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Push for parties’ army act stand

Guwahati, March 26: Political parties campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls have remained short of making any promise to have the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 repealed.

This has prompted civil society groups to demand that all parties make their stand on the act clear before the elections.

Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign, a national campaign in support of Irom Sharmila, fighting for withdrawal of the AFSPA from Manipur, has written to all political parties asking them to take up the issue and clarify their stand on withdrawal of the act from the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

The letter, signed by around 100 human rights activists, lawyers, writers, journalists and NGO workers from across the country, yesterday submitted it to political parties who are high on promises to lure voters. The open letter was submitted to the parties through the Asian Human Rights Commission, a group based in New Delhi.

“You have missed out millions of people for whom the promises of development, secularism and corruption have less meaning. Concerns of the people living in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir regarding AFSPA have been ignored for decades. Do you support the heroic struggle by people of J&K and the Northeast against brutal and draconian AFSPA?” the letter asked.

Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since November 2000 demanding withdrawal of the act from Manipur saying that security forces were torturing common people and curbing human rights in the name of containing militancy and maintaining law and order.

The signatories include civil rights lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover, filmmaker and writer Amar Kanwar, writer Walter Fernandes, Jayachandran R. of Civil Rights and Social Justice Society of Kerala, Gayatri Buragohain of Foundation for Social Transformation, Nandita Narain of Delhi University and others.

The letter said the act had affected the fundamental right to life of people living in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir and their demand to withdraw the act has remained neglected for decades.

“Reports by the National Human Rights Commission and several national and international independent human rights committees have said that the AFSPA has become a symbol of cruelty and arbitrariness in these states. It has led to extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, disappearances and fake encounters. The army act has disrupted lives of many civilians. So in these states, your claims and promises of development, secularism and corruption hold no meaning until basic human rights are guaranteed to these people. Where is the place for your symbols of ‘development’ in the cities torn apart regularly by repressive state machinery and military? Where schools and public parks are transformed into military camps? How will there be development under the shadow of guns?” the letter asked the political parties.

The NGOs have demanded that the parties include withdrawal of the “draconian act” from the region in their election manifestos.

“Withdrawal of the act from the region is a must to restore peace and ensure development,” Ranjan Kumar Baruah, member of Northeast Dialogue Forum, said.

The Manipur unit of the Naga People’s Front today promised to highlight the army act in its manifesto.