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NGO questions 'democracy'

Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit addresses the news conference on Monday. Picture by UB Photos 

Shillong, Nov. 2: Arguments for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from the Northeast have been reignited with Irom Sharmila today completing 15 years of her hunger strike demanding the repeal of the controversial law.

Consultant to the North East Dialogue Forum (NEDF) Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, while saluting Sharmila, likened the situation in the AFSPA-dominated areas of the region and Jammu & Kashmir to that of Pakistan where the army allegedly has the "final word" over the elected civilian government.

The forum, established in 2000 with its secretariat office in Imphal, is a regional network of NGOs working on globalisation, peace, development, gender and health.

Addressing a press conference here to mark 15 years of Sharmila's activism, Basaiawmoit said, "Going by media reports, the Indo-Pakistan border dispute can never be resolved as the army there (Pakistan) has the final word. Here (the situation) is the same. Every time we want AFSPA to be repealed, the Centre says the army wants it (AFSPA). In a democracy, should there be room for an indefinite military rule?"

The act, passed on September 11, 1958, grants special powers to the armed forces in the "disturbed areas" of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. It was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in July 1990.

In May this year, Tripura repealed the controversial legislation after 18 years.

While reminding that the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission had recommended the repeal of AFSPA, Basaiawmoit said the UN special rapporteur on human rights had advocated the removal of the legislation twice.

The Supreme Court-appointed Santosh Hedge Committee had also exposed the legislation's failure to tackle insurgency in Manipur.

"In spite of these recommendations and reports, the Centre says it (AFSPA) should continue as the military wants it. The situation is no different from Pakistan, as the civilian government has to wait for army diktat. But why should AFSPA continue?" he asked.

Questioning the success of AFSPA, he asked whether smuggling of drugs and human trafficking have stopped ever since the law was put in place.

"Has AFSPA removed all the ills from society? The answer is no," he added.

Stating that the NEDF wants Irom Sharmila's struggle to be heard by the authorities, Basaiawmoit expressed sadness that the "rest of India" does not care about issues like AFSPA.

To ensure that voices like those of Sharmila's are translated into action by the government, he said, "We need to mobilise public opinion all over India and put more pressure on the government. For instance, the Modi government had to stop issuing a fresh ordinance on the land bill due to pressure."

He also said the removal of the controversial act requires a "political decision", and he was confident that "if entire India is with us, I am sure we will be able to move mountains."

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