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AFSPA: Lethal in sweeping powers conferred to security forces, glaring in absence of accountability of soldiers

Repeal of AFSPA will help in the emotional integration of the Northeast into the Indian nation and remove the feeling of "otherness" from the mind of the people of the region.

ByRadha Binod Koijam

Updated on 19 Dec 2021, 5:17 pm

Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

 

The International Human Rights Day was observed all over the world on December 10. In India, National Human Rights Commission chairperson Justice Arun Mishra declared at a Human Rights Day event: "There is no room for fake encounters. The government is accountable to its people".

I sat pondering through the day as to how to celebrate the day. Memories of horrifying incidents of violation of Human Rights flooded my mind. I recalled the valiant fight of the brave young woman, Irom Sharmila Devi, fasting 16 long years demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). I remembered how another young woman, Manorama Devi was picked up by the security forces from her home in the wee hours of the morning in July 2004 and was found abandoned dead in a nearby field after a few days with bruises on her thighs and other inner parts.

The furious red face of former Indian Army Chief and Rajya Sabha member General Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) with his decorative long mustache flashed before my eyes when I, in the Roundtable organised by the SAPRA India Foundation on August 26, 2004 at New Delhi to discuss the developments in Manipur in the context of AFSPA, questioned whether AFSPA is the panacea for insurgency, how long can a region and its people be kept under subjugation by military might if the civil society was getting alienated and if POTA could be repealed on grounds that it lacked a human face and was misused in many areas, then can’t the AFSPA, which is draconian and had been grossly misused for almost half a century be repealed or replaced by a better legislation.

The participants of the Roundtable included former Intelligence Bureau official, M.K. Dhar and former DG BSF and member National Security Advisory Board EN Rammohan. I demanded then, ‘Manipur should not be abandoned to the periphery of national consciousness’ and proposed that the government of India should outline a roadmap for lasting peace and development in Manipur.

My mind slowly turned from the turbulent past to the present. My attention then dwelt on the horrendous incident at Oting village of Mon district, Nagaland where on December 4, 2021 the security forces shot unsuspecting civilian coal mine workers and subsequently killed many more civilians using lethal weapons in the repression of the angry public protesting against the highhandedness of the security forces. The killings were clear cases of Human Rights violation. The pain caused by the incidents was deep and hard to bear. The pain and anguish were more unbearable and infuriating when the government of India fabricated excuses of justification for the inhuman acts of its security forces. I was unable to find any appropriate word of condemnation for such an anti-people stance of a democratic government. May the truth prevail.

It was only last month (November) on the 16th that I, accompanied by my nephew Zasivikho Zakiesato, a young upcoming social worker in Dimapur, visited my long time friend Chingwang Konyak, a former minister and a former MP of Nagaland and the present president of the ruling National Democratic People’s Party of Nagaland at his Dimapur home. Chingwang Konyak hails from Mon district of Nagaland.

Immediately after the Oting incident, the chief minister of Nagaland as well as the chief minister of Meghalaya came out demanding for the repeal of AFSPA. I appreciate the two leaders for their courage and political vision. More importantly, I salute their sensitivity to the wishes and aspirations of their people and their high sense of obligation to the people they govern.

Not long after, there followed a great din of demands by various organisations inside and outside the country to repeal the Act. The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations (CSCHR) came out with a strong statement on Oting incident on December 7, 2021 demanding repeal of the Act. The statement was welcomed and supported by the Citizen Committee Manipur of which Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director, Human Rights Alert, Manipur, is the convener. Human Rights Watch, New York joined the chorus with its article on December 8, 2021 under the headline, "India: Army Kills 14 Civilians in Nagaland", with subtitles: "Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act; Prosecute Soldiers Responsible".

The statement of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN(WGHR) on the incidents at Oting under Mon district in Nagaland on December 4-5, 2021 issued on December 12, 2021 expressed solidarity with the coal mine labourers and protesters killed and injured at Oting, Mon district, Nagaland, It stated that despite the historic judgment of the Supreme Court of India in EEVFAM-vs-Union of India, the Government of India is yet to grant prosecution sanction against anyone involved in the extra- judicial killings. ’The repeal of AFSPA will strengthen the spirit of the country’s constitutional democracy’, read the statement

Why the demands for the repeal of AFSPA?

The Act is a short enactment of the Indian Parliament having only seven sections. But, it is lethal in the sweeping powers conferred to the security forces and glaring in the absence of accountability of the soldiers with the immunity provided from prosecution.

The Supreme Court of India had the occasion to look into the provisions of the Act threadbare in a Writ Petition (Criminal) No 129 of  2012 filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM) & anr versus Union of India & anr against the fake encounters perpetrated by the Security Forces in Manipur. Based on the judgment and order of the Supreme Court, I wrote an article, "AFSPA and the law of the land", which was published in the fortnightly, the North East SUN in its September 1-15, 2016 (Vol. xx, No.17) issue. I, for one, strongly feel that it is high time to do away with the draconian law. This will help in the emotional integration of the Northeast into the Indian nation and remove the feeling of OTHERNESS from the mind of the people of the region.

(The views expressed are personal)

Radha Binod Koijam

Radha Binod Koijam

Sr Advocate; Former Manipur Chief Minister; chairperson, Citizen Committee Manipur

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