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Bishop welcomes Indian court’s human rights concern

The Supreme Court announcement puts pressure on the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act

Bishop welcomes Indian court’s human rights concern

Police guard a street in Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir state where a curfew has been imposed since July 8 after a demand for freedom from India turned violent. (ucanews.com photo)

An Indian bishop has welcomed the Supreme Court’s stance on human rights violations by security forces in insurgency-hit areas in northeast India and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"We welcome the Supreme Court’s concern on the issue as it is our right to live in our country happily and peacefully," said Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl who is based in the capital Mizoram state. 

The Indian Constitution guarantees basic human rights to all citizens and this is not only the concern of the court but the church, he said. 

The prelate’s comments came after the court on Sept. 7 said that human rights violations in these areas were a matter of concern. The court was especially focused on disturbances in cities like Imphal, capital of Manipur, another state in northeastern India.

"It is not the Line of Control [the de facto border between India and Pakistan] but the heart of cities like Imphal that needs our attention; public order needs to be [protected]," the court said.

 

Police check an ambulance in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Aug. 17, where a curfew has been imposed for the past 41 days. (ucanews.com photo)

 

There are multiple insurgencies happening in India’s northeastern states. Some armed groups demand independence while others want autonomy.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force in Jammu and Kashmir and some northeastern states which allows security forces to arrest or shoot anybody they suspect of being a threat.

In the past few years, the armed forces have come under criticism from human rights activists for misusing this power and committing crimes such as rape and murder.

Irom Sharmila from Manipur state ended her 15-year hunger strike in August in order to run in the state elections. Her protest against the special powers act had seen her arrested multiple times and force-fed by a tube.

"We need many more people like Irom Sharmila, who has been fighting for human rights in this part of the country," Bishop Rotluanga said.

The seven states of India's northeastern India has long been battered by ethnic clashes and militancy. Home to 357 ethnic groups that speak at least 250 dialects and have over 1 million Catholics, the region is linked to the rest of India through the "chicken's neck," a 17 kilometer corridor and shares international borders with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.

The people in northeast resent their region being treated only as a supplier of raw materials — petroleum, tea, coal — to the rest of India, and a consumer of finished products. For the frustrated youth, militancy comes as an escape route. They find solace also in drugs or in crimes for easy money. The federal government treats the unrest in northeastern India as a mere law and order issue.

In the last 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in India's only Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir state, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. Both countries claim the region and each administer part. 

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