A day after AFSPA was extended in most parts of Manipur, rights activist Irom Sharmila said the "oppressive law" was not a solution to the conflict in the state.
Sharmila, hailed as the 'Iron Lady of Manipur', told PTI in a telephonic interview on Thursday that the BJP-led government at the Centre should respect diversity instead of working for uniformity through proposals like the Uniform Civil Code.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA was extended by another six months in Manipur on Wednesday, barring 19 police station areas in the Imphal valley and an area that shares its boundary with neighbouring Assam.
"The extension of AFSPA is not a solution to the problems or ethnic violence in the state. The Centre and the Manipur government have to respect the diversity of the region," she said.
"The values, principles, and practices of different ethnic groups must be respected. India is known for its diversity. But the central government and the BJP are more interested in creating uniformity through proposals like the Uniform Civil Code," she added.
Sharmila questioned why PM Narendra Modi couldn't visit Manipur since the violence broke out in May.
"PM Modi is the leader of the country. If he had visited the state and spoken to the people, the problems would have been resolved by now. The solution to this violence lies in compassion, love and humane touch. But it seems the BJP is not keen on resolving the issue and wants this problem to linger," she claimed.
Criticising Chief Minister N Biren Singh, she alleged, "Wrong policies of the state government have pushed Manipur towards this unprecedented crisis." Stating the youths of the state have suffered the most in the ethnic violence, Sharmila said the deaths of the young man and woman that triggered widespread protests brought tears to her eyes.
She also hit out at the Centre over the condition of women in the Northeastern state.
"Women of Manipur have been facing the brunt of AFSPA and this ethnic violence. The talks of women's empowerment, and the women's reservation bill would serve no purpose if you can't protect the dignity of the women. Are the women of Manipur any different from those of mainland India? Just because we look different doesn't mean we can be treated like this," she said.
Sharmila, who was on a 16-year-long hunger strike demanding the repeal of AFSPA, wondered how long the law would solve the problems in the Northeast.
"India is a democratic country. For how long should we carry forward this colonial law? In the name of fighting insurgency, crores of rupees are wasted, which could have been utilised for the overall development of the Northeast. The internet is suspended for months, and basic rights are taken away. Can you impose AFSPA if there is a law and order problem in Mumbai or Delhi?" she questioned.
Sharmila had started her hunger strike against AFSPA after ten civilians were allegedly killed by security forces at a bus stop in Malom near Imphal in 2000.
She waged her peaceful resistance for 16 years before ending it in 2016. The 51-year-old rights activist got married in 2017, and the mother of twin girls is now settled in Bengaluru.
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