Sapamcha Kangleipal is the 27 years old leader of Manipur Forward Youth Front, an organization working for the democratic rights and peace in Manipur. He had organized a peace march in April 2008 for 15 days through the districts Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishunpur, Churchandrapur, Thoubal and Ukhrul in which about 600 youth participated. He was arrested on 7th May, 2008 for having organized a meeting in Imphal on the 'Implications of Arming Citizens,' in the wake of government's decision to recruit Special Police Officers for Heirok village in Thoubal district to protect villages from attacks of militants. One is reminded of the Salwa Judun experiment in Chhattisgarh, which has received condemnation from various quarters. Kangleipal described the government's decision as 'raping of democracy' and asked the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh to resign if he was not able to control the violence. Between 250 to 350 people, including civilians, security personnel and insurgents, have been getting killed in insurgency related violence every year over the last decade in Manipur. The figure this year 426 is the highest in this period.
Kangleipal was given bail on 13th May as the Magistrate found the charge of sedition against him not genuine. But before Kangleipal could be set free he was arrested again in front of the Magistrate under National Security Act. Since then he had been under judicial custody. The message was clear to the civil society and human rights groups that anybody who would dare to question the government's decision would meet the same fate as Kangleipal.
For the first 7 days in lockup Kangleipal didn't eat anything. Because of which he developed erosive gastritis and had to be moved after two months from Sajiwa Jail to Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, where Irom Sharmila has also been kept in custody who is fasting for the last eight years to demand repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Irom Chanu Sharmila's long drawn struggle, which is partially of spiritual nature, has become legendary. The Meira Paibees, literally meaning ' torch bearers', network of organization of mothers, have come together as 'Sharmila Kanba Lup' (Save Sharmila Group) to launch a relay fast at PDA Complex near the J.L. Nehru Hospital beginning on the international human rights day, 10th December, in 2008, with the slogan 'Save Sharmila', Repeal AFSPA.' Hundreds of women come out every day from nearby areas to participate in this fast. The movement against AFSPA is gaining ground.
It is beyond comprehension why the government - either the state or the central - is not talking to Sharmila, She doesn't belong to any organization, she has no banner. Unlike SIMI she doesn't believe in any pan-Islamism idea which could pose a threat to Indian state. She is a devotee of Lord Krishna and thinks that she is following the will of God. Yet it is most unfortunate that her voice is falling on deaf ears. If the government will not listen to the most peaceful of voices and protests they loose the right to complain against people who take recourse to violence - the insurgents, the naxalites and the terrorist.
People in Manipur ask when the central government in the aftermath of Mumbai terrorist incident has now amended the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to make it more stringent and the government in Manipur is increasingly using the state police force more than the army to deal with the law and order situation, they must think of doing away with AFSPA. This would at least save Sharmila's life. Otherwise if Sharmila dies while fasting it would present the government in a very bad light.
The approach of government to use force to curb insurgency related violence is not bearing fruit as can be seen from the number of people who have died during this period. After training 301 SPOs for protecting Heirok, the government is now planning to recruit about 1200 more such personnel to be deployed in other parts of four valley districts. This inexpensive outsourcing of the task of security, with each SPO to be paid Rs.3000 per month, to civilians can have only one outcome - increase in fratricidal killing.
The logic of countering violence with violence, resulting in more weapons in more people's hands, can only result in more entangled situation. Stringent laws and use of force has never been able to control violent opposition. The government must find ways of addressing the aspirations of youth who have taken up arms by engaging them in dialogue and create more employment opportunities so that the youth have an alternative to extortion. Innovative solutions are needed in Manipur rather than the high handed ways the government has chosen to deal with the situation.
Sapamcha Kangleipal helped us organize a five day fast to express solidarity with Irom Sharmila in September 2007, in which activists from other states of India participated. He was a popular youth leader as can be seen from the participation in April peace march. He was trying to get a democratic process going in the society. Rather than channelizing his energies in a constructive manner the government chose to deal with him like an insurgent. While in judicial custody he was fearing for his life. He believed that some insurgent groups in connivance with the police wanted to eliminate him. This can be the only possible reason for his escape from the hospital ward under security on the night of 28th-29th December, 2008. Unfortunately, it'll become more difficult for him to carry forward the process that he was spearheading in Manipur, especially among the youth, as the government and security forces will be more ruthless with him now. The youth of Manipur is caught in a vicious trap. The government must extend them an olive branch so that they can join the political mainstream.
Sapamcha Kangleipal may not have the patience of Irom Sharmila but he is definitely not a criminal. The charges against him of trying to procure arms and ammunition from Mayanmar are false. The government must deal with him in a humane manner. He represents the youth who is a legitimate citizen of this country with a grievance. The grievance must be addressed.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley in control theory which is applicable in missile technology. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He can be contacted at: [email protected], www.ashaparivar.org)