Promise of AFSPA free NE Not forgetting Sharmila

Not that it ever went out of the consciousness of the public, but there is something unique in the way the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has come back to occupy the consciousness of the people. After the infamous Army Act was made redundant in many areas across Manipur, Nagaland and Assam on April 1 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi topped this off with the announcement at Diphu in Assam on April 28 that the Centre is looking forward to lifting the said Act completely from the North East region. Improved law and order situation in the North East region, is the reason that has been cited for the change in the perception of the Centre and adding more substance to the ‘improved law and order situation’ is the announcement from the Ministry of Home Affairs that insurgency in the North East region has come down by at least 80 percent since 2014. One can definitely see the attempt to give credit for the improved law and order situation to the BJP, for 2014 is the year that the saffron party stormed to power with Narendra Modi at the helm. That it repeated its act in 2019 is there for all to see, but any reference to Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the North East would  not be complete without a reference to Irom Chanu Sharmila who was on a fast from 5th of November 2000 to 9th of August 2016, demanding that the Army Act be revoked from the North East region. That the Government of India did not budge but kept the crusader alive via nose feeding for 16 long years is a story which can inspire any conscientious film maker for in between 2000 and 2016 the story of Manipur revolved around the Iron Lady and the Army Act. If improved law and order situation is the line that has been given for revoking AFSPA from many parts of the North East, then does it mean that the same Act would be reimposed if the situation takes a turn for the worse ? This relevance of this question will become clear that in lifting the said Act, nothing has been said on how AFSPA had managed to alienate the people far from reining in the activities of the armed groups in the region. This is probably the reason why New Delhi seems to have made a conscious effort not to bring in the name of Irom Chanu Sharmila while announcing the roll back of the Army Act.
New Delhi’s intent and purpose in giving the cold shoulder to Irom Chanu Sharmila can be understood in the context of ‘political compulsions’ but what is flummoxing is Manipur. AFSPA has been lifted from practically all the areas that come under the understanding of the ‘valley area’ yet no worthwhile acknowledgment has been given to the lady by many of the NGOs and individuals who have made a name for themselves battling AFSPA. Young activist and former leader of the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM), Kakai Singsit who sometimes pens down his hard hitting and thought provoking articles for The Sangai Express (English edition), was bang on target in stating ‘This icon once a household name has suddenly disappeared from our collective psyche after the political humiliations bestowed on her in the year 2017’ in his article titled ‘Placating Sharmila : The Iron Lady.’ It is not only the political fiasco that she suffered during the 2017 election at the hands of former Chief Minister O Ibobi, but the selective silence of the many when AFSPA was withdrawn from many parts of Manipur on April 1 that is disappointing. The Centre may have cited the ‘improved law and order situation’ but it would be doing the Iron Lady gross injustice if people conveniently forget that it was her indomitable spirit that catapulted AFSPA and all the excesses of the security personnel under this Act before the international community. To put things bluntly, fasting for 16 years is not a joke. Try to skip a meal in one day and one will know how it is. Nose feeding her for 16 long years may have kept her alive but just imagine how it would feel not to be able to taste the flavour of Yongchak Singju and Yongchak Ironba or savour the aroma of Ngaris being roasted over the Meiphu during winter.