Biju Janata Dal leader Tathagata Satpathy on Tuesday demanded revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the north-eastern region. He also wanted Manipuri rights activist Irom Sharmila to be awarded the Padma Shri.

“If you sit and analyse the Padma awardees this year, I do not think how she is in any way inferior to any of them. Her sacrifice, her perseverance of 16 years on hunger strike is something… to be admired,” he told the Lok Sabha.

In a spirited speech touching upon the neglect of the region, Mr. Satpathy said it bothered him that with AFSPA “clamped” in the region for over 50 years, the security forces had “killed 50,000-plus civilians.”

“AFPSA has been the biggest deterrent to integration of the youth of the North-East with the rest of India. You have records of what has happened in the last ten years,” said Mr. Satpathy.

Out of sight, out of mind

Holding up the book Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters by Kishalay Bhattacharjee, he said he had read “three or four” books on the region and they had served as an “eye-opener.” Far from Delhi, it was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ as far as this region was concerned.

“It is one of the most beautiful places you have in India. The people are very advanced, very articulate, very sensitive, but extremely poor.” He said the Centre should do more to develop the region. India was “lucky in a way” that the British colonialism added North-Eastern region to its sovereignty. “Yet we are unlucky as well because we have not had the courage, we have not had the vision to appreciate those people.