The end of Irom Sharmila’s 16-year fast on Tuesday paused the anti-AFSPA fight in Manipur’s Imphal Valley but it has revived a dormant battle against the controversial army law in the surrounding Naga-inhabited hills after 12 years.
On Thursday, various Naga NGOs took out a rally across the Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul districts.
These hill districts had last seen such rallies in 2004, when the Manipur government — bowing to sentiments generated by Sharmila’s fast — lifted AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) from seven assembly constituencies straddling state capital Imphal.
“AFSPA needs to go because atrocities by the armed forces, though less in the hills since the 1997 ceasefire (with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah), have not stopped,” Seth Shatsang, president of the All Naga Students Association of Manipur, said from Tamenglong town.
The Naga people, Shatsang said, have suffered more than others as the army law has been in force in the hills since 1952, six years before AFSPA was enacted.
Sharmila’s hunger strike had overshadowed the anti-AFSPA movement in the hills. It had also somewhat bridged the psychological divide and trust deficit between the valley dominated by Meiteis and the hills.
The Naga NGOs appreciated the “test of times” Sharmila went through as well as her decision to end the fast, but felt that resolving the Naga issue could go a long way in repealing AFSPA.
“It is high time New Delhi sealed the peace deal with NSCN-IM towards repealing the act from the Naga hills as well as the rest of the Northeast,” Naga rights activist Paul Leo said.
The ceasefire with NSCN-IM, however, does not apply to Manipur to which most of its leaders and cadres belong.