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Partial Withdrawal of AFSPA: An Appraisal

The insurgents operating in the Hill Districts are under Suspension of Operation (SoO) while the valley-based groups are in constant hostilities with the government. In such a state of affairs, the government is in dire need of a strong rationale to support its actions and inactions.

ByJanghaolun Haokip

Updated 16 May 2022, 3:19 pm

Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)
Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

 

The recent development concerning the Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958, particularly the partial withdrawal of AFSPA in selected areas has raised concerns among many to reappraise the Act. Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced on March 31 the Centre’s decision to AFSPA from certain districts in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. In Manipur, the Draconian Act has been withdrawn for a period of six months in 15 police stations across the valley districts, leaving the hill districts to fend for themselves. While it is commendable that the government has taken a step ahead with the demand for total repeal, the nature of the development is an issue to get to grips with.

As an Act, the Armed Forces Special Power Act came into being in 1958. However, its character is an offshoot of the Rowlatt Act of the then colonial powers that was used to suppress the patriots of India. It gives the armed forces the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, to use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they suspect a person is in contravention of the law. However, the nodus of the Act lies in the immunity of the armed forces against any legal proceedings even in case of wrongful action against civilians.

The Act has several defects as has been stated. In the first place, there is no clear and absolute definition of a disturbed area and is left to arbitration and misinterpretation. The Act simply states that the government may declare any area disturbed if they so deemed fit. For this reason, Justice BP Jeevan Reddy observed in his report (pp 74) in 2005, “The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.”

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Further, the Act gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to the use of force and power even to the extent of “causing of death." For these reasons, the BP Jeevan Reddy Committee, examining it in relation to the Northeast in 2005, and the Veerappa Moily Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007, recommended that the Act be repealed, and the Reports of the Justice Verma Committee (2013) and the Justice Hegde Commission (2013) supported the need to address the abuses committed under the AFSPA and end the effective impunity enjoyed by the security forces.

Resultantly, in Manipur, the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) has reported so far 1,528 cases of extra-judicial killings by the police and security forces, let alone the other states. Other than extra-judicial killings there are hundreds of unaccounted cases of the misuse of force and power against the locals, especially in the Hill Areas. There are instances of rape, of physical and sexual assault, and mental and emotional abuses under the pretext of maintenance of law and order. In its entirety, the Act is in grave contravention of human rights, of the right to life and personal liberty provided under the Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is also in contravention with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International convention on civil and political rights, Convention against torture, UN code of conduct of law enforcement officials, UN body of principles for protection of all persons under any form of detention.

It must therefore evoke a response from all concerned intellectuals and citizens alike on the question of whether an Act such as AFSPA is truly justifiable for a country considered the world's largest democracy. Furthermore, the partial removal has come as a piece of dispiriting news for many and has provoked wide speculations, especially among the tribal communities in the state.

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh while speaking to the media cited national security as the reason for partial removal of the Act, saying the hill districts share international borders. However, it may be noted that hill districts of the state such as Kangpokpi and Senapati, for instance, do not share any international borders. Subsequently, as some activists stated, the government could then be accused of partiality and unequal treatment between the Hills and the Valleys. It might be important as well to note that the hill districts are relatively peaceful as compared to the valley districts.

Reports of bomb explosions and threats are most common in the valley districts, especially in and around the capital city while such instances are not known or otherwise uncommon in the hill districts mostly dominated by Christians. In addition, the several insurgent groups operating in the hill districts are under Suspension of Operation (SoO) while the valley-based groups are in constant hostilities with the government. In such a state of affairs, the government is in dire need of a strong rationale to support its actions and inactions.

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It is imperative that the government presents ample grounds for its partial withdrawal of AFSPA, while repeal of the Act is being demanded. It is feared that the failure of the government to justify its decision likely to worsen the already persisting age-old hill-valley divide as the voices of dissent in the hills grow stronger. They are joined by like-minded individuals and groups in the valley. If the districts in the valley could be given a trial period, the districts in the hills too deserve the same unless otherwise, the government opines the hill areas as essentially disturbed which may be a misapprehension or misleading and an undermining of the tribal peoples' rights, dignity and integrity. One may, therefore, subsequently respond to the withdrawal as discriminatory, implicit oppression against the tribal populace in the state as a whole.

Notwithstanding, albeit the need felt by the government, AFSPA is a threat in its entirety, not just a threat to a particular community but to the nation as a whole. The Act is inhumane and is sabotaging the rights and privileges of an individual as a citizen of the country. To this, some activists even call the enforcement of AFSPA as discriminatory and the labelling of second-class citizenship which is outright deplorable to the core. The issue, therefore, calls for and demands comprehensive deliberation and immediate appeal to the government to repeal the Act. It may be mentioned that renewed calls for repeal of AFSPA came after a botched-up Army operation resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians in the Tiru-Oting area in Mon district of Nagaland on December 4. Vociferous demands from various states in the Northeast to remove AFSPA was made. The people have every right and due responsibility as well, as citizens of the country to collectively fight for the repeal of this Draconian Act, which has done but suppressed and oppressed the people.

(The views expressed are personal)

 

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First published:5 Apr 2022, 8:58 pm

Tags:

Conrad Sangmadisturbed areaArmed Forces Special Powers Actnortheast Indiarepeal AFSPAaFSPA

Janghaolun Haokip

Janghaolun Haokip

Social Activist and General Secretary, International Human Rights Association (IHRA), Manipur

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