Conflict & Justice

India marches against martial law

Indian activists launched an 1,864 mile pilgrimage from Indian-administered Kashmir to the northeastern state of Manipur to demand the withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants the military sweeping powers in eight Indian states facing simmering insurgencies.

Upbraided several times for ignoring the 10-year-long hunger strike waged by Manipur's Irom Sharmila against AFSPA during the comparatively brief anti-corruption hunger strike of Anna Hazare, the activists have vowed to draw attention to an area of India that is mostly ignored by the government and the media alike.

Despised in Kashmir, Manipur and the other states where it is in effect, AFSPA grants Indian security forces rights of search and seizure without a warrant and protects soldiers who kill civilians in the course of their duty from prosecution, according to the BBC.

Local residents and politicians have long blamed the law for extrajudicial executions -- here called "fake encounters" because they are allegedly staged to look like gun battles with insurgents. Introduced in 1958, AFSPA was first implemented in Manipur, then other northeastern states, and finally enforced in Kashmir in 1989.

The abridgment of the rights afforded to other Indian citizens is also one of the main complaints of the stone-throwing protesters of the Kashmir intifada.

Leading activists like Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey and Singhjit Irom - the brother of Irom Sharmila - have joined the drive, which is expected to travel in cars through northern and western India before reaching Manipur, the BBC said.

Earlier reports suggested that campaigners would be marching between the states.

"This is not just about Kashmir or Manipur. This is the battle of every citizen. AFSPA is a dangerous law. It should go," the BBC quoted Irom Singhjit as saying.

The military has resisted any efforts to repeal or withdraw AFSPA, routinely saying that the risk of prosecution for actions performed on duty would prevent soldiers from being able to control order in India's restive regions.