Review and scrap draconian AFSPA from Northeast

Review and scrap draconian AFSPA from Northeast

The Supreme Court ruling on July 8, imposing a curb on the unquestionable and unbridled power of the armed forces of the Union of India under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) must have come as a bolt from the blue for the forces, particularly the Indian Army which has been calling the shots all along.

While we cry hoarse that Pakistan, despite it being a democratic country, is virtually under martial law, our proclivity to ignore the fact that in Jammu and Kashmir and in parts of the Northeast, it is the Indian Army’s diktats that runs large, calls for a rethink. Even the political masters in our country dare not counter the Army’s stand.

Weak political leadership has paved the way for the Army to have its way in stifling the fundamental rights of the citizens of the affected states over a prolonged period – so much so that generations after generations have lived under the shadow of the draconian law.

The helplessness of the political lea-dership was glaringly evident when in 2010, then Union home minister P Chidambaram informed Parliament that an attempt to amend the AFSPA was shot down after the Cabinet Committee on Security faced stiff opposition to the amendment from the three service chiefs – better read as the Indian Army Chief as the other two have hardly any role in maintaining internal security.

Chidambaram voiced his opinion when he himself termed the AFSPA as “an obnoxious” law. Despite his being a powerful home minister in the UPA-II government, he had to bow to the stated opinion of the Army generals.

Are we any better than the Pakistan-kind of democracy if we deprive lakhs of our citizens of their fundamental rights? And that too for decades after decades? Even a low ranking lance naik has the immunity from being tried, if on a suspicion, he kills any civilian in the states where AFSPA is in force. No questions asked.

No sooner the talks with Naga outfit NSCN came to an end on a supposedly
happy note last August, than persistent demand of the denizens of the Northeast began for repeal of the draconian AFSPA.

Draconian, indeed, it is. The Act, which came into force in July 1958 primarily to draw the Naga rebels into submission, has dragged on for well over half a century and has been an irritant for the inhabitants of the region, barring Mizoram, where it was withdrawn in 1980, and in Tripura (it was repealed here in April this year).

If the Indian Army could not bring normalcy to the affected states in 58 years, is the general populace to be blamed? In fact, it reflects poorly on the competence of the Army and the other paramilitary forces that despite all modern weapons and the draconian law on their side, they have not been able to restore law and order in these states.

The 16-year-long hunger strike by Irom Sharmila, an activist of Manipur, that came to an end on August 9, failed to touch the chords of sympathy and concern in the hearts of the powers that be, despite her turning into an international celebrity. Fed on liquid diet through a process known as nasogastric tube, this “iron lady” as she has come to be known, had given up her life of comfort and ease, determined to get the AFSPA repealed.

The mute response from the Centre refl-ects on its little concern and negligent attitude to matters relating to the region. Irom ultimately had to give in and call off the strike albeit amid strong protests and insi-nuations from all her well wishers and supporters who frowned upon her decision.

Serious thought
It is high time that the Centre gave a serious thought to this important democratic right of the people of the Northeast to move ab-out freely in their states without any fear of being confronted by the security personnel who can, if they so decide to, deprive a person of his life and yet go scot-free thereafter. Over 1,500 alleged fake encounters in the last 20 years in Manipur is no small number. Personnel of the security forces who were responsible for fake encounters need to be taken to task after proper investigations.

Before the Supreme Court comes down with a heavy hand and strikes down the
AFSPA, which has played havoc with the people of the region for several decades,
it would be in the fitness of things if the Centre condescends to review the law and repeals it at the earliest.

In Nagaland, it is ironic that despite the peace talks and truce almost declared with the NSCN(IM), AFSPA continues to be imposed in the state. When there has been a cessation of operations by the security forces, it simply defies logic that AFSPA has still not been lifted from the state. That there is an immediate need to review the draconian AFSPA hardly calls for emphasis.

Review and immediate abrogation of AFSPA from the Northeastern states will spell victory for the democratic values that we so proudly espouse at international forums. This, even if it amounts to setting aside the arguments that the Indian Army may put forth in favour of continued imposition of AFSPA in these states.

If para-military forces like the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force can take on the Maoists in the Left wing extremist-affected states without the weapon of AFSPA, the Indian Army, too, that boasts of better training and weaponry, can operate in the insurgency-affected states without this rapacious law. Are the lives of our para-military brethren any less precious than those of our olive green-clad soldiers?

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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