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Jul 15, 2004-2004


Naked Mothers in Assam Rifle Protest



Women activists supported by various organizations


Assam Rifles, Indian Army


Armed forces should not rape and kill women in the name of supressing insurgency.


Issue and Opposition: Because of insurgents in Manipur, the Indian military is free to apply the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives the military unchecked authority and shoot-to-kill powers in this Indian state. This has resulted in military abuses and corrupt practices in Assam. In 2004, a 32-year-old woman, Manorama, was picked up from her home on insurgency charges, by the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary group under the Indian Army that fights militants, and was brutally raped and murdered. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is oppressive and gives too much power to the military and paramilitary forces (immunity from being held responsible) leading to abuse of these powers and human rights violations. Assam is not the only state that has suffered under this Act. Certain areas in Arunachal Pradesh were declared “disturbed” by the central government without consulting with the Arunachal Pradesh state government first and without explaining the definition of the term “disturbed” in this context. Critics further criticize the Act because of its antiquity. It is an old 1942 law that was passed initially by the British Colonial rulers to control Indian revolutionaries, especially the ones who participated in the Gandhi-backed Quit India Movement in the same year. In its present avatar, AFSPA was enacted in 1958 as a temporary law to maintain law and order in post-independence India. Implemented first in the “disturbed” hilly regions of Nagaland in India’s northeast, AFSPA slowly became instrumental in keeping rebellion, insurgency, and dissent in check in the northeastern border states of India. It was later used against the Punjab separatist forces and the Jammu and Kashmir rebels in the 1990s. After hearing about the human rights abuse cases under AFSPA, the UN Human Rights Commission in 1997, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions in 2006, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2007, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2007 have all called India out and suggested abolition or modification of this Act. According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in an area that is proclaimed as “disturbed”, an officer of the armed forces has powers to do the following: (1) After giving such due warning, Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order; (2) Destroy any arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offense; (3) To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offenses or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest; (4) To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it; (5) Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons; (6) Any person arrested and taken into custody under this act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest; (7) Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit, or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review; (8) Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act from prosecution, suit, or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government, in the exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. The dilemma action described here was aimed at Assam Rifles. However, because the protesters were not clear about the affiliation of the armed forces in Assam, they thought that the oppression and torture were done by the Indian Army.
Dilemma Action: Twelve activists, all of them mothers and grandmothers, stood in front of Assam’s Kangla Fort (Assm Rifle headquarter) and took off their clothes while chanting “Indian Army Rape Us, Kill Us.” Although Manorama was arrested, raped, and killed by the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary troop, the protesters decided to use the words “Indian Army” because common people did not differentiate between different troops deployed to fight militants in Assam and considered all of them as the Indian Army. The incident forced Assam Rifles to vacate the Kangla Fort, and the AFSPA was removed from seven Assembly segments in Imphal. However, the AFSPA continued to remain in the rest of Manipur. This action was part of a larger campaign against AFSPA.
Outcome: Evidence suggests that there are short-run and long-run outcomes of the public disrobing of the mothers. For three months after the protests, troops did not carry out another operation. A month after the protest, Assam withdrew the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, from seven assembly constituencies in Imphal, Assam’s capital city, much to the concern of the central government and the Indian Army. The state government of Assam doubled down on the partial withdrawal because the bad media reports were harming the image of the ruling party and the Chief Minister. In April 2022, India’s central government, taking into account severe criticisms against AFSPA decided to decrease its powers in the Northeastern states of India. Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh are the states in the northeast part of India. Following the government announcement of the withdrawal, AFSPA is now totally abolished from Assam’s 23 districts. The Act is partially abolished from one Assam, seven Nagaland, and six Manipur districts, in addition to parts of Arunachal Pradesh.


Human rights


Protest disrobings



9 / 12

(CONC) Concessions were made

(EREP) Dilemma action got replicated by other movements

(MC) Media Coverage

(MSYMP) Media coverage was sympathetic to the activists

(PS) Dilemma action built sympathy with the public

(PUN) Punishment favored the activists

(REFR) Dilemma action reframed the narrative of the opponent

(RF) Dilemma action reduced fear and/or apathy among the activists

(SA) Dilemma action appealed to a broad segment of the public


1 / 3

Activist group continued working together after the action


Project documentation

Dilemma Actions Coding Guidebook

Case study documentation


CC BY 4.0 Deed, Attribution 4.0 International


Pandey, Geeta. 2017. “What made these grannies go nude in public?,” BBC News. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39179515).

Bhonsle, Anubha. 2016. “‘Indian Army, Rape Us,'” Outlook, February 10. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/indian-army-rape-us/296634).

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/if-you-remember-manipuri-women-only-for-nude-protest-against-army-think-again0436411-2019-01-22. Accessed April 15, 2022.

Ebila, F., & Tripp, A. M. 2017. “Naked transgressions: gendered symbolism in Ugandan land protests,” Politics, Groups, and Identities. Retrieved July 22, 2023.

Sutton, Barbara. 2007. “Naked protest: Memories of bodies and resistance at the world social forum,” Journal of International Women’s Studies. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1390&context=jiws).

Morris, Aldon. 2007. “Review: Naked power and the civil sphere,” The Sociological Quarterly, Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/40220044).

Roy, Esha. 2022. “Explained: Why the decision to withdraw AFSPA from parts of Northeast is significant,” Indian Express, April 7. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/afspa-law-and-the-northeast-nagaland-manipur-assam-7846909/).

Ramachandran, Sudha. 2015. “India’s Controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act:
The Army claims the AFSPA is needed to handle insurgencies. Critics cite many abuses,” The Diplomat, July 2. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://thediplomat.com/2015/07/indias-controversial-armed-forces-special-powers-act/).

Kamboj, Anil 2004. “Manipur and armed forces (special powers) act 1958,” The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://idsa.in/system/files/strategicanalysis_akhamboj_1204.pdf).

Singh, Harinder. 2010. “AFSPA: A Soldier’s Perspective,” The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, July 6. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://idsa.in/idsacomments/AFSPAASoldiersPerspective_hsingh_060710).

Ministry of Home Affairs. 1958. “THE ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT, 1958,” Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/armed_forces_special_powers_act1958.pdf).

Human Rights Watch. 2008. “India: Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act
50th Anniversary of Law Allowing Shoot-to-Kill, Other Serious Abuses,” August 18. Retrieved July 22, 2023. (https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/08/18/india-repeal-armed-forces-special-powers-act).

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