“Military is used to strangulate civil society in Manipur, Kashmir”

Indian democracy is in danger because the political class is caving in to pressure of the army, according to Babloo Loitongbam, a human rights activist.

Speaking at a State-level seminar on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) held in Madurai on Sunday, Mr. Loitongbam, executive director of Human Rights Alert in Manipur, said the brutal force of military was being used to subjugate democracy and strangulate the civil society in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. “If the AFSPA is not withdrawn in Manipur and other places, 10 years down the line military brutalities will spread across the country,” he said.

The seminar was organised by the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF). “People in Manipur are under military rule under the guise of democracy. The AFSPA came to be in force in Manipur in 1958 as a temporary measure to tackle insurgency in the Naga Hills. Now that there are sophisticated police and intelligence agencies and able civil administration, the AFSPA should be withdrawn. In the name of national security, the rights of people cannot be trampled upon for 55 years,” he said.

Recalling the alleged rape and brutal murder of Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old woman, in Manipur in 2004, Mr. Loitongbam said that even nine years after the incident the State inquiry commission has not filed any report.

Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People’s Watch, insisted that the National Human Rights Commission should voice its opinion against the AFSPA in public. “After persistent efforts by many, members of the NHRC visited Manipur only recently and interacted with Irom Sharmila, who is protesting against the AFSPA for the past 13 years. Nearly 350 persons were killed by the army in Manipur every year till recently. The death rate declined only after the widows’ association of Manipur moved the Supreme Court against the extra-judicial killings,” he said.

A. Marx, writer and convenor of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), said Acts such as the AFSPA affected the fundamental rights of citizens at large. “In most cases, the judiciary ignores public voices against such laws with an observation that the acts are enacted and implemented by the government with wisdom. AFSPA and similar acts can only be in force during extraordinary situations and not all the time,” he said.

Helen, State convener of INSAF, and P. Joseph Victor Raj, national associate secretary, spoke.