‘Special Powers’ Allows for Trampling on Women’s and Civil Rights

Before the sequestered budget cuts redirected attention to our elected officials’ inability to work towards a goal beneficial to most Americans, the news cycle contained stories about other items of importance, such as foreign policy and even issues such as the right to privacy. Many of these issues have something in common: the potential for governmental overreach of its authority.

Apparently, not only is the potential for governments to overstep the boundaries of their power an enduring problem domestically, it is also one that affects citizens of other nations in much the same manner as it does here in the United States.

Irom Sharmila

Image: (CCO) Irom Sharmila Chanu surrounded by troops

Meet Irom Sharmila Chanu. A 40 year-old resident of the small northeastern state of Manipur, Ms. Chanu has been protesting a law that she believes does away with human rights, especially during times and within areas of conflict. The law she is protesting by way of a 12-year hunger strike (that’s right, 12 years of being force-fed through a pipe!) is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law that gives troops the right to shoot and kill suspected rebels without due process and or fear of prosecution. Troops are also given wide latitude under the Act to arrest, without a warrant, anyone suspected of being a ‘militant’ and to use broad search and seizure powers — and women’s rights activists have said that the wide latitude of the law allows troops to rape and control women without fear of punishment. Unfortunately, the loss of liberty against which Ms. Chanu is protesting appears remarkably close to the recently leaked Department of Justice white paper that outlined the legality of killing American citizens under nebulous circumstances.

For calling attention to this civil rights issue this activist has been charged with attempting to commit suicide, an action clearly forbidden and punishable by law in India. Ms. Chanu stated that despite her lengthy hunger strike, she has no intention of killing herself because she “loves life” and wants solely to protest the Act in a nonviolent manner — but Ms. Chanu must now prove this in court where the law will focus on her and not that against which she was protesting. The focus is now being taken away from the government’s actions and, instead, will be directed towards her solution. It sounds all too familiar.

India is considered the world’s largest democracy. As is the case for many other nations, India is facing a myriad of issues including but not limited to female infanticide, violence and rights afforded to women.

In many positive areas, the U.S. has much in common with India but, in the area of laws which leave citizens without due process and, therefore, unprotected from their own government, this is one area in which the U.S. should strive to have nothing in common at all.