AFSPA: Repeal Not Withdrawal, My Dear
IFP Editorial: Years of experience tell us that under the shadow of AFSPA, the armed forces operate with impunity and get away with torture, rapes, killings and fake encounters while prosecution is a mirage.
Updated on 28 Dec 2021, 4:35 am
(Representational Image: Unsplash)
In the backdrop of the Oting massacre and massive upheaval for repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphio Rio met the Union Home Minister Amit Shah along with Deputy CM Y Patton and former CM TR Zeliang leading to the constitution of a panel to look into the demand for repeal of the AFSPA. The panel is to be headed by an additional secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs which includes the Chief Secretary and DGP of Nagaland along with IGAR (North) and CRPF representative. This is but a lame excuse of an agreement or understanding reached between the Nagaland government and Centre with regard to AFSPA. First, one has to understand the difference between ‘repeal’ and ‘withdrawal’ of the Act. Withdrawal means a temporary exercise and it can be brought in any time as whenever the situation warrants according to the authorities, while repeal would mean the end of the Act.
Manipur had never demanded withdrawal but repeal, as was the demand of the Iron Lady Iron Chanu Sharmila. Besides Irom Chanu Sharmila’s 16 year-long lone battle of indefinite hunger strike, the state of Manipur witnessed an unprecedented movement against AFSPA in 2004. On 15 July 2004, 12 Meira Paibi leaders had disrobed in front of the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, the then headquarters of the Assam Rifles protesting against the brutal killing of Manorama Thangjam, a 32-year-old woman. A judicial commission set up to look into the case painted a scathing account of torture that Manorama allegedly suffered in her final hours. The anti-AFSPA movement ignited by the Manorama incident not only led to lifting of the Act from the Greater Imphal area which has seven assembly constituencies, and the formation of Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee.
The Jeevan Reddy committee recommended repealing AFSPA as "the Act is a symbol of hate, oppression, and instrument of high-handedness". It had submitted its report on June 6, 2005. After 10 years, the Government of India rejected the recommendation. The Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Verrappa Moily also recommended repeal of the Act in 2008. Thereafter, the Supreme Court appointed the Justice Santosh Hegde committee to investigate encounter killings in Manipur based on a writ petition filed by the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM in 2012.
While methodically exposing the Act’s failure to tackle insurgency in the state, it had noted in its report that AFSPA was an impediment to achieving peace in regions such as Jammu and Kashmir and the North East. The commission also said the law needs to be reviewed every six months to see whether its implementation is actually necessary in states where it is being enforced. However, these review meetings turned out to be a routine exercise always overwhelmed by security considerations and further extension of the Act. Years of experience tell us that under the shadow of AFSPA, the armed forces operate with impunity and get away with torture, rapes, killings and fake encounters while prosecution is a mirage. Compared to other north-eastern states, Nagaland was most affected by the AFSPA regime where entire villages were razed to the ground. Assam had also witnessed atrocities and several instances of human rights violations.
Even with the Oting incident, the defence lobby is still unrelenting. The defence lobby has been at the forefront of opposing the withdrawal of AFSPA from areas where it is in force and states have always been reluctant to go against the lobby. But then, the Army Chief had openly admitted that law and order situation has greatly improved in NE states, including Manipur.
The Union Home Ministry is of the same opinion. A ministry official said, because of the improvement in the security situation, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has been removed completely from Meghalaya and Tripura and its application has been reduced in Arunachal Pradesh. Overall, the security situation in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura has improved to a satisfactory level.