AFSPA: Now end it everywhere

The central government has done well to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Both these states have not seen in the recent past any insurgent activity, which was the reason cited for imposition of this draconian law. It was withdrawn from Tripura in 2015, but continues to be in force in Assam, Nagaland and most of Manipur. These states also have not seen any major violence and unrest for many months. In Assam, the main faction of ULFA and its members have surrendered arms and are in talks with the government. The Naga militant group NSCN(IM) and the central government have signed a draft peace agreement and a ceasefire is in force. The situation in Manipur is also largely peaceful now. So, there is no rationale for continuation of the law in any part of the North-East.

The operation of this law in the North-East in the past decades has hurt the people and the interests of the region. It is a law that gives enormous powers and immunity to the armed forces and its imposition sends out the message that there is no peace and normalcy in the state. The North-East is very backward in development. No industrialist would think of investing in the region if the government itself says it is disturbed. The region could not take advantage of its proximity to South-East Asia because of this. Tourism also did not thrive, though the entire region is a tourists’ paradise. Most importantly, the law deprived the citizens of their basic rights and made them feel powerless. It made them unhappy and resentful and turned many against the Indian State and its agencies. There were too many killings, fake encounters and other atrocities and violations of human rights, including rape, without the perpetrators being held accountable for them. The Supreme Court has said that there is no absolute immunity, but the reality is that it is not possible to dispense justice in most cases.

A law like the AFSPA should have no place in a democracy. Militancy and insurgency declined in the North-Eastern states not because of the operation of AFSPA there. The law had only made the return of peace and normalcy more difficult. This is true of Kashmir also, where the AFSPA is a major element of the government’s strong-arm policy. The law should not only be withdrawn from wherever it is in force but should be scrapped altogether. A law that subverts the rule of law should not be there on the statute book.

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AFSPA: Now end it everywhere

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