From RIMS to Malom to now MonThe ‘kill’ mindset
From RIMS to Malom (which gave birth to the crusader in Irom Sharmila) to Tonsen Lamkhai and many more such incidents to Mon district in Nagaland and clearly the ‘shoot to kill’ mindset amongst the men in uniform is palpable. This is what is extremely disturbing and unacceptable. Biggest democracy in the world, but where its security personnel are given the license to shoot ‘even to the extent of causing death’ on mere suspicion and it is this line which is written in bold and clear cut terms in the death of 14 coal mine workers in Mon district of Nagaland. The Army is understood to have ordered a Court of Inquiry into the incident, but if the past is any indication no one will know if justice has been indeed delivered or not. Union Home Minister Amit Shah too has assured that the killings will be probed by a Special Investigation Team with the assurance that the probe will be finalised within one month’s time. Inquiry for what if its findings and the punitive actions that follow will not be made known to the people and the next of kins of the deceased persons ? And to be sure the Court of Inquiry will be conducted under the protective ring of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which empowers the security personnel to open fire even to the extent of causing death on mere suspicion. Herein lies the question, ‘Inquiry for what ?’ The Government of India needs to think out of the box and seriously study why mass scale killings and why charges of human rights abuse have been mounting against the security personnel in the North East region for decades ? Probing singular cases is fine, but New Delhi would seriously need to look beyond the obvious and sincerely study why a section of her people have been crying out loud against the alleged excesses of the men in uniform. This brings one to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which have been in force in Manipur and Nagaland for decades. New Delhi has to acknowledge that far from curbing or neutralising the armed movement or underground movement, the Army Act has only succeeded in driving the people further away from anything that stands to represent the security personnel. This is the reality and this is where the country may be said to have lost half her battle against the armed outfits. This is a point which should be digested and the Mon massacre should be the ideal moment for New Delhi to lean back, take a deep breath and study where things have gone wrong. The wrongs of excesses cannot be righted by the goodies of the Military Civic Action programme undertaken by the Assam Rifles and the different units of the Indian Army in different parts of the North Eastern region.
Not surprising that so many civil society organisations of the North East have come together as one to demand that the ‘draconian AFSPA’ be repealed from the region immediately. How the Centre responds to the voice of protest that has erupted remains to be seen, but one can expect more and more civil society organisations and student bodies jumping into the fray to renew the demand that the Army Act be withdrawn. Lest one forgets Manipur erupted in protest in a manner never ever seen in any other parts of the country when women disrobed themselves in front of Kangla which then housed the Assam Rifles back in 2004 after the battered and ‘defiled’ body of Thangjam Manorama was found after she was picked up by Assam Rifles personnel from her own house the previous night. Imphal was suddenly pitchforked into the limelight with the media from across the country descending here to get a better grip of the protest and what was it that made the women stage such a protest. A sort of a history was scripted the day the women staged the nude protest and it was this singular act that compelled the then Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh to fly down to Imphal and announce a committee to study whether AFSPA should be withdrawn or not. No one seems to know what has happened to the study but significantly the said Army Act was withdrawn only from the Municipal areas of Imphal. With numerous groups coming together and demanding the scrapping of the Army Act, one may expect the numerous civil society organisations of Manipur to jump into the fray to give more teeth to the voice of protest. Disturbing it is to note that civilians, coal mine workers in this case, were so nonchalantly gunned down on mere suspicion. The Army Act needs to go and pronto. Condemnations and ‘regrets’ are not enough.