Time to junk it

Time to junk it


Indian Army soldiers patrol a street. REUTERS

The recent controversy that arose out of the Congress highlighting its promise to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) if it comes to power at the Centre, has created a flutter not just in political circles but also goaded military officers to jump on to the bandwagon of those defending the “draconian” law for its retention in its present state.

No tinkering with it, caution the former Generals and other senior brass in their outpourings in various dailies and periodicals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused the Congress of attempting to weaken the army’s efforts to contain terrorism by revoking or amending the Act. Former Union home minister P Chidambaram clarified that the review of the Act will be limited to the extent that no immunity under the Act will be granted to personnel accused of “enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture”. 

No sooner the Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland –Isaac Muivah (NSCN-IM) came to an end on a supposedly happy note in August 2015, the persistent demand of the denizens of the North East to repeal the draconian Act continues to be a sore point.

The Act, which came into force in July 1958 primarily to compel Naga rebels into submission, has dragged on for well over six decades. While the Act was rescinded in Mizoram in 1986, it was repealed in Tripura in April 2015. 

Perhaps as a sop for having voted them to power, the government  revoked the Afspa from Meghalaya last year and from 12 of the 16 police stations jurisdiction of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam. After the partial withdrawal of Afspa from three districts of Arunachal Pradesh recently, six districts of the state continue to be under the Act. 

Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, who was on hunger strike for 16 long years from November 5, 2000 demanding the repeal of the Act was the voice of the people of the region. Regarded as a goddess, she was credited with the world’s longest hunger strike. 

No sooner she ended her hunger strike, she fell in the eyes of the public like a Leviathan fallen from grace. She was ostracised for extinguishing their only hope of repeal of the Act.

Irked by her decision to enter politics to continue her fight, the people taught her a lesson by not electing her for the Manipur State Assembly. A mere 90 votes came her way. Betrayal by her own people led her to leave the state and settle in the south after marrying her English boyfriend. 

The trigger for her hunger strike was the killing of 10 villagers of Malom in Imphal on November 2, 2000 by Assam Rifles personnel.

About four years later came the killing of a 32-year-old activist Thangjam Manorama Devi by a posse of Assam Rifles – a para-military outfit of the Centre - personnel on July12, 2004 in Bamon Kampu village of East Imphal. She was suspected to be having links with outlawed insurgent outfit of Manipur – the People’s Liberation Army. Her bullet ridden body was recovered the following day.

The entire valley protested demanding the rescinding of the Afspa, with some women going to the extent of stripping in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters right in the heart of Imphal with a huge banner displaying “Indian Army Rape Us”. 

Manipur continues to be under the AFSPA cover. Sporadic incidents of violence like the attack on BSF personnel in May last year should not be a procrastinating factor to repeal the Afspa, which has suffered for too long under the Act. 

In Assam, the situation has vastly improved though spasmodic incidents of violence are reported sometimes. On May 4 last year, an Inspector of Assam Police was killed in an encounter with United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent). Three insurgents were also killed in the encounter. 

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary stated that “Assam is a peaceful state now. There is no reason for further continuance of Afspa in the state”. 

Steady decline in the number of insurgency-related incidents in Assam serves as a pointer to the improving law and order situation. While as many as 437 people including security men and terrorists were killed in 2007, it came down to just 26 in 2017. 

Overall, 2017 saw 308 incidents of violence compared to 1,963 in 2000 in the entire North East region. A 96% decline in the number of casualties over the same period gives an impression that things are looking up for the better.

Sharp decline

A Parliamentary Committee headed by P Chidambaram in its report recently noted that there has been a sharp decline in insurgent attacks in Assam. It has also expressed dismay over the contradictory views of the Centre and the state government.

While the Centre claims vast improvement in the situation, the state’s Sarbananda Sonowal-led government thinks otherwise and has notified the whole state as disturbed.

Though the Citizenship Amendment Bill has plunged the north eastern states in a state of turmoil, in no way does it impact the continuance or repealing of the Afspa. 

In Nagaland, the cease fire agreement that has been in force since 1997 has ensured a peaceful environment. Though the Afspa continues to be in force in the state, the demand for the repeal of the Act has persisted.  

The Centre has assured that the issue of repeal will be taken up during the finalisation of the peace agreement which remained elusive thus far, with no hopes in the near future. 

The Apex Court has 1,528 cases of human rights violations by security forces, some of which on investigation have turned out to be clear cases of fake encounters.  The earlier Afspa is revoked from the whole of north east, better it is.

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)