MANIPUR AND THE PARADOX OF SECURITY


Bidhan S Laishram
Research Officer, IPCS
12 August 2004

A strange security paradox presents itself in Manipur: the state is disturbed over "Disturbed Area". Barely one and half months after the state government notified the whole of the state to be a Disturbed Area to extend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for another six months, the people are in rebellion against the Act. The virulence of the agitation has repeatedly caused an exhaustion of tear-gas shells and rubber bullets; however, it is important to distinguish between the immediate causes underlying the present flare-up and its deeper roots.


The immediate cause was the killing of a 32 year old, Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles after arresting her from home in the small hours of 11 July. Her dead body riddled with 16 bullets was found on a roadside. Post-mortem reports could not establish whether the injuries to the genital areas might have destroyed any evidence of rape or sexual assault. It was further suggested that "the injuries around the genitals may be due to the bullet passing through her back with the victim facing the ground and the assailant who the pulled the trigger might have been standing in an oblique direction to the body". The arrest memo said that no incriminating documents or arms were found on searching her house.

A different version provided by the Army says that Manorama was shot while trying to run away as she was being taken to places revealed during her interrogation. The Army maintains that she was an IED (improvised explosive device) expert in the outlawed People's Liberation Army.

What is the "legal-truth" will finally get known, but the agitation is rooted in a particular conception of security that obtains in India's Northeast which equates security only with the territorial integrity of the Indian state. While there is no denying the primacy of territorial security, it embodies an inherent tendency to dismiss and degrade other considerations. The territorial boundaries of a nation-state are secured by the Armed Forces against external threats to the nation; within itself, no nation requires the Armed Forces to exercise sovereignty and secure uniformity to ensure the nation's integrity. That is the rationale behind the injunction that the Armed Forces should not be deployed for long periods in civilian areas.

The Manipur problem should be analysed and addressed in this context which has resulted from the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act over the entire state since 8 September 1980. The Armed Forces have allegedly indulged in gross human rights violations under the powers granted by this Act, and fear has become part of the daily life of the people. A look at its key provisions is instructive. The Act is rooted in the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942, promulgated at the height of the Quit India Movement, which virtually placed the state under an "undeclared emergency". The Government of India went further by making it an Act of Parliament, and by extending its powers to shoot even to non-commissioned officers. Under the Act, the Armed Forces can conduct searches, arrest and destroy places and shoot to kill-all without warrant. The only requirement is that the officer needs to be satisfied that all this is necessary for the maintenance of public order. "Suspicion" is another key term recognized by this Act as a legitimate ground for exercising its draconian powers. By ensuring that no legal proceedings can be brought against any member of the Armed Forces without permission being accorded by the Central Government, the Act virtually denies the right to constitutional remedies granted under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. As the right to life cannot be suspended even under a national emergency, the opinion is rife that enforcing the Act amounts to more than declaring an emergency.

It is erroneous to believe that the Act has helped contain insurgency and revived the civil administration from paralysis over the last twenty years. On the contrary, insurgency outfits have mushroomed and the administration remains paralysed. The paradox is such that the state government that extended the Act wants the Centre to remove it from the state. Even if the state government revokes its own declaration, the Centre has the option, as provided by the 1972 Amendment to the Act, to overrule the state's decision. A unilateral move by the state could invite the imposition of the President's Rule on the grounds of a breakdown of law and order or failure to comply with Central directives. A classic face-off between democracy and security has revealed its ugly face in Manipur.

Originally published by The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) at http://www.ipcs.org/article/terrorism-in-northeast/manipur-and-the-paradox-of-security-1456.html

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