My heart aches when people I come across refer to the Northeastern states, particularly Manipur, as an `insurgency-hub`. But I think, the unprecedented crisis in the state can never be solved without the Centre`s help since the home administration has virtually collapsed.
However, optimism remains amongst the bereaved masses, who have not lost the hope of attaining a permanent solution to the prevailing imbroglio in the state, despite the Centre`s apathy. A glimpse at the existing situation tells us that this is not without some reasons
Manipur, one of the oldest of Princely States which came under British Rule in 1891 was peaceful until India got Independence. The state was merged with the country on 15th October, 1949. However, it was made a Union Territory, and granted Statehood only in 1972. It is believed that the delay in conferring full-fledged statehood to Manipur led to the emergence of insurgency. The situation worsened after the establishment of the oldest Meitei insurgent group, United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in November, 1964.
Several similar outfits like the Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM) were formed by the fall of 1968. The Peoples` Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) was set up in October, 1977, and the People`s Liberation Army (PLA) came into existence on 25th September, 1978. Though they were different groups, but the purpose was same – to get a separate statehood for Manipur.
The Naga group - Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN which was formed in the late 1970s, but later split into two factions, NSCN(IM) and NSCN (Khaplang) in the late 1980s, remained active across the hill districts. Both the organisations aimed at creating an independent Nagaland comprising the present territory of Nagaland and the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and Myanmar. The former is led by Isaac Chishi Swu and T Muivah while the latter is headed by Khaplang.
After ethnic clashes between the Nagas and Kukis in the early 1990s, a number of Kuki outfits were formed. Several other tribes, such as the Paite, Vaiphei and Hmars have also established their own armed groups. Similarly, Islamist outfits like the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) have also been formed to protect the interests of the `Pangals` (Manipuri Muslims). Now, there are more than 30 militant groups in the state.
However, some of the outfits rather than focusing on their objectives, have alienated the public from the government by misusing their ideology. It is a disgrace to see them involved in kidnappings, extortion and illegal acts. Since any resistance to their demands are met with violence, the public is compelled to bear the burden.
Not surprisingly, the contractors are not willing to take up any developmental work due to threat from the underworld. Hence, there is no progress or growth in the state, and the infrustructural set up has become poor.
Armed Forces Special Power Act
In 1980, Manipur had been declared a `disturbed area` and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) 1958 was imposed in the State on September 8, 1980, which continues to be in place till now. The implementation of this Act resulted in the State witnessing an unprecedented civic uprising due to high-handedness by the Army.
Since then, the state has witnessed unending sagas of massacres, rapes, torture, and extra-judicial killings by the Armed Forces in the name of counter insurgency operations. Fed up with the horrible acts by the men in uniform, people here are battling for justice through dharnas, hunger strikes, civil disobedience, etc,.
Although, seciurity forces’ atrocities have been existing in the state since ages, they have been ignored by the Central government and even by the media.
Looking back at the 1970s, a young teenage Naga girl, Miss Rose of Ukhrul district, committed suicide after being raped by an Indian Army officer in front of the elders of Ngaprum village on the 4th of March, 1974. In her suicide note, she mentioned that she did not see any reason for living in a world where such nasty crimes were committed in the full knowledge of her people and nothing was done about it.
Life in Manipur has been chaotic after a series of fake encounters, which have been carried out by the security forces in the name of controlling insurgency. The killing of Chongkham Sanjeet Singh, a former militant by Police Commandos in broad daylight on July 23, 2009 at Imphal market, besides killing an innocent pregnant lady Rabina Devi further questions the working of the authorities. Manipur was on boil since then and the incident was seen as one of the worst examples of police atrocity in the state.
The episode reminds me of the brutal killing of 32-year-old Manorama Devi by the Assam Rifles on July 11, 2004. The Jawans of Assam Riffles tortured and raped her before killing her. This led to a protest by12 women belonging to different Social Organisations, who stood naked in front of the Kangla Gate in Imphal on 15 July, 2004,
while a series of demonstrations coordinated by various social organisations throughout the state codemned the act.
Later, the Prime Minister promised justice, and a repeal of the draconian law, AFSPA, which gave unlimited powers to the security forces. But nothing has happened till date. The gunning down of 10 civilians by the Assam Riffles in Imphal on November 2, 2000 was also another such bloody act committed by the security forces. Unable to bear the cruelties, Irom Sharmila, known as the `Iron Lady` of Manipur went on fast for a decade demanding a repeal of draconian AFSPA. She has been surviving on forced nasal feeding at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal.
If we look at the number of encounter killings, in 2006 there were reports of as many as 96 civilian deaths, 30 in 2007 and 136 in 2008. Besides, the number of insurgents killed by the security forces has crossed 751 in the state since January 2007, whereas the number of Naxalites killed across the country has been 447, as per the July reports. There were also reports of over 450 persons who have been killed so far in militancy-related crimes in Manipur in 2009.
Apunba Lup, an apex body of the civil organizations, women local bodies and local clubs, has been instrumental in spearheading the agitation against the Army atrocities in the state. Seeking full cooperation of the people in their fights to establish a crime-free, secure and progressive society in Manipur, the Apunba Lup pledges to stand for the rights of the people until it achieves its goal.
Centre`s role - the need of hour
Nothing will change without an honest and a long-term plan by the Central Government. The Manipur government has failed to regulate law and order properly as most of the politicians in the state are corrupt.
But, the Centre needs to cross-check before taking any decision. Even if, the government`s plan to suppress the insurgents through arm-tactics has backfired, it must also scrutinise the possible consequences if the Army is withdrawn from the state.
It must use wisdom and foresight to solve the decade-long crisis without alienating the various ethnicities. The initiative should not only bring tranquility in the state, but also prevent the rise of insurgency.