Sexual violence by army is a reality and cannot be justified

AFSPA devika mittal

In 2004, Thangjam Manorama, was brutally raped and murdered by Assam Rifles. She was arrested from her house at around 3 am on the allegation of being a “militant”. Her body was found a day later. There were bullet shots in her vagina and semen all over her skirt. To protest against this brutual rape and killing, a group of about 50 women had staged a nude protest in front of the Kangla fort. They had raised slogans like “The Indian Army rape us”. This protest had forced the Manipur Government to act. The Manipur Government had ordered an inquiry and submitted a report but the Guwahati High Court had rejected it saying that the Manipur Government does not have the authority. After continuous pressure, there were some developments in the case but they have not led to any result. Till now, justice has not been granted. This case was not an exception. Such incidents have happened before and continue to happen in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) has been imposed. Many believe this is because AFSPA provides the armed forces with legal impunity.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) rules over eight states in India – North East India (except Sikkim) and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In the name of “upholding law and order”, the law gives the right to armed forces to arrest without a warrant, shoot to kill any person on mere suspicion. The law protects the army persons with legal impunity. The officers found guilty can be punished only after the central government issues a sanction. This is one of the main reasons why today AFSPA has become a symbol of army arbitrariness and cruelty in AFSPA areas. AFSPA has resulted in fake encounters, rapes, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Much has been written about how the army is misusing its power not only to disregard the civilians but also the government and judiciary. We have had instances where the armed forces have refused to co-operate even when the judiciary has taken up such cases and have been accused of destroying or manipulating evidence. Even in the case of Manorama, it is alleged that the guilty officers had shot her several times in the vagina to destroy evidence. The state government too has acknowledged cruelty of the army in some instances. State government officials have in some cases in Manipur paid compensation to the victims of AFSPA. Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had acknowledged that he felt “ashamed” of the Kunan Poshpora incident of Kashmir wherein atleast 50 women were raped by the soldiers of Rajputana Rifles in a single night. But the army alone cannot be blamed. In many cases, the central government has also refused to sanction the right to punish the guilty officers.

There is a sense of hypocrisy, when India talks about human rights, and criticizes China for the atrocities committed in Tibet, and gives shelter to political refugees. While we are proud to call ourselves a democracy, the truth is that the army is very powerful. Also, while AFSPA, an anti-human law, does permit killing, the law does not permit sexual violence. How can the sexual violence be justified at all? This should not come under legal impunity. This was also one of the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee that was appointed in December 2012 to review laws for sexual crimes. The committee had recognized sexual violence by armed forces in AFSPA areas and had recommended that the cases of sexual violence be brought under ordinary criminal law.

The army being held responsible in cases of sexual violence will, in no way, “degrade” or “disrespect” the army as the army officials would like us to believe. We must respect our army. They do sacrifice their lives for us, whatever the motivation may be. It does not mean all their acts are right or should be justified. These incidents are real, they are not fabrications and the guilty army personnel should be punished. The cases of sexual violence have not only been reported from AFSPA states. There have been several reported cases of army men raping civilians in non-AFSPA states. While this does not mean that all army persons misuse their power, some definitely do. The glorification of army and army persons serves like impunity even in non-AFSPA states. Army personnel should never feel insulted or degraded because of measures to ensure transparency and accountability under certain circumstances. But the army cannot and should not have criminals in uniform, they cannot be above the law. This is a democracy and the army being a part of the state must respect it. 

This article was published on The News Minute

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Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things…they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’..it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?

In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue.So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

also published @

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