India: Manipur, A Backtracked Promise
March 5, 2013
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
India: Manipur, A Backtracked Promise
A court in Manipur yesterday has ordered the detention of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, better known as the iron lady of Manipur. Detention is nothing new to this woman, most humble yet so bold, that she has so far successfully challenged the iron fist of the senselessness Indian state and its Manipuri counterpart, the Government of Manipur, by continuing her more than a decade-long fast. Sharmila demands nothing more than the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 a draconian law that has caused hundreds of extrajudicial executions, rape, torture and disappearances in Manipur and all other states where this law has been enforced.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a unique provision that will punish a person for not succeeding in the commission of a crime (attempting to commit suicide) and is unable to punish those who successfully implement it. The Law Commission of India has recommended the repeal of this archaic provision in law. Of the 29 state governments approached by the Government of India, 25 have requested for a repeal of the section. Philosophical arguments apart, punishment for suicide has an umbilical link to religious beliefs, Christianity in this case, since the Penal Code in India is what the country has inherited from Europe. In most of Europe however, suicide is no more a crime. The Suicide Act, 1961 repealed punishment for suicide in the UK. Of the several reasons for such repeal, was the recognition of the fact that a person attempting to commit suicide in fact requires help, not punishment. In some jurisdictions, it is also considered as the freedom of an individual, whether to live or not.
Concerning Sharmila's case however, the government is bothered with none of the above considerations. If Sharmila continues her fast indefinitely, she would soon face the natural termination of it, in death. The government knows that Manipur, and perhaps parts of rest of the northeastern states would burn and the government will have no control of the dreadful events that would ensue. In fact the governments, state or central, do not have any control over events in states like Manipur. Worse, for the Manipuries, they have one of the most corrupt persons in Indian politics as their Chief Minister.
Issues in Manipur today is beyond the question of national identity and self-rule. The administration in that state has been so corrupt and incapable of keeping its constitutional promise to the people, that it has no morale among the public. Equally lacking is public trust about the central armed forces deployed in Manipur allegedly "to assist the civilian administration." The Assam Rifles deployed in Manipur is provided condoms as standard issue in their travel kit, to be used while on patrol duty. The horror of the circumstances that led to the paramilitary unit to issue this standard kit apart, the fact that paramilitary officers are issued condoms is deep insult upon the population, their women in particular. Protection by the state has no meaning in this context.
In a country that wrenched its independence through a movement led by Gandhi who resorted to indefinite fast to argue his positions with the British as well as national leaders and communities, the treatment meted out against Sharmila is a shame. It translates into the simple logic of a government that has miserably failed to understand a community, its aspirations and has for 64 years ruled using discrimination, fear, and violence as its trademarks. Implementation of AFSPA has helped, but to discriminate, isolate and divide a community's socio-political landscape, literally by metes and bounds. Sharmila's fast is against this.
Of the eight years the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has tried working in Manipur, understanding its people, culture and problems, the AHRC has documented at least 180 cases of violence committed by state forces. These cases include that of rape, torture, extrajudicial execution, and disappearances, of men, women, and children. All the details collected by the AHRC with assistance from its partners are systematically and immediately transmitted to the Government of Manipur as well as the union government in New Delhi seeking appropriate action, most importantly an impartial investigation. Not in a single case thus far, there was successful prosecution.
On each occasion, the victims, witnesses and their families were intimidated, assaulted or booked in fabricated cases by the state police. Often doctors are forced to prepare fabricated documents, certifying good health of the victims, while injuries were visible on their body. Persons detained are held incommunicado for days before being produced in courts. Judicial officers are threatened by the armed forces not to release persons on bail and not to record their complaints of conditions in custody. Arrest, incommunicado detention and later execution of the persons are so common, that families are mortally scared when one of their relatives are arrested by the armed forces. House raids are conducted in the middle of the night, where officers barge into residences and abuse, assault and threaten anyone they find inside the house. There are dozens of hamlets in Manipur where illegal curfew is enforced by the armed forces, by their commanding officers. People are scared to travel before dawn and after sunset, that there is no guarantee to their life and property, should they be unfortunate to encounter an armed state trooper or an armed extremist. Committees appointed by the government concur with AHRC's observations.
The atrocities committed against the people has played an important role in the expansion in the number and ranks of the armed groups operating in the state. Many, extort money in the presence of armed state officers. If one were to travel from Imphal the state capital, to Moreh a border village near the Indo-Burma border, the person will have to pay at least 16 times, protection money to underground armed groups, all of them operating their 'collection' centres right opposite to military check posts, in full public view. Their operation is with full cooperation of the armed units and openly in public view that the terminology 'underground' armed unit itself is an anomaly.
Sharmila's protest is against these anomalies referred to above that is called Manipur. The Indian state has pathetically failed to effectively address any one of the above issues. Use of force of unparalleled nature in Manipur by the state is the most visible symptom of this catastrophe. It appears that the judiciary too is hand in glove with the failed state in Manipur, and so is the media. The discrimination that the Indian state has meted out against Manipur and most of its neighbouring states in the region have been emulated by the national media. In a country where the media spends hours and days on some of the most trivial issues, often issues from Manipur finds neither space nor time. Rhetorical sloganeering by some Manipuries also did not help in generating national attention about the current plight of ordinary people in Manipur.
Sharmila's struggle has not resulted in any deaths or destructions so far, the otherwise hallmark of Indian protests post independence. It is one of the most powerful dissents, that the country has seen so far nonetheless. Sharmila's arrest, detention and its shameless extension in that sense is backtracking of the constitutional guarantee that the country has made to its people. In Manipur, it is the Indian state that has attempted killing itself.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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