Ever since BJP has won the election with an astounding margin, every Indian has set their eyes on the leaders as what they have to offer to the people. Mr. Modi has always been acknowledged for his primary focus on the developmental issues. And, fortunately his focus does not leave the unstable areas of the country out of the purview that are Kashmir and the North-Eastern region. Special attention has been given to these areas, be it for the return for Kashmiri Pundits or debate over the Article 370 or be it the promise (as mentioned in the BJP manifesto for 2014) for the development of the North-Eastern region.
But, what is appalling here is that there has not been a single mention of the Armed Force Special Power Act (AFSPA). This law has been bothering the people of these regions more than any developmental issues.
AFSPA (1958) confers special powers to the armed forces to respond at will in the “disturbed areas” to maintain law and order. Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area-
(a) If he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of Public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of firearms, ammunition or explosive substances;
(b) If he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made, or any structure used as a training camp for armed volunteers or utilised as a hideout by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence;
(c) Arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognisable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;
(d) Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained or confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises and may for that Purpose use such force as may be necessary. (AFSPA 1958)
And, no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding will be instituted on the forces for their actions in these disturbed areas under the AFSPA. The law is currently active in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In 1990, an amendment bill was passed to include the state of Jammu and Kashmir under its purview.
This act has been implemented to bring stability and peace in these regions, but with the waxing incidents of human rights violations by the armed forces, it further complicated the situation. This contradiction of aim and outcome advances a few questions.
First of all, what is a disturbed area? The ‘disturbed’ area status is given in serious situations to help the civilian administration. So, has the situation always remained dangerous in these areas? No, the states such as Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram remained relatively peaceful for a while, then why the government is still not be able to withdraw the AFSPA. It is a vital question whether a state requires armed forces or not, any longer.
Secondly, are these the only regions that have faced the bloodshed and gory uprising in India? No, states like Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have faced separatist movements as well. After a long struggle, a separate state has been carved out of Andhra Pradesh, called Telegana. But, what is worth noting that Unlike the North-Eastern region and Kashmir, AFSPA was never implemented in Andhra Pradesh.
Thirdly, is the law is permanent or temporary? AFSPA is implemented in these regions till situation remains unstable. During the Khalistan movement, AFSPA was implemented in Punjab in 1983. It was withdrawn after 14 years in 1997 as the government considered the situation was under control and thus, was no need of AFSPA. It took India 14 years to bring peace in Punjab, then why it has failed in these eight other states.
And lastly, has this act been able to bring peace in these disturbed areas? Unfortunately, rather than healing the wounds of the people in these regions, the AFSPA has marked deeper scars with the rise of Human Rights violations by the armed forces. As Armed Forces are the face of India for these excluded and disturbed regions, the grudge against the Indian state has been deepened.
The point is not to question the aim of AFSPA, but the outcome, which is nowhere close to the former. Now, with the new government the hopes of the people have been raised that the next five years might bring a positive change in this issue. And, with this raised hope Irom Sharmila has pleaded the Prime Minister to repeal the AFSPA. Now, it is in the hands of the BJP government, whether it would like to break the silence and come up with an alternative or will it continue with the primitive methods to bring stability to these areas.
About the Author
Loveleena Sharma has completed her graduation in Political Science from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce. And, with her ardent interest in International Relations, is now pursuing her Masters in International Relations from the South Asian University. She is interested in subjects like Foreign Policy, Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, South Asian studies, etc. She has earlier interned at DLSA (Delhi Legal State Authority). She has also volunteered at Amaani, for the education of the underprivileged children. She has an inclination towards theatre, and has performed in various competitions during her graduation. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.