08/10/2004, 00.00
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Anger mounts against army abuses in Manipur

Soldiers rape women and injure demonstrators.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A serious political crisis is brewing in north-eastern Indian State of Manipur. Popular resentment is growing against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law, initially designed to give the army the means to fight separatism, but that has ended up giving it immunity from any kind of prosecution and powers so wide-ranging that some consider it a licence to kill.

Manoroma Puri learnt that the hard way. The 32-year-old woman was seized at home, taken into custody for alleged links to local separatists, raped, and eventually killed on July 11. Outraged by the crime 12 women staged a naked march in the streets of the State capital of Imphal. They were not alone. Thousands of Manipur public servants have gone on strike in response to a call by 32 social groups opposed to the law. Many public buildings in Imphal and in district areas have been shut down, inter-state bus services have not worked for a week, and lorry drivers refuse to cross state lines. At least 34 people were injured in clashes with the police.

The month-long protest movement is directed at the military for allegedly condoning abuses and violence against women by its soldiers. Critics allege that the law gives the army a blank check to abuse people and violate their rights. Long before Manorama Puri, other women were kidnapped, raped or killed with impunity.

A spokesperson for the "All Manipur Women Social Reformation and Development Samaj" said that her group "was not against the law if it curbed separatist militancy, but it vehemently opposed it when the army used it to target unarmed people, especially women."

At the end of a cabinet meeting on the Manipur crisis, India's Home Minister Shivraj Patil stated that "the people of Manipur are our brothers and sisters and in a democracy should people so desire, we may consider withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act."

In the last 30 days alone 700 demonstrators have been injured. Yet, social groups are planning for further demonstrations on August 15, India's Independence Day.

The Armed Forces Special Forces Act was adopted in 1958 and provides security forces with unlimited powers in "Disturbed Areas". First enforced in Assam and Manipur, it was eventually extended to five other north-eastern states (Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland). Sadly, since then these states are known as "the Seven Sisters". (N.C.)

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