E-Pao! Manipur - AFSPA, 1958 - A Historical Perspective - 1

AFSPA, 1958 - A Historical Perspective
- Celebrating 60 Years of Indian Democracy and
50 Years of the AFSPA -
Part 1

By: Malem Mangal Laishram *

Irom Sharmila, the young lady from Manipur who has been on fast for the last six years since the infamous Malom massacre of 2000, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 – is the 21st century legacy of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. Her struggle is symbolic of the people’s tooth and nail opposition to the draconian law – the AFSPA.

She is not Irom Sharmila Chanu nor an ordinary Manipuri woman rather she is the “Iron Lady of Manipur” who has challenged a callous and apathetic government and its regime of draconian law with her unique resistance (Mainstream, 2006). Sharmila is a living legend of the people’s undying spirit against the black law – the AFPSA.

It is almost 60 years today that the Indian democracy took birth on 15th Aug.1947. India - the child of freedom at midnight, is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic and perhaps, the largest democracy in the world today. For every Indians, the fateful day of 15th Aug. 1947 was their greatest jubilation and rejoicing moment they ever experienced in their lifetime.

And for those, from M.K. Gandhi, who was entitled the father of the nation later, and to the several million ordinary Indians, 15th Aug. 1947 was much more than freedom from colonial yoke. Indeed, it was the dawn of a new life.., a new beginning with an unlimited horizon and a universe of freedom ... unexplainable all the Indians and the newly born Indian nation-state. Politically, India got its shape with the adoption and enactment of the Indian Constitution on 26th Nov.1949.

Every historic event of the Indian freedom struggle against the colonial British, from the Battle of Plassey, 1757 to the Quit India movement of 1942, among a hundred significant others, ultimately accomplished its one and only long cherished dream – independence of India when the Indian Independence Act was passed by the British parliament on 15th Aug. 1947. 15th August is the greatest triumph and victory for every mainstream Indians and Bharat-vasis then and now. The Indians cannot dream without 15th August in the whole 365 days of a year.

It was the one side of the whole episode. The other side of the story is often surprising and offending. This story was about the peripheries of India – Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh or then North East Frontier Areas (as existed in 1947) in the east, Panjab or then North West Frontier Province in the west, Jammu and Kashmir in the north, etc.

Unlike the mainland India, these peripheries were experiencing something different - a strong discontentment and anxiety. The newly emerged Indian state was in the fast process of nation-state building. The Indian leadership like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, etc. were on the fore-front of engineering the integration of these peripheral princely states into the Indian Union (Patel Scheme).

That engineering and integration process was, perhaps, the greatest mistake of the then political leadership and there is a principal connection with the turmoil besetting the north eastern region, and other peripheries like Jammu and Kashmir, etc. The violence and extreme unrest that characterises the NE region today is the result of that process.

The turbulence which began in the aftermath of the process is still alive and more vivid today. A number of Instruments of Accessions and Merger Agreements of the princely states of the region into the Union of India took place as a crucial part of the integration process.

In fact, these princely states opted the provision to remain politically independent of either India or Pakistan (see the Indian Independence Act of 1947).

It is a known fact that before the passage of the Indian Independence Act 1947, these princely states of the north eastern region were administered by British India save the Naga hills and Tuensang district (excluded areas) of the then Assam ( see Mackenzie, A . History of the Relations of the Government with the Hill Tribes of the North East Frontiers of Bengal, 1884).

Further, the British paramount lapsed and all the princely states formerly under the British India became independent (see the Indian Independence Act, 1947). Thus, the independence of these princely states was obvious and legitimate. There was no doubt to their post-British-1947 status. These princely states were all rejoicing and singing the songs of freedom from the bondage of the colonial rule.

For instance, Manipur adopted modern democracy and parliamentary form of government in 1947 itself by the Manipur Constitution Act of 1947. General elections were held all over the state (see the Manipur Constitution Act of 1947).

Till then, shocked and astounded by the Annexation of Manipur in 1949 by the Indian state (see PDM, Annexation of Manipur 1949, Imphal, 1995). Gradually, the rest of the region were brought under the banner of the Indian Union. Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram were carved out of Assam in 1962, 1971 and 1986 respectively.

The subsequent rebellion by these NE states against the authority of the Indian state in post –colonial-British-regime was put down with an iron hand. The prevailing turmoil in the region which is deep-rooted in history, politics and economy has never been seriously and properly addressed by the Central government rather it responded with brute force.

The colonial repressive law – the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 which was used against India by the then British was the response to the situation from the top political brass of India.

Today, the life in the NE region is caught in the decades long armed conflict between the Indian armed forces and the armed opposition bodies of the region. Leave alone personal liberty, even right to life – the basic essence of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is at peril and great dismay.

Everyday life is seriously threatened and not free from the worse imminent danger (right) to life – Death.

To be continued....

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* The writer is a final year student of LLB from Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune and can be contacted at malem(dot)mangal(at)gmail(dot)com . This article was webcasted on August 10, 2007 .

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