AFSPA: What it means to North-East?
(A layman's observations)
The recent attack on the 6 Dogra Regiment, killing 20 army personal, has once again put Manipur on a major spotlight in India for better or worst. Honestly, it has also created a new platform for many Indian bloggers out there, who are wasting no time to give their own version of what the attack means. Unfortunately, most of these blog post are either copy paste version from the news or from one another. So without even mentioning it, we should be able to predict the kind impression it leaves behind to an ignorant person. And as a matter of fact, this is the actual problem which the people from North-East are facing today and, these are the type of news that the rest of the Indians gets to read and made believe.
|Irom Sharmila or "Iron Lady" of Manipur|
To understand the present situation that is prevailing in the North Eastern states of India, we have to take the road back to history when the then young country "India" got it's independence from the British rule.
Pre-Independence, North-East was a free land rule by no forces. But by the time when India almost got its independence, things changed drastically. The new emerging nation, India, had to find a way to protect its border against a very powerful neighbour, China. The only possible solution was to occupy the Naga Hills bordering Burma under its wing. But there was a problem, the people of the from the North-East didn't wanted to be a part of India. Instead, they was fighting for their own free country. This was a blow India couldn't accept. Soon large reserves of natural resources were discovered all over North-East. Now North-East became even more precious to a young developing nations which needs a lot of resources for its development. Soon India got its independence and MK Gandhi reluctantly agreed to let the Naga decide their own future. However it took an unexpected turn when Gandhi was shot dead. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister, the Nagas were forcefully included under the new nation and those indigenous people fighting for freedom were declared anti-nationalist.
As expected, the people from the Naga Hills opposed to this idea under the banner of NNC (Naga National Council), who was then fighting for their own independent nation. Believe it or not, this was how the NSCN (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland), that we know today came into picture and why they are still fighting for a free nation and why the Indian Government still holds talks with the Naga leaders. A free nation was a birth right to the Nagas which was violated and denied by Indian government from the very start of its nation.
Post independence, the young nation was in a chaos. Culturally, India was dominated by high caste feudal system which was totally incompatible with the ethics of the North-East culture. To make matter worst, India created a cultural gap by naming them as Schedule Tribes against the upper caste elites Indian. And this was not the END.
Only recently or more precisely, until the later part of the eight schedule of Indian Constitution, none of the Tibeto-Chinese language were not accepted as Indian language. What does this means? This means that the languages of the North-East which is totally a Tibeto-Chinese and not Indo-Aryan or Dravidian was never accepted as Indian until recently.
Soon after the Indian Independence, the traditional trade routes of North-East with South East Asia and Bangladesh was closed but no solution was provided. Instead, the Indian government started exploiting North-East for its rich natural resources and made sure that the North East always remains dependent to Indo-Gangetic plains. This was how India made it sure that North-East remain under India. For example, Assam which produces one fourth of all petroleum for India, yet it is processed outside Assam and the state is deprived from its major source of revenue.
Today we talk of "BODO" like it's some sort terrorist organization, not realizing the above fact on petroleum was the sole reason why Bodo came into existence. It's the Indian government who is being a terrorist to the state of Assam and it's neighbouring states, not the Bodo.
As time passes, soon the problem with large scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh and Nepal came into picture. This led to the insecurity of the indigenous people who were scared that whatever small amount of jobs they have at hand will be taken over by the illegal immigrants, but the government did nothing and the effects was widespread. For example, in Tripura the indigenous population has reduced to only 25% while the rest 75% consist of illegal Banladeshi Muslims.
The prime interest of India to North east was totally strategic and political. Soon after independence a number of repressive laws were passed by the Indian government to deal with the rising nationalist movement. And in 1958, the "Armed Forces Special Power Act" or AFSPA was passed.
As the heading says what AFSPA means to NE, we will look at what this draconian law is and what it has done to North East in the name of counter insurgency by the world largest democratic country in the world.
This is what AFSPA is:
An officer of the armed forces has the power to
1. Fire upon or use any kind of force even if it causes death, against any person who is acting against the law within the disturbed area to maintain public order.
2. Destroy any arms, hide-outs or shelter or training camps of any anti-nationalist movements.
3. To arrest anyone without a warrant, if he/she is suspected and to use force if necessary.
4. To enter any premises and search without a warrant.
5. To stop and search any vehicle, if found suspicious.
6. Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. What this means is that there can be no prosecution, suit and any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the AFSPA law.
7. If a government questions why a particular area is termed disturbed, it is subjected to judicial review.
8. Only under the direction of the central government, person protected under the AFSPA, their can be prosecution or any form of legal proceedings.
Now for any reasonable person, they should be able to see why AFSPA is against all form human rights violation. And the question as to why India, the largest democratic country in the world, still tolerate such an inhuman and dictatorial form of law, is a question of joke, integrity or irony.
Back in the summer of 1987, the Indian army suffered in its history the biggest loss in arms and ammunitions when forces led by NSCN-IM attack the Assam Riffle base in Oinam village of Manipur. To avenge their losses, they launch an operation under the name of "Operation Bluebird", a reign of terror, towards the innocent Naga public. Or as a matter of fact, it was the largest act of genocide by the Indian government against the Naga populations.
Under the umbrella of AFSPA, the Assam Riffle sealed off the area around Oinam village. The whole area was under curfew. Any form of media coverage was strictly prohibited and media personal were denied entry. Villagers were drag out of their houses and forced to gather in open, exposed to torrential rains and scorching heat for weeks. The army went on searching from house to house and looting valuable things. People were not allowed to go to their fields or feed their animal, causing a loss of crops and cattle worth in millions. Villagers were group and abled young man were tortured after stripping them naked before the public view and later kept them in concentration camps for weeks without food or water. Not even the infants, women, sick and old men were spared. Many were shot dead and many kids died because of sickness and starvation. Man were blind folded, tied upside down, buried alive, given electric shocks, put chilly powders to the eyes and nostrils, beaten with whatever they can find their hands on, leaving many paralysed, hearing impairment. Houses were burnt down in the name of counter insurgency. Several churches and schools included. Many women were raped and sexually exploited. Two women were forced to give birth in open air in front of the army personal. Man and woman were forced to labour for months for the Assam Riffles without payment. Interrogation were made at gun-point.
Such were the treatment met towards innocent Naga's by the Indian Army in the name of counter insurgency protected by AFSPA. So why am I taking this as an example, one may question! Because this was the only case in the history of North-East when the Indian Army was put on trail after many international Human Right organizations intervened.
I cannot be sure about the year, but I still remember that morning. I was just a kid back then. It was nearing early dawn. It was still dark outside and everyone was sleeping. Suddenly there was loud bang on our door. Next thing I remember, everyone in our colony were forced to stand outside in groups. Girls, women, boys and men. While we were still outside, these army personal went inside every houses searching for whatever it is they were searching. Later women and kids were ask to go and remain inside. Outside, the army personal were on torturing spree to some unfortunate not very good looking (you know what I mean by this right) young man. It was their way of questioning. Later we also heard that many youths were taken to custody. Some of whom were my elder brother friends. Later we also heard, some youths been shot death, "because they were found with guns". That was the biggest lie, we knew, and somehow that impression remained somewhere inside me and that's the main reason why I could never comprehend the idea to join the army.
Well, now the questions is "Who is at fault?" You decide for yourself.
Coming back to where we started, the recent attack was a shame to every Indian and a real big blow to us North-East, because we have been fighting for so long for AFSPA to be removed from our homes and one such stupid act crashes it all down. Now I'm even not sure if the "Iron Lady" of Manipur "Irom Sharmila" who has been on a hunger protest for over 15 years, will ever live to see the day when AFSPA is removed from our lands.
Today, if people are using those pictures of dead army personal to spread hatred towards us NE Indians, that's the worst idea that has ever come up in their minds. Some of you may not realize this, that right now while you are reading this, the nearby villages where the ambush took place on the 4th of June is already been sealed out by the Indian Army and villagers are being tortured and questioned. You don't get to read this on the newspaper because journalist are not allowed to enter the area for any kind of media coverage. Talk about human rights now!
We have all read from all the major and local newspapers front page, dated 4th June'15, claiming that this particular attack against the Indian Army by any insurgent groups within India, as one of the biggest or even the most ruthless in the past decade leaving behind 20 army personal death. Is it true? NO. This is a total false propaganda spread by the Indian Government who in a way were just waiting for such an incident to happen. If we trace back just five years from now, in April of 2010, the Indian Army actually suffered one of its biggest loss in the history, when forces led by Naxalite-Maoist ambush and killed 76 army personal in Chhattisgarh. Now this is a very questionable act to what the media is trying to convince the ignorant people. Right now, the Indian Army is engaged in full swing "Operation Flushed-All" against all the insurgent groups in North East after the recent attack. Torturing innocent villagers. But why not in Chhattisgrah and the surrounding states where Naxalites are playing active? Every Indian knows what Naxalite is. They have released a reign of terror in areas where they are active. Killing, raping, torturing and collecting illegal taxes from innocent villagers and as a matter of fact, within the areas where Naxalites are playing active even the states police department lives in state of constant fear of being killed. If the Indian Army decides to flush out every single person associated with the Naxalite-Maoist insurgent, they could have finished the job within a day. But they will not, because the area where this Naxalite are active is within the mainland (Gangetic plains) of India. Any such combing operation would certainly effect and destroy the lives of many Indian innocents. So why the Indian Army is taking so much interest in North East? Why the Indian Government is not declaring those areas under Naxalite as disturbed? And why is AFSPA not imposed in such areas? To answers these questions, the Indian Army Chief has given the best comment a few years ago. Here is a rough translations of that comment, "AFSPA cannot be imposed within the troubled mainland India because they are Indian citizens"...Do I need to say more?
The simple fact about all the insurgent groups that exist today in North-East was a consequence of the Indian Policy towards the North-East and especially AFSPA. Before AFSPA, there were barely two/three such groups who were genuinely fighting for their birth right. The reality today is, the Indian Army is more threat to us NE then our own insurgents groups.
Finally, let us all put ourself in a situation and see what will we do. Let's say that someone from outside come to our homes, take advantage of our resources and worst, murdered one of our family members but there was no law that will protect us. What will we do to protect our family? The result is what we are seeing today in the North-East.
Yes in the past, we the North-East people were uneducated, ignorant and cut out from the rest of world. But that doesn't give anyone the right to exploit us. Over the years we have slowly come to terms with India and accepted it as our country, but the Indian government didn't come to terms with us. In the name of giving protection (by declaring our land as disturbed), our own Indian government made sure that no tourism flourishes in the North-East. Or else, every Indian knows that North-East is the most beautiful place in India and so much talent remains hidden which the Indian government is taking no interest to nurture. And in the name of giving protection, Indian government declared NE a free tax heaven. But they din't leave us with any opportunity to earn and developed. Instead we are being forced to live in a country were our own basic rights are being violated on everyday basis. And if these continues, that day is not very far when North East will raise up against India and fight for a free nation. And trust me, that day will not be the best day in the history because there is no denying that today North-East has the most literate number of people then any part of India and though slowly our economy is coping up on our side. India better decide fast and not let this happen.
Last Word: I truly condemn the recent attack against the Indian Army which was a total act of blunder and unacceptable. This was the last thing we the North-East people would expect. So please don't spread any form of unwanted rumours that will have a negative effect on someone else life. And lastly, I want to extend my deepest condolence to the families of all the brave soldiers who gave their live for the safety of the North-East. My Salute.