Iranian activist and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi touched a raw nerve during her visit to New Delhi when she thrust Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila back into the news. For six long years, Sharmila has fasted in protest against the repressive Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. She has shown rare courage and determination to give the North-eastern states a modicum of the normality, freedom and rights enjoyed in the rest of the country. It was largely due to her efforts that the draconian legislation even came up for wide discussions in India’s ‘mainland’. Debated it was, but not to its death. In the constant churning of news, the person who led the appeal to repeal AFSPA from her hospital bed faded from public memory, and the national fury that we saw last year over the draconian legislation was tamed.
The AFSPA allows the army to shoot to kill on a mere suspicion, arrest people and search properties without a warrant, and forbids action to be brought against army personnel without permission from the Centre. But the rationale behind this Act is itself defeated by the fact that it has unequivocally failed to contain any insurgency in the region. As the Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Committee, which recommended that the Act be repealed, stated, it has instead “become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.” Despite this recommendation and their own desire to repeal the act, top leaders in the UPA are unable to overcome the resistance of security agencies.
Time and again, it has been shown that only through winning hearts and minds can an insurgency be defeated. Yet, this simple truth is not visible to the custodians of our law and order. Unfortunately, the lack of movement on the Act is also a manifestation of the Centre’s step-motherly attitude towards the North-eastern states. The Centre needs to think out of the box and end its policy of repression and replace it with one that will build confidence among the people of the North-east in our democracy. And repealing AFSPA is the first step.