Although flawed by conventional standards of balanced documentary filmmaking, “AFSPA, 1958” has a fury that cannot be dismissed. Comprised almost exclusively of incendiary footage, including acts of self-immolation, the ongoing campaign for self-determination by residents of Indian state Manipur is a frequently horrifying record of extreme civil disobedience. Overlong at 77 minutes, Haobam Paban Kumar’s docu could easily be cut to an hour running time and offered to willing broadcasters.
Indian Union’s easternmost state enjoyed barely two years of post-colonial independence before annexation in 1949. Title stands for Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958, which is blamed for proliferation of deaths and rapes claimed to have been perpetrated by members of security forces. Action chronicled here is the sustained shock wave following the 2004 death of local woman Th. Manorama Devi. The truly startling sight of naked women protesting in daylight outside army HQ with banners reading “Indian Army Rapes Us” is just for starters in a catalog of all-embracing community protest and brutal backlash. While the Indian central government’s case is barely heard, Kumar’s clearly non-embedded camera captures images to jolt even the most hardened viewers.