The partial removal has come as a piece of dispiriting news for many and has provoked wide speculations, especially among the tribals. The Chief Minister in speaking to the media has stated that the partial removal is because of National Security reasons as the hill districts share International borders. However, it is to note that Kangpokpi and Senapati Hill Districts, for instance, do not share any international borders.
By Janghaolun Haokip
The recent development concerning the Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958, particularly the partial withdrawal of AFSPA in selected areas has raised concerns of many to reappraise the Act. In Manipur, AFSPA has been withdrawn for a period of six months in fifteen Police Stations of the valley districts, leaving the hill districts to fend for themselves.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 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 feel 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.
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 B.P. Jeevan Reddy observed in his report (pp 74) in 2005, “The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.” 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and the Veerappa Moily Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007, recommended that the Act be repealed, and the Reports of the Justice Verma Committee (2013) and the Justice Hegde Commission (2013) supported the need to address the abuses committed under the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, Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) has reported 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 abuse 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 by 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 like AFSPA is truly sensible for a country with 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 tribals. The Chief Minister in speaking to the media has stated that the partial removal is because of National Security reasons as the hill districts share International borders. However, it is to note that Kangpokpi and Senapati Hill Districts, for instance, do not share any international borders. Subsequently, as some activists state, 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. Spotting of bombs and threats are most common in the valley districts especially in and around the city while such instances are not known or otherwise uncommon in the Hill Districts. In addition, 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.
It is imperative that the government presents ample grounds for its partial withdrawal of AFSPA. The failure is feared to likely worsen the already persisting hill-valley divide as the voices of dissent in the hills grow stronger joined by like-minded individuals and groups in the valley. If the Valley Districts could be given a trial period, the Hill Districts too deserve the same unless otherwise, the government opines the Hills as essentially disturbed which may be a misapprehension and an undermining of the Tribals’ rights, dignity and integrity. One may therefore subsequently respond to the withdrawal as discriminatory, implicit oppression against the tribal populace 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. It 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 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, and 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.
(Janghaolun Haokip is freelancer and theologian)