In the words of Tapan Bose, a noted defender of human rights and democracy, ‘AFSPA is evil. It is not only against human rights but against humanity.’
A friend, who was working with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) then, commented on the impossibility of AFSPA to be ever revoked as it meant deconstructing India’s entire military structure. We debated and it angered us on what we considered was his ‘pro-state’ position during those university days. Many years later, I am almost convinced of the absurdity of it as we battle with military excesses and unthinkable killings and violence.
The continuing impunity despite years of campaigns and protests, long court battles, and setting up of different committees to review the Act only seems to confirm the impossibility of it being revoked. The legal recourse organizations have taken up, for instance Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India (1997), have demonstrated what we are up against. Many have died without any form of reparation, whatsoever, for the deaths, torture, and suffering of great magnitude during Operation Bluebird of 1987.
In fact, most times the committees and the judgments reinforce the status quo of suspecting, criminalizing, and demonizing the region and attacking the Nagas because of our history.
Every six months there is extension of the act in Nagaland despite ceasefire being in operation. In Arunachal Pradesh, it is enforced in Tirap, Changlang and Longding, the three districts inhabited by Nagas. In Manipur, AFSPA has been lifted from Imphal Municipal Council areas but not the hills.
What happened at Oting in Mon district is beyond condemnation and many of us are still struggling with words to express the grief that overwhelms us. It tells us that we are persecuted for who we are. It does not matter to India whether we are underground or civilians. We are Nagas—to be bought or shot. Our past failed ceasefires and failed accords bear testament to this.
It does not matter to us too whether we are undergrounds or civilians. We are Nagas in divergent paths, converging in our history and aspirations.
AFSPA began in the Naga Hills and it must end in the Naga Hills. However, petitioning the Government of India to repeal AFSPA is to ignore the deeper malaise and the reason why it was imposed in the first place. The onus is not on us. Many of our elders and leaders have died defending our right as a people, not for repeal of AFSPA. They gave their lives so that we may live in dignity and uphold the same for our neighbours and fellow travellers.
AFSPA is more about how India wants to uphold its sovereignty and democracy. Its sovereignty, however, does not absolve them from all the wrongs it has been perpetuating for the past 63 years with one Act in the region. The Nagas have stopped counting the years of persecution, but we live under the expanse of hope as a people in our brokenness and togetherness.
And as we continue to grapple with our collective hurt and humiliation, we must also seek healing by honouring the 14 Konyaks and those who have died defending our history and our future with our sincerity in our collective efforts to remove not just AFSPA but suppression of any form, within and without. Their deaths should be above and bigger than our differences.
Our healing must also embrace the grief of others and not demean the death of anyone, even a Jawan, be it in our land or elsewhere. Our politics cannot be separated from human dignity.
Nagas are not demanding what is not ours.
Our struggle is political.
Our journey and our direction should be political.
Today, the Konyaks are trailblazing the way.
We must follow them.
We must walk with them.
T. Ningreichon is a mother of three. She is based in Delhi and writes occasionally on issues close to her heart.