Imphal: It has been 55 years since the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was first introduced. The longest demonstration against it has been on in Manipur with Irom Sharmila on a fast for over 12 years now.
This April, Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations envoy on Violence Against Women listened to a group of 40 women, including the mother of Manorama Devi.
In 2004, Manorama, a 32-year-old was picked up from her home, brutally raped and murdered allegedly by Assam Rifles personel. In July that year, Manipur erupted in protest and some women stood naked in front of the Indian paramilitary headquarters in Imphal. Outside Kangla Fort, 12 women disrobed themselves protesting the rape and murder of Manorama Devi.
After nine years, many have forgotten that protest and it seems that even now no one is listening to the protestors main demand, the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Manorama Devi's mother, barely willing to engage with questions, is yet hopeful for justice. "I am hopeful after the UN representative's visit. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Manipur must go. Only then peace will come," she said. Her brother, however, is pessimistic. "This won't help us. There was even the Jeevan Reddy report. The government will do what it wants to do," he said.
The root cause of this violence many believe is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act introduced on May 22, 1958 by an act of Parliament to stop the Naga insurgency. It gives sweeping powers to the security forces. They can arrest without a warrant and kill someone on suspicion without the fear of prosecution.
Former President, Apunba Lup Lokendra Arambam said, "I don't find any instances of liberal democracy when you live in a world of violence, the world of repression and obsession with a particular act."
The Justice Verma Commission had suggested the imminent need to look into the continuance of the AFSPA. Yet the act continues in the name of counter-insurgency, throttling normal life - more than 55 years after it first came into existence.