January 29, 2013

Activist details Northeast India’s plight

Indian activist Erando Leichombam described the desperate state of Northeast India under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in a talk Monday evening.

AFSPA, instituted in 1958, allows security forces from the Indian Army to search, arrest, and shoot anybody suspected of insurrection, placing Manipur and its neighboring states under a form of martial law. Leichombam, the founder of the Manipur International Center, estimated that there is about one soldier for every seven civilians.

In highlighting the brutality against civilians, Leichombam spoke of his own run-in with the army.

“Once I was at gunpoint. I was driving my car peacefully and this cop turns out of nowhere and points a gun at me, simply because he wanted to bully me,” he said.

Leichombam said he worries that the people of Manipur have passively accepted their condition.

“When I go back to Manipur, what I see is that people are getting used to this lifestyle of being humiliated constantly. They are getting used to the idea of very nasty cops, kicking and ordering them around, harassing them,” he said.

The situation is exacerbated by India’s rampant corruption, he said. According to Leichombam, 90 percent of the state’s funding and revenue comes from the Indian central government.

“The local people, the local politicians—everybody is dependent on the money. That generates a lack of political accountability, and that is why you don’t see the local politicians or the local leaders standing up against this act,” he said.

Manipur has just two seats in a parliament of 552 members, making it difficult for the state to wield significant political power.

For Leichombam, the issue boils down to a lack of unity among the Northeast Indian people.

“There is no political unity, there is no political consensus, so my feeling is that people need to wake up and be united and build political will around the repeal of this act,” he said in an interview with the Maroon.

“Yes, insurgency does happen. Sometimes insurgency comes with a lot of violence, which I totally repudiate. When there is some sort of fearmongering in society, the way to find peace is not by imposing it, but by really employing the core values of what our democracy is.”