October 2, 2013
My father was picked up from home by the Indian Army late one evening, tortured till dawn, he was pushed down a slope and left for dead. It was a miracle that he survived that night. I had just started kindergarten and was learning the Alphabets. I remember screaming the A B Cs outside the window of his room at the hospital so that he could hear me because I was told not to make noise inside. I wanted him to know what I was learning at school. I was a few months shy of my fourth birthday.
It was from that age that my idea of the ‘enemy’ was drawn. Any big guys in uniform were the real life villains. Dogra Regiment, Sikh Regiment, Assam Rifles, etc were common names. You could only hate them. But this was not an exceptional situation. It was common to most of the children from my generation in the Naga areas. We grew up knowing of, at least, one person tortured or killed by the Indian army and associated them with everything that we were scared of. Parents would frighten us when we were out of line that the ‘shipai’ (soldiers) were coming or that they would give us to the ‘shipai’. Not the best way to discipline a child but it worked. We might never witness the violent acts of the Indian army but we heard and knew when the grownups talked in hush hush manner. Children are smart that way.
My father was targeted because of his human rights activism. I am sure he was prudent enough to know the risk he was getting us all into. He simply refused to have the choice of staying away. So, the Indian Army became regular visitors, raiding our house all too frequently. Probably, they knew more about its creaky floors and dark corners than all our family members combined. This again was not uncommon. It was happening to many ‘activist’ families. The ‘unlucky ones’ gets picked up and beaten and some did not come back or come out alive. My father died eleven years later because of internal injuries.
1980s and early ’90s were a time when the underground movement was at its strongest. The Indian government responded with military power. The army would go on a rampage: shot at anything and anyone, destroyed property, burnt granaries, picked up anyone, beat and maimed them for life, raped and sodomised. My maternal grandfather was killed in one of their shooting sprees. He was cow herding. They seem to be doing all these, as if by doing so, they would scare away even the scariest devil.
I know of families where the parents made their children put on their school uniforms in the middle of the nights so that they won’t be targeted when the army comes for ‘combing operation’ (another common phrase). Even so, the army seldom spared anyone.
Looking back, I would say that the Indian army was probably more terrified than us. Yet, my parents’ and my generations have been living with a fear psychosis for a long time. It is not uncommon to see many of us look for places to hide when we hear fire crackers during diwali in the Indian cities (yeah that is where we go for studies, work and entertainment). It is worst back home to hear any kind of bursting sounds. There is never enough space to hide. Again, it is not uncommon to hear on the public address system not to burst fire crackers. As much as I hate to admit it, we are a terrified people.
All these happen because the Indian state sanctions it. It has legalised and institutionalised army attrocities against civilians through the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. For a nation built on human dignity as one of its founding principles, AFSPA should be the last legislation on its mind. No human should be forced to carry a life long fear psychosis waiting for the next gun shots or for the army to swarm your house destroying anything they want. Our mothers should not be made to stay up all night worrying about losing their husbands and sons to the Indian Army, afraid for their daughters of getting raped. No four years old should be counting her ‘enemies’ and thinking of revenge (I did that for a long time) because a law creates a space for that. For all these and more, AFSPA has to go.
I recall having a conversation with a friend that the lack of sense of humanity had given room to all those brutalities. On reflection, we should give some credit to the army. They had the capacity to annihilate the whole community, had all of them acted depravedly. This did not happen. So, I suppose there were a few nice guys in the army. But, this does not make good the tyranny of the majority.
Our argument against AFSPA often gets diluted by or is lost in the rhetoric played out in the media and public arena. Yet, it is cleared that the movement against the Act is not born out of fiction but out of realities that people from areas affected by it are living everyday. I should know because everyday, I imagine my life with my father and struggle against anger that refuses to leave me. There has to be something seriously wrong in a law that lets such thoughts to become part of the collective imaginations.