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Why The Armed Forces Special Powers Act Should Be Lifted From India’s Northeastern Region

12 Nov

By Madhu Chandra 08 November, 2011

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) is a draconian and xenophobic law. It is draconian law because section 4 (a) of the AFSPA gives power to armed forces personnel to shoot at anyone suspicious, section 4 (b) to destroy the shelter of the armed rebels and section 4 (c) to search and arrest without warrant. This means that any army personnel can shoot at anyone suspected to have a gun. The section 6 of the AFSPA protects armed force personnel who carry out such actions from prosecution, suit or legal proceedings unless there is previous sanction from the Central Government.

After theThangjamManoram case in 2004, over 100 Manipuri women protested by stripping themselves naked in front of Kangla Fort Assam Rifle camp in order to challenge this section of the Act. Thereafter, the Central Government of India granted permission to prosecute army personnel involved in raping and killing. However, there is not even a single case where prosecution was carried out against any armed forces personnel under AFSPAwithout somewhat of a public outcry.

AFSPA is a xenophobic law because it is selectively imposed upon seven North East Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura and extended to Jammu and Kashmir, but does not apply to the rest of the country.

There is no need to repeat the debate that AFSPA has failed to solve insurgency challenges; rather, it has only intensified the problem. Not much ideological debateis possible on the subject of why youngsters take up arms. How can we solve the problem without using armed violence? It will be worth focusing on other alternative to solve the five decades old socio-political crisis of North East India region.

The nation observed the 27th anniversary of India’s Prime Minister – Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31. The Ministry of Development for North East Region (DoNER) had an advertisement in The Times of India about the message of development initiated by Indira Gandhi in North East India!

Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi initiated the negotiation between Government of India with Mizoram’s separatist insurgents in 1971. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 before she could present a solution to the problem. Thereafter, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi carried on the negotiations and achieved a solution in 1986.

The chapter of insurgency in Mizoram finally came to an end on June 30, 1986 with the signing of the Mizoram Peace Accord between the underground government of the Mizo National Front and the Government of India. Under the terms of the peace accord, Mizoram was granted statehood in February 1987.

The continuous negotiations and honest initiative from the Central Government of India brought a solution to the insurgencies in Mizoram, which lasted for 25 years from 1961 to 1986.

In dealing with the challenges of insurgency in North East India, could adopting the solutions that the Government of India arrived at with the insurgents of Mizoram be a means of solving insurgency problems in North East India as a whole?

Mizoram’s Problem Solved, AFSPA NOT Lifted

The problem of insurgency in Mizoram came to the end after singing the Mizoram Peace Accord in 1986. Since then Mizoram has been a peaceful state. Mizoram has highest literacy rate in whole of India today and it would have never been possible without solving the insurgency problem. It was not guns but honest, on-the-table negotiations that made this possible.

Interestingly, there was no attempt from the Government of India to lift AFSPA from Mizoram after the end of insurgency! Such a move might have conveyed to the whole region the message that AFSPA is not a permanent law and it will not remain in effect once the states become normal.

Winning people’sconfidence is the need of hour. So the best gesture at this moment could be lifting AFSPA from those states which have returned to normal life.

My Personal Observation

The people of Mizoram have returned to a peaceful life, but they are still under this draconian law. I have recently travelled from Aizwal, the state capital, to Champhai, a small town at Indo-Burma boarder. In all honesty, I did not see a single armed forces personnel except one or two police officers in uniform at check posts. Peaceful life has returned to Mizoram, but the shadow of AFSPA still hangs over the state.

The Mizoram State Assembly must pass a resolution to recommend to the Government of India to lift the AFSPA from entire territory of Mizoram. Once AFSPA isremovedfrom Mizoram, it will send out a message to the region that negotiations initiated by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi led to a permanent and long lasting solution in Mizoram.

Last but not the least, after the fake encounter killings at Imphal on July 23, 2009,Tehelka exposed the dictatorial nature of Manipur police commandos in the state of Manipur. The state kept burning for months; the Central Governmenttook notice, and gave strict orders to law-enforcing agencies to refrain from any form of human rights violation. Since then, the killing has abated in Manipur and AFSPA has been lifted partially from the Great Imphal areas. But it still remains for the Union Home ministry to monitor the situation and consider the sentiment of the people of this peaceful state in favor of lifting the AFSPA from the entire state.

Madhu Chandra is a research scholar and social activist based in New Delhi. He works as Spokesperson of North East Support Centre & Helpline (www.nehelpline.net).

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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