The controversial AFSPA law was extended in the violence-wrapped Manipur for another six months barring areas that come under the purview of 19 police stations. These exempted areas are mainly located in the Imphal Valley and are Meitei-dominated, which have accounted for over 170-odd killings ever since the violence broke out on May 3. The recent spate of violence broke out in Imphal following the abduction and killing of two Meitei students by armed miscreants. Dozens of students were injured while the state reimposed internet ban and declared a curfew in certain areas.
Once again, the ‘disturbed areas’ status will come into effect in restive Manipur from October 1. The declaration of ‘disturbed areas’ notification has been in place under AFSPA since 1980, and it was only withdrawn from some parts of Imphal in 2004 following strong protests after the killing of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama earlier that year. Since 2022, the number of ‘disturbed areas’ was significantly reduced and on April 1, the status was withdrawn from the 19 Metei-dominated areas.
The contentious law, as it remains, AFSPA has been a central cause of unfettered violence in Manipur and other states that have long been victims of the draconian law. The law has drawn sharp criticism from activists, who believe that this alone ‘was’ and ‘is’ never a solution to put a stop to the socio-political conundrum of Manipur.
Noted activist Irom Sharmila, who was on a hunger strike for nearly 16 years to demand an end to AFSPA rule, has heavily come down on the central government. Sharmila said that wrong policies implemented by the N Biren Singh-led state government have pushed Manipur into an unprecedented crisis, according to news reports.
Parts of Manipur have been under AFSPA since the early 1970s. By the 1980s, the whole state was brought under the act. Numerous protests and demands for its removal have been organised by civil society groups, including unique ones like Irom Sharmila’s 16-year-long fast, demanding repeal of AFSPA, or the sensational 2004 nude protest by 12 bereaved mothers in front of the historic Kangla Fort—then headquarters of Assam Rifles—in the heart of the state capital, Imphal.
That protest was triggered by the alleged gang rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama, a young woman, by paramilitary forces. Her mutilated body, bearing marks of sexual assault, was recovered about 3 km from her home in Imphal East.
Under the rule of AFSPA, similar cases of sexual assaults, rape, violence, and human rights violations have emerged across states in Northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Oting killings in December 2022 are a stark reminder of the unfettered powers Central Armed Forces gain through AFSPA to indulge in violent exercises in the name of national security. At a time when Manipur is much embroiled in ethnic violence with governments largely remaining silent over the issue, the implementation of AFSPA only raises more questions about the law and order of the state.
Against this, Outlook looks at the debates around the contentious AFSPA through its January 2022 issue, 'Point Blank', which underlines the tyranny it entails.