In August 1942, The Armed Forces (Special Power) Ordinance was passed and promulgated by the then viceroy and Governor-general Lord Linlithgow to quash the congress, then crusading for the freedom. Again in May 1958, the legislator of both houses of parliament unanimously decided to pass the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act to suppress militants in the north-east, which was to become and known as Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) after two minor amendments when Manipur and Arunachal became a full-fledged Indian states in 1972 and 1986 respectively. And with these amendments, the Act could applied to all the seven states in the north-east of India viz., Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura and the power to declare an area disturbed went to the Governor from state government. The dictions and clauses were seems to be largely borrowed from the Ordinance of 1942 to draft the Act of 1958. In other words, the AFSPA is a replication or distorted version of the Ordinance. And the only difference in the Ordinance and the Act is that the former was passed by the Foreigner to rule an alien country effectively while the later was passed by our own representatives to rule a citizen with iron rod.
Now, what exactly is AFSPA? And what makes this act so special? As a matter of fact, The AFSPA confer immense power, not to mention, impunity to the armed forces as it grants even a non-commissioned officer to shoot to kill any person based on mere suspicion to maintain public order [sic] under the powers of section 4(a). Can we really maintain peace and tranquility in the north-east region or anywhere by killing people? Doesn’t it lead to cycle of violence? The section 4(c) states that the army can arrest anyone without a warrant. Under section 4(d), the army can enter and search without a warrant. And, perhaps, this is when the army gets an opportunity to round-up women and children, and rape them mercilessly in the pretext of searching for unlawful things in the premises. And the section 6 institutes that no legal proceeding can be initiated against any member of the armed forces acting under the AFSPA without prior permission from the Central Government. The case of Manorama Devi, who was allegedly picked up from her house at the dead of night, tortured, raped and killed, evidently manifests that the army is indeed immune from prosecution processes. In section 2, the armed forces were defined as “the military and Air Force of the union so operating”. I would not be surprised if the Navy had also been included as from the Bay of Bengal the disturbed area is within a striking distance. The AFSPA is undeniably special for armed forces in India and exotic, too. And bequeathed especially and exclusively to northeastern states and J&K.
The human rights groups dubbed this Act a tyrannical and draconian act. The people all over in the north-east states are opposing and demanding for the repeal of the Act as it makes an ordinary army an indestructible monster. In July 2004, a dozen of Manipuri elder women took out a nude protest with a banner that boldly says, “Indian Army Rape Us” against security personnel in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters. Pebam Chitaranjan, an adviser of the Manipur students’ Federation of Bishenpur unit, immolated himself on Independence Day (15 august, 2004) citing in a suicide note that “It is better to self-immolate than die at the hands of security forces”. Irom sharmila, recently honoured by South Korea’s prestigious 2007 Gwangju prize for human rights, has been observing hunger strike and protesting against this Act since November, 2000 when security personnel massacred almost a dozen men at Malom, Manipur. Despite all these protestations, the legislators consider it is proper to maintain status quo in the North-east. In November 2004, the central govt. set up five-member committee under the chairmanship of Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, former judge of Supreme Court, to review the Act. He was assisted by Dr. S.B. Nakade, former Vice Chancellor), jurist P. Srivastav, IAS (Retd.), Lt. Gen (Retd.) V.R. Raghavan, former DGMO and Sanjoy Hazarika, journalist. The B.P. Jeevan Reddy committee submitted the report on June 6, 2005. However, this report has never been officially made public. But, unfortunately, a copy of this report was leaked and the gist of the recommendations was later appeared in the print media. The B.P. Jeevan Reddy commission report states that, “keeping in view the material placed before us and the impressions gathered by the committee during the course of its visits and hearings held within and outside the North East states, the committee is of the firm view that: the AFSPA ,1958 should be repealed. Therefore, recommending the continuation of the present Act, with or without amendments, does not arise. The act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars...” Notwithstanding the recommendations made by the five-member commission, the reports were neglected.
It’s almost 50 years since the AFSPA inception. If this legislation was formulated to deal with insurgency, it has failed to deliver the wishful result. On the contrary, proliferation of militancy and amplification of its operation attests the futility of this act. The lawmaker in Delhi seems to be more concern with law and order than the well-being of the people of the northeastern region. They belong to the radical school of thought that favours the AFSPA should remain in force and the armies think it is the answer to the terror hit areas. Ironically, the militants are as active as ever and remained untraced. The armies keep operating their combing operation day in day out. And in this chain of attack and counter attack, it is the civilian who usually bear the full brunt and often killed. The militants forcefully extort money, collect taxes and kidnap the commonalties for ransom while the armies arrest and torture them for aiding the militants. Take, for instance, the case of bomb blast by United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA) near Medo village in Arunachal on April 25, 2007 which killed two security personnel. The Arunachal Times reported that the 82 Mountain Brigade of army retaliated by ransacking many houses and destroyed their household items and accused the villager for sheltering the militants. Furthermore, the security personnel forced the hapless villager to do laborious work without serving them food and water. This is one of the many cases that hold a little importance to the legislators in the Delhi. If terrorism by its definition is the systematic use of violence as a means to intimidate or coerce societies, then the armed forces are not at all different from the militants. Sometimes it occurs as if the militants and armies are jointly working together to harass the common ordinary people.
As of now, a proposal to declare entire Arunachal a disturbed area and bring it under the purview of AFSPA has popped up; the state legislators denied the recommendation though. However, it is hard to believe that any sane person could impose such draconian act on any state unless he is a Nazi or possess a profound hatred for the people of that region. Those of us who live in the expectation of good governance from our government and sincere and honest effort to tackle the militancy, The AFSPA will always give the impression of a legitimate decree to cleanse all the ethnic bit by bit in the North-east states through Armed Forces.