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Fringe States

The irony is visible and audible. It is seen on the streets of Jammu and Kashmir where young boys barely in their teens come out to engage the security personnel armed with sling shots or sheer bravado or anger and frustration. It is also seen in the North East region, especially Manipur, where women folk who play an active role in society staged a nude protest in front of the Assam Rifles gate at Kangla way back in 2004 besides coming out on the streets to stage a Meira Rally or torch rally, defying curfew and braving the smoke bombs, mock bombs and rubber bullets.

It was also seen right in front of the Raj Bhawan when students from Manipur University were brutally lathi charged by the cops on duty and anyone who managed to watch it live on ISTV or personally saw it would have been left mortified. It is heard in the cries of the mother who has just lost her young son in another one of those clashes between the security forces and the local people on the streets of Kashmir. It is also heard in the voice full of anger and helplessness of the father and the neighbors, when a 13 or 14 year old boy, going for his private tuition class, is left dead in the middle of the road, killed by a bullet fired from the barrel of the guns carried by the security personnel. It is also heard in the silent tears of numerous bereaved mothers and sisters and in the helpless wait for someone who has disappeared after being picked up by security personnel. Remember Sanamacha?

This is one side of India, where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been enforced to tackle, what they say are terrorists, secessionists or insurgents or militants or ultras and it is effective only in the North East States and Jammu and Kashmir, thereby providing ample ground to question the very idea of India as a Nation, where Acts or laws, which are deemed draconian are imposed only in certain parts of the country. The North East and Jammu and Kashmir do not come under the description of India, which refers to the urbane, upwardly mobile people and whose vocabulary is all about the latest iphones or handsets or Facebook or Orkut and Tweeting and on the other side, Bharat, which refers to the pre-liberalization period, where the people are still caught in the quagmire of poverty and totally abhorrent practices like honor killings, witch hunting and where the Khap-Panchayats are dispensers of justice in itself.

As we have said the North East and Jammu and Kashmir do not fall in either of the two classifications we have mentioned and for want of a better term, we may refer to them as Fringe States, which reflects not only its strategic positions on the map of India and the poor communication with the so called mainland India, but also its position on the political, economic and social consciousness of these two regions in Delhi. The irony that we mentioned in the opening remark of this commentary cannot be missed when we take the cases cited above and juxtapose it with India, which won its freedom more than 60 years back but still continues to stick to some archaic Acts enacted by their erstwhile British rulers to be used against its own citizens, in the name of protecting the integrity of the land.

To all those who have been projecting themselves as staunch Nationalists, who will not tolerate any challenge to the integrity and security of the country and cannot go beyond the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to ensure this. Legal protection is what the soldiers, out there in the field needs, say this class of people. However, the question is and this is very, very important, ‘Is the existence of India as a sovereign, democratic and intact republic so much dependent on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or not?’ It should be plain to all that there can be no winning answers to this other than come up with some incomprehensible mutterings, without really referring to soul of the question. This is the trademark of the political leaders of the land. If the answer is in the affirmative, then it only goes to prove that from the very beginning, that is the time the British left, the idea of India as a Nation as envisaged by the Mahatma and believed by his followers like Nehru and Patel, was flawed.

The greater tragedy is the total failure of some class of these politicians to realize that you cannot force Nationalism down the throat of anyone. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the policy of glasnost (open and transparent Government) and perestroika (restructuring) adopted by Mikhail Gorbachev, the sweeping changes in Europe marked by the emergence of new Nations, etc in the last century, are enough examples to tell us that there cannot be an all encompassing definition of what goes on to make a group of people a Nation. On the other hand, if the answer is No, then what are the reasons that have compelled the Government of India to stick to this Act, which in the first place did not come from their own convictions, but inherited it from the British rulers?

AFSPA cannot protect the morale of the troops; it can only be done so by their immediate bosses and the higher ups in the military establishment. What morale of the troops are we talking about; when all they care is that they can act with impunity under this Act and rape or shoot. It is also significant to note that AFSPA has today become a major topic for debate all over the country and in all political parties, with Kashmir in mind, forgetting that AFSPA was enforced in Kashmir only after the 90s whereas the North East, particularly Nagaland, has been under this Act since the 1950s. We also better remember the Manorama case of 2004 when we talk about AFSPA and the leading figure that epitomizes everything that is against humanity of which AFSPA tops the list-Irom Chanu Sharmila. It says something significant that no worthwhile debate was kicked off after this lone crusader started her fast unto death agitation to demand the repeal of the Act, after the Malom massacre in November, 2000 where ten civilians were mowed down to death. It is now nearly a decade since her fast began and has any political leader or party given a thought over this?

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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