issues. You cannot use one against other to serve your own purpose. The Assam Rifles was known to be notorious in brutality and people of the state have protested its presence. There have been very little attempts by the government to assuage the hurt feelings of people in Manipur.
One will have to be in Manipur for a few days to feel the pain of a Manipuri and how the Army is the major political player there. In the streets of Imphal you will find the army vehicles passing through with jawans always alert and positioned to fire at you. The very say of army vehicle passing through is frightening because of the trigger happy jawan sitting atop of it. It is not a healthy sign that even after 60 years of our independence we have army deciding things there. Political situation is worsening as politicians are corrupted by power politics and misuse of power. That is why there is a greater disenchantment towards the political parties.
Assam Rifles is often blamed for inflicting brutalities and using the old practices like raping women. It forced women in Imphal to carry out a naked protest once with banner, ‘Indian army rape us’. This was one of the most painful protests one could have ever witnessed but then reality often bytes. On November 2, 2000 the army killed 10 civilians near Imphal airport, which is popular as Malom Massacre. The news of the killing shocked the entire state as in the name of ‘rebel’, it was found that innocents were killed.
Irom Sharmila, a human rights activist, went on fast against the 'cold blooded' murder and demanded that archaic Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be repealed. The irony of the situation in Manipur is that it is the human rights activists who have to bear the brunt of everything. The rebels feel that they are Indian agents while the army and the government look upon them in suspicion and often harass them for their ‘links’ with the undergrounds.
The general message of pro-government people is that since the ‘army’ is fighting for the country hence their ‘actions’ must be supported. Now, nobody denies that armed forces are fighting for the country but at the same point of time, we must find out whether any country is bigger than its people. Now, what political purpose an armed action would serve if for saving the country, our army or its action alienates the entire Manipuri population. It has happened. Irom Sharmila is that link which wanted to humanize Indian administration.
A good will gesture long overdue would have definitely served the purpose of bringing peace in the region. Sharmila’s fast has entered the 13th year. She has served the purpose. Today, the nation talks about Armed Forces Special Power Act ( AFPSA). It needs to be repealed or reworked in Manipur. Sharmila chose the path of democracy to alert a government which was serving its own interests at the cost of the people. There were other paths available to her and other youths in Manipur. They could be easily lured by the underground as the disappointment level against the Indian system is high because of its neglect of the state.
It is shameful that authorities field cases against Sharmila under IPC section 309 for ‘attempt to commit suicide’. They must ask this question as why is the person trying to commit suicide. Sharmila is not committing suicide for her own self. It is a big cause which everyone in Manipur supports. An environment of mutual trust is important. She has made available her life for the cause of human rights and she needs to be respected.
A true tribute to her indomitable spirit would be to compel the government to see the cries of people in Manipur and withdraw AFSPA at the earliest so that people live happily in the state without any fear or favor. Sharmila’s democratic voice needs a democratic response from the government of India so that the state of Manipur returns to normalcy, only if it cares.
(About the Author: Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a human rights activist, running an organization called Social Development Foundation, which works on the issues of Dalits, Muslims, tribals and other marginalized sections and their democratic rights including access to land and other natural resources. Write to him on Twitter handle @freetohumanity)