Mizoram Votes For Change

Methodical Mizoram Votes For A Change

What will immediately strike any visitor from a city in the plains to Aizawl, capital of the north-eastern state Mizoram is the disciplined way people live there. Congested Aizawl is with little green left, but life goes on in a quaint way. For instance, unlike drivers in Delhi or Kolkata their counterparts in Aizawl are not prone to take liberty with traffic rules or honk horn to the irritation of others. In the plains, election campaigns these days are marked by noisy processions, public order disrupting meetings and often pasting of revolting posters on the walls. The large cut-out of leaders all over the place once predominant in some southern states are now an all-India eyesore. Nothing like that in Mizoram.

In the kind of medley seen during the recent election campaign in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, real issues often got blurred by announcement of promises destined to remain unfulfilled. The opposite was the case in Mizoram where Christians, according to the 2011 census, constitute 87.16 per cent of the population. Likely because of religiosity impacting their behaviourial pattern, the Mizos will unfailingly go by the norms laid down by the Church and civil society. With politicians in the plains prone to running wild in their campaign often describing opponent leaders in derogatory language, the north-eastern state presented an altogether different picture.

The three principal political outfits in the state, namely, ZPM (Zoram People’s Movement), now in power for the first time pulling off a silent revolution, MNF (Mizo National Front) that led a 20-year insurgency but finally signed the Mizoram Peace Accord in 1986 with the Union government and the Congress all agreed ahead of start of election campaign to abide by the code conduct while seeking favour of voters, authored by the Church-led Mizoram Public Forum (MPF).

Akin to what happens in more mature democracies, candidates from all parties will use MPF platforms to present their programmes and invite debates. Big election rallies and vulgar use of money power do not find favour with the code of conduct. Even door to door campaigns must not be intrusive. Election Commission in a rare instance conceding the Church request to postpone the vote counting day from a Sunday (3rd December) to the following day in order that religious activities were not disturbed is a testament of its influence.

Whatever the differences in behaviour of politicians and the public in Mizoram from what we have been experiencing in the plains, elections to the 40 member assembly in the tiny north-eastern state were keenly contested. Even while it was always the Congress or the MNF that would rule the state since its formation in 1987, at no point this time there was any doubt that the duopoly was destined to end and ZPM led by indefatigable former IPS officer Lalduhoma would come up trumps. Not only does Mizoram figure close to the top of state literacy table, but the voters, especially the young ones, are mindful of exercising their franchise. The recent elections saw nearly 90 per cent casting their votes. Mizoram is a vibrant democracy by any reckoning.  

No doubt anti-incumbency had worked both against MNF and Congress. Local identity being a big issue in Mizoram, MNF lost traction with many by being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Data from Election Commission will show that there is no correlation here between the percentage of votes secured and seats won. ZPM got 27 seats with 37.86 per cent votes, MNF won 10 seats with 35.10 per cent vote and Congress secured only one seat with 20.82 per cent vote. Take BJP securing two seats with just 5.06 per cent vote against one last time.  

Anti-incumbency and the concomitant administrative torpor definitely did work against the parties that between them always ruled the state. Poor governance and corruption linked to implementation of New Economic Development Policy and transfer of monetary benefits during the MNF rule convinced the Mizos that ZPM, full of new faces and drawn from different walks of life such as media and sports, has the potential to start a new chapter for Mizoram where poverty is rampant and unemployment high. ZPM promising a “new system” that will usher in “administrative reforms, land reforms and economic reforms” resonated with the voters.

ALSO READ: Double-Engine Manipur Goes Up In Flames

The state wanted a break with inactivity in management of state affairs and vibrancy in governance was what Lalduhoma promised. ZPM commitment to introduce minimum support prices for locally grown crops of ginger, turmeric, chilli and broomgrass and also their procurement went down well with rural families.

As he was sworn in as chief minister along with 11 ministerial colleagues, Lalduhoma’s three principal challenges will be to create jobs in industry and agriculture, introduce effective welfare schemes for women who stood by ZPM in assembly election in a big way and ensure that Chin refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh and Kuki-Zomi refugees from Manipur are treated with compassion and respect. Incidentally, the Chin and Mizos are kindred tribes of the Kukis and they collectively are described as Zo people. Naturally, whether it is ZPM or MNF, the feelings are strong for refugee welfare. ZPM has, therefore, no compunction in saying that on the issue of taking care of refugees of identical ethnicity as Mizos, it stays on the same page as MNF.

Here, however, the rub is the Union government is disinclined to support the cause of refugees. Lalduhoma has occasions to register his regrets about the denial of Central assistance to look after the refugees. This, however, will not in any way dim his resolve to give shelter to the ones who fled from the tyranny of the Myanmar military regime. One of his top priorities on assuming the office of chief minister will be to prevail upon New Delhi to share the burden of refugee care. At this point, the state with parlous finances is hosting around 47,000 refugees.

Lalduhoma says: “The state’s financial situation is bad and the government has received a warning from the Reserve Bank on this. We will use the new financial year for consolidation.” The budget for the 2024-25 financial year bearing the stamp of ZPM policy will give the roadmap of attempts to be made at economic revival leading to creation of jobs and resurgence of rural economy, the chief minister has hinted. He wants his ministerial colleagues to embrace austerity. Only the future will tell how their behaviour will be once they taste power. The real challenge for Lalduhoma will be to enlist the support of the Centre without aligning with NDA. Mizo nationalism (one may call it sub-nationalism) is pretty strong. After all, one reason for MNF losing the turf to ZPM was its hitching to NDA. 

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INDIA Alliance Team To Visit Manipur

Double-Engine Manipur Goes Up In Flames

A tangible and transparent civil war, and as goddamned bloody as it can be, is ceaselessly on in BJP’s double-engine Manipur, and there has been no apparent ceasefire, or, a momentary lull, despite the much-hyped visit of the Union Home Minister, and that too after 25 days, and that too when more than 100 had already been killed, scores of churches and homes destroyed, entire villages ransacked, and 50,000 plus panic-stricken people suddenly rendered homeless – their future uncertain, their lives in eternal danger. Inevitably, and as has been the predictable pattern, the messiah of ‘acche din’ has kept mum on this ongoing, 24/7 orgy of violence and mass human tragedy unleashed in what is definitely a sensitive border state in the north-east of India.

Well, that is his unique style. Eyes-wide-open-wide shut! It’s like holding a mythical Sengol, surrounded by sundry high priests chanting Vedic hymns, while, not far away, his cops manhandle, brutalise, degrade, and drag on the streets our world champion women athletes. This, even while his entire State apparatus works with only one motto: how to protect a history-sheeter bahubali from UP who has been accused in clear testimonies, including by a minor, of being a perverse, serial offender, again and again, and which should have landed him in jail long time ago! But, no, not in these ‘Vande Bharat’ days of green-flagging, superfast, instant glory – while trains collide and derail, and when innocents rot in jail for infinite periods, and goons and sleaze-balls roam around free, cocking a snook at all concerned.

Witness the tragedy unfolding like a relentless nightmare in the sublime valleys, hills and bylanes of Manipur’s remote villages. A beautiful landscape has been ravaged into a blood-soaked spectacle. Innocents keep dying, and the fire of revenge rages like hell-fire.

So, who are Tonsing Hangsing, 8, Meena Hangsing, 45, and Lydia Lourembam, 37?

A little tribal boy, his Meitei mother, and a relative, they were given shelter in a ‘safe’ Assam Rifles refugee camp; they were burnt alive in an ambulance. Mob-lynching, churches charred beyond redemption, minorities hounded and reduced to second-class citizens, rampant hate politics, communal polarizations as electoral trump-cards, vicious trolling, a stooge media, and bad propaganda cinema – these seem to be the time-tested landmarks in contemporary India since May 2014. Their story, thereby, too, follows a predictable pattern.

The boy was being rushed for medical treatment. He was hit by a bullet, while a mindless wave of vicious ethnic violence raged between the majority Meiteis and the miscellaneous tribal/ethnic communities. This happened in distant Iroisemba in West Imphal, as the blood-thirsty crowd bayed for blood, the victims pleaded for mercy, while the security forces apparently left them to their tragic fate. The child’s heart-broken father told a local television: “I have not yet received the dead bodies but I have heard that the three were charred beyond recognition with just a few bones left in the ambulance.”

ALSO READ: Does AFSPA Know A Mother’s Heart?

Well, these were ordinary citizens, nameless names, silent signposts of the dying and the dead. Witness the tragic case of a BJP MLA, Vungzagin Valte, 61, from the Kuki community, three-time legislator, adviser to the state chief minister of the BJP-led government in Imphal, now lodged in a private hospital in Delhi. He was brutally assaulted by a mob soon after the mayhem begun on May 3. He has lost his voice. He can hardly move. His son told The Hindu that he “is like a child now and has to be taught to talk and walk again following the injuries…” His driver is already dead. Both seem to have been tortured for hours, said the son.

It is as clear as summer daylight that large parts of Manipur has been turned into a war zone, and the civil war has turned vicious and organized. Two militant Meitei groups have openly threatened civil war. Thousands of guns and ammunition have been looted in what seems a partisan and knee-jerk reaction from sections of the security forces from day one, with allegations of bias, and alleged alignments on the ground with armed groups. If these allegations are true, than it is too dangerous a trend – what do condemned people do if the protectors themselves turn partisan?

Witness another case, as reported on June 9 in The Indian Express. “A week before a BSF jawan was killed in Manipur’s Kakching district on Tuesday, a similar killing of another jawan from the force took place in the border town of Moreh just ahead of Amit Shah’s visit to the violence-hit state. But, more concerning for the security establishment in Manipur is the manner in which they appear to have been killed — pinpoint firing from a distance… Sources said since Kuki insurgent groups are not known to use snipers, forces are now trying to figure out if armed groups, largely civilians, have got any training in precision firing…”

Trained snipers killing Indian para-troopers! A mob burning alive a child, his mother and relative inside an ambulance, who were given shelter in a para-military camp. Multiple tribes and communities in an internecine war with each other – Nagas, Zomis, Kukis, Meiteis. Killings, burnings, ransacking and ravaging of homes and villages in full spree. So, what has the acclaimed double-engine government of the BJP achieved in this sensitive state?

Thereby, Mamata Banerjee has a point when she reiterates: “We have seen how the central government has been trying to suppress news about Manipur… Hence, when I say that this government hides facts, it is true. The hearts of our countrymen are burning, they will give a fitting reply to them. I am waiting for that day…”

So whatever happened to the railways minister without a railway budget after perhaps one of the biggest train accidents in the history of Indian railways with 300 dead, a 1000 plus injured, and scores of the dead still unidentified? Did he resign like many of his predecessors, starting with Lal Bahadur Shastri? Even Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee, then railway ministers with the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, offered to resign after the train accidents during their tenure. But, no sir, not under this regime!

That is why Mamata Banerjee has quizzically “drawn parallels” between the train tragedy and the alleged Pulwama “hush-up” before the general elections of 2019 (Telegraph, June 9), now, yet again in the news because of new revelations on the tragic death of 40 of our jawans by a terrorist strike: “So many contradictory statements… I said this earlier too, and I will repeat it. All we want is the truth, as to what caused the accident. However, we have seen how the truth has been manipulated, and fake stories are being pushed to suppress the real cause of the accident… There should be a modicum of shame… which keeps their mouths shut for a week… Something happened for sure, for three trains to collide. What happened was for them to find out. But, just because they run the government, they will do as they please, that cannot happen. There has to be a system of investigation. Each day, a different person comes up with a different version, under political instructions. This is not, by any means, a small matter.”

Small or big, in this New India with a New Parliament, there is not a remote chance of a semblance of accountability. Be it a bahubali who has routinely tormented our women wrestlers, a clueless chief minister in a border state, or, a railway minister apparently specialized in Anti-Collision Devices. As long as the prophet rules supreme, all is well in this brutalized and tragic landscape of a ravaged democracy, the largest in the world!

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BJP Parliamentary Meet

BJP Parliamentary Meet: Modi Asks Leaders To Be Ready For A Strong Fight

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who attended the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday asked the leaders to be ready for a “strong fight” stating that the more the party rises and succeeds, the more will be attacks from the opposition.

The BJP parliamentary party meeting took place this morning in the Parliament complex here. This was the first time that this meeting has taken place in the ongoing second part of the session.
The meeting began with the BJP MPs congratulating PM Modi for leading them to score three big wins in the recently concluded Assembly elections in the northeastern states. PM Modi was felicitated by the party leaders for the party’s win in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland where they have a coalition government.

According to sources, the Prime Minister said, “The more, the BJP continues to taste success and rise, the more the attacks from the other side will increase. Have to be ready for a strong fight”.

PM Modi’s remark came at a time when the Parliament has been in a logjam in which the opposition continues to demand a JPC on the Adani-Hindenburg issue, and the BJP has demanded an apology from Rahul Gandhi for insulting the prime minister.

While the opposition parties continue to call Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as MP from Lok Sabha an attack on democracy, BJP and NDA MPs continue to attack the congress party and Rahul Gandhi for insulting Veer Savarkar and OBC community.

The opposition staged a protest on Monday wearing black attire and marched from the Parliament complex to Vijay Chowk against the Centre over their demand for a JPC into the Adani issue.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge hit out at the Centre over the Adani issue and Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as Lok Sabha MP and said that the opposition leaders are wearing black attire to show that democracy is being trampled in the country.

Kharge alleged that the Centre used the probe agencies to bend those who did not bow before the government.

“I thank the opposition leaders for raising their voices against Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification. Why are we here in black clothes? We want to show that PM Modi is ending democracy in the country. He first finished autonomous bodies, then they put up their own govt everywhere by threatening those who had won polls. Then they used ED, CBI to use bend those who didn’t bow,” Kharge said. (ANI)

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Cong Treated Northeastern States As ATMs: Modi

Cong Treated Northeastern States As ATMs: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that the Congress and similar parties used to loot Northeastern states and treated them as ATMs, while the BJP considers the Northeast as the growth engine of the country’s development.

Addressing an election rally in Meghalaya’s Tura, the Prime Minister said, “Congress used to remember Meghalaya only during elections. Congress and similar parties used to loot Northeastern states and treated them as ATMs… ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ is secularism for us. For BJP the country and its citizens come first.”
PM Modi said that the people of Meghalaya have decided to have a BJP government both in the state and at the Centre.

He further said that Meghalaya will soon host a G20 meeting adding that people from many developed nations will visit Meghalaya which will boost the state’s image.

“We have changed the old thinking and approach for the development of the entire North-East including Meghalaya. Congress governments had considered this part as the last part of the country while BJP considers North-East as the growth engine of the country’s development,” he said.

The Prime Minister said that the central government has increased the budget of the Northeast in the last 9 years but the people here tell that neither roads, schools or colleges nor hospitals have been built.

“The youth here are telling that there is corruption in the recruitment… there is nepotism. Seeing all this, Meghalaya has decided that there should be a BJP government in both Delhi and Shillong,” he added.

“Tribal villages in interior areas of Meghalaya got electricity for the first time, since independence, in the last nine years. We have also allocated a surplus budget for road construction of villages and spent more than Rs 5,000 crore on constructing National Highways,” he said adding that the Congress governments have always ignored these areas, but BJP considers the northeast as the growth engine of the country.

Talking about the development of Assam, PM Modi said that under the BJP government, neighbouring states of Meghalaya have achieved fast-paced development.

“People were only aware of Japanese Cherry blossoms but after I spoke about cherry blossoms from Meghalaya, people understood the potential of Meghalaya,” he said.

PM Modi said that he is confident in the love and blessings that “Meghalaya Maange BJP Sarkar” (Meghalaya asks for BJP government).

He further said that the BJP government for Meghalaya means fast paced development, the end of blockade and violence, pucca houses for all and employment opportunities for youth.

“We have also strengthened air connectivity for Meghalaya and are installing hundreds of 4G towers in tribal villages of Meghalaya,” he said.

Sharing anecdotes from the past, when the BJP government helped Indian nationals who were stuck in other countries, PM Modi said, “The family of Father Prem Kumar had lost all hope when the Christian priest got stuck in Afghanistan. I had promised his family and Christian religious heads his safe return to the country, and I am glad that I was able to fulfil my promise.”

He further said that the nation and countrymen come before everything for BJP.

“Over 50 nurses from Kerala who had studied in Christian institutions and were working in Iraq were rescued by the efforts of the central government and brought home safely. We do not see religion while helping our own,” he added.

The Prime Minister said that he was blessed to be showered with love by people in large numbers.

Taking a dig at the Meghalaya government for denying permission for holding a rally in Tura, the PM said that he does not need any ground to connect with the people of Tura and Meghalaya.

“But this love and affection towards BJP aren’t getting digested by a few, and they are losing sleep over this. They tried hard that this rally could not happen but Modi does not need any ground for connecting with the people of Tura because people here have accepted me in their hearts. The gesture of love and acceptance shown towards me by the people of Shillong and Tura is proof that Meghalaya wants a BJP government,” he added.

Earlier, the National People’s Party (NPP) government in poll-bound Meghalaya had denied permission for holding a rally of Prime in Tura.

Notably, Tura, part of Garo Hills, is considered the bastion of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and a majority of his legislators elected from this region.

Voting for the 60-seat Meghalaya Legislative Assembly will be held in a single phase on February 27. The counting of votes will be done on March 2. (ANI)

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Does AFSPA Know A Mother’s Heart?

Deep sadness stalks the pristine landscape. The simmering shadow of angst and anger lingers like a specter of death across the villages and towns of Nagaland with its simple, hardworking people in the distant North-east of India. The legendary Hornbill Festival, with its pulsating rhythms, collective joy and beautiful oral and folk traditions, will not happen this year. The people of Nagaland are in mourning.

As many as 13 innocent citizens were killed by the security forces in the Oting-Tiru area on December 4, and in Mon one day later, in indiscriminate firing by the Army. One jawan was also killed in the clash which followed with people protesting the Army ambush.

You should see the silent suffering of the parents, including the mother and father of the twin brothers, among the six coal miners, shot dead in cold blood, for no rhyme or reason. The mother and father sit hunched outside their homes, stupefied, their stoic faces telling yet another story of the predictable pattern repeated yet again in the Northeast, reminiscent of similar massacres and killings in the past.

The six coal miners were returning on a pick-up truck, on Saturday, perhaps singing, happy to go back home and be among their people on the weekend, looking forward to go to Sunday church next morning. Instead, their coffins were neatly lined up for burial, from earth to earth, life to death — and so meaningless, brutish, short and nasty.

Video images have reportedly emerged of the Army trying to allegedly shift the ‘hidden’ bodies in another truck covered with tarpaulin, after wrapping them up in plastic. If these reports are authentic, and which sources in the Nagaland Police are claiming so, then why should the Army be indulging in this terrible camouflage?

The Indian Express (December 6, 2021) has reported from Dibrugarh: “Direct marise… they shot right at us,” said Sheiwang, 23. He is among the only two survivors of the eight coal miners in Oting village. Six of his friends were killed. He has been shot on his elbow and chest and he is battling for life at the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh. Along with Yeihwang, 30, another survivor, now in a critical state, was shot near his ear. According to the report: “Union Home Minister Amit Shah in a statement in Rajya Sabha on Monday said the vehicle ‘was signaled to stop’ and was fired upon after it ‘tried to flee’. However, Sheiwang says: “We were not signaled to stop. They killed us directly. We were not trying to flee…we were just in the vehicle.”

The entire Naga society, civil society groups, the Naga Students’ Federation, political parties, the state government, have demanded that the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act-1958 (AFSPA), first enacted by the British, should go. This has been a universal demand across the country since long, but most regimes have refused to scrap AFSPA, except the Left-led government of Tripura, with Manik Sarkar at the helm. Under the Act, the Army can shoot and arrest, and they have total impunity.

ALSO READ: Exhuming Extra-Judicial Deaths In Punjab

Over the decades, cold-blooded massacres and killings have become a method in the madness in the Northeast, but justice has eluded the people, despite huge public protests. The blood of innocents has been relentlessly spilled — what happened in Nagaland is nothing but a chronicle of a tale foretold.

Manipur, in the neighbourhod, has had its own litany of tragedy and injustice. Indeed, the lines of control of the so-called ‘disturbed areas’ where AFSPA has been enacted, are etched as lines of infinite sorrow in the hearts and soul of the people.

Extra-judicial killings had become rampant in Manipur earlier. The Mint, (August 1, 2018), reported: “A two-judge bench of the apex court on 27 July pulled up CBI for delays in investigating extrajudicial killings in Manipur and in filing of charges. On 30 July, Justice MB Lokur and Justice UU Lalit hammered home the point when they summoned CBI director Alok Verma… There is reason for the court’s impatience. The hearings are on account of a PIL by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, and the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert (HRA), a watchdog. The PIL alleged 1,528 extrajudicial killings between 1980 and 2011. The allegations were against the Indian Army, its adjunct Assam Rifles, several central paramilitary forces, and the Manipur Police. While police are not protected by the immunity-and-impunity provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, they piggy-backed on the practice of security forces to conduct their own campaigns of… intimidation…” In July 2017, a Supreme Court bench also brushed aside the adequacy of claims by the government that compensation had been paid to families of the victims. The court underscored its own observation from 2015: “Now it’s like you kill 10 people, pay compensation and the matter ends there…”

In the picturesque mountain village of Malom in Manipur, amidst undulating meadows of the magical Imphal valley, across the rice fields and pristine ponds, a silent memorial tells its own sad story, with the names of the dead, young and old, all innocent, etched forever as a testimony of Army atrocities. Infamously remembered as the ‘Malom Massacre’, 10 locals, including a national bravery award winner, were shot dead by the 17 Assam Rifles on November 2, 2000 here. This massacre triggered the 16-year long Gandhian fast and satyagraha of Irom Sharmila, with iron in her soul, a nasal pipe for forcible liquid transmission in her nose, condemned as a prisoner for years.

As her fast in custody, drawing global attention, entered its 15th year, this reporter met her on November 5, 2015 in Imphal. In her one-room ‘cell’, with solidarity messages and newspaper clippings on the wall, including a letter by Nelson Mandela, surrounded by books, including one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  she had said, “How can nations call themselves advanced or civilised if they practice, sanction and legitimise organized barbarism in the name of law and order? Why can’t they repeal AFSPA if they know so well that it is completely inhuman, anti-democratic, brutal, and irrational; that, it has led to mass insecurity, relentless tragedies, angst and injustice in Manipur and Kashmir; that it has led to the armed forces going berserk without accountability and with absolute impunity? I am fighting for reason and humanity. My struggle is peaceful. Why should the armed forces be allowed to kill and torture and get away? Why are we treated differently from the rest of India?”

Indeed, while her protest continued, so did the peaceful vigil with candles of the ‘Mothers of Manipur’, night and day, even as the entire civil society, sat on fasts in solidarity with Sharmila. The mothers have been a rock in the protracted struggle against AFSPA. And it is they who shook the national conscience yet again, and with such amazing power and raw force, on July 15, 2004, outside the Kangla Fort in Imphal, then the Assam Rifle headquarters.

On that historic day, 12 of the mothers stripped themselves totally naked outside the Fort with banners saying: ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ and ‘Indian Army Take Our Flesh’. They were protesting the murder of of Manorama Thangjam, 32, who was picked up by the men of Assam Rifles four days earlier, and then, assaulted and killed most brutally.

Manorama’s bullet-riddled body was later discovered near a paddy field. There were gun shots on her private parts and thighs — clearly, with an intent to camouflage the sexual assault. This was the height of injustice and impunity, and this was simply unacceptable anymore. That is why, the mothers stripped themselves naked outside the Assam Rifles headquarters.

This reporter visited the poor home of Manorama surrounded by dense foliage outside East Imphal in November, 2015. Her mother was still heart-broken, remembering how she was picked up by the soldiers with such brute force, and for no reason whatsoever. That nightmare, as a dark and cruel memory of a night of terror, continues to haunt the Manipuri mothers till this day.

And, yet, AFSPA remains. And so does the nightmare.