Irom Sharmila has been on a fast unto death for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) after troops of the Assam Rifles gunned down 10 civilians at Malom near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000. She is periodically arrested and force-fed by the Indian state.
Dear Prime Minister, Home Minister and Sonia Gandhi,
We have noticed a striking anomaly in the way the armed forces and the state treats the people of Kashmir and the Northeast. When contemplating the use of the armed forces in the forest belt, the armed forces and the state concluded (quite correctly, in our opinion) that they should not be used against the people of this region, including the Maoists, since ‘they are our people’. Yet the very same armed forces have no compunction about being deployed against the people of Kashmir and the Northeast, and the state agrees! Worse still, the armed forces insist that they cannot carry out their duties without AFSPA, which allows them to rape, torture and kill with impunity.
So what is happening here? Are the people of Kashmir and the Northeast not ‘our people’? This is indeed the message that comes across. And if these people feel that they are not regarded or treated as ‘our people’ by the state and armed forces of India, is it surprising that many of them do not want to belong to India?
In fact, AFSPA allows the armed forces to commit atrocities that would be considered war crimes even if they were directed at a foreign enemy. There is no justification for keeping it on the statute books, because it is incompatible with international humanitarian law. Its enforcement in these states has been one of the main reasons why there has been no resolution of the conflicts in them for decades. Consulting the armed forces about the repeal of a law that allows them unlimited power is worse than useless: why would they ever agree? Surely you ought instead to be consulting people like Irom Sharmila, who has been waging a heroic and totally non-violent struggle against AFSPA for ten years!
Shouldn’t the government be asking her why she is ready to sacrifice her life to get this law repealed? And taking her answer deadly seriously before she dies?
COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF DR BINAYAK SEN MUMBAI