A nation known for its democracy in its truest sense, a government which indeed is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ and a country which gives due importance to the liberties of its citizens, it is very difficult to imagine a situation where a mockery of basic human rights is made. Initially introduced in the states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Tripura, The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act popularly known as AFSPA recently triggered off a public debate due to the violence in Kashmir. It is a draconian law which gives unbridled powers to the armed forces which includes the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to “maintain the public order” in a “disturbed area”.
The origin of this law was in 1958 when it was adopted by the Indian Parliament to provide legal support for the army operations against the Naga rebels. The main objective of this Act was to establish a localised form of emergency rule which would come to the aid of the people during distressed times and assist the State Governments which were incapable of maintaining any internal strife. During the 1950s and 1960s, the ASFPA-enabled counterinsurgency operations against the Nagas forced relocation of civilians in camps under close surveillance. Even to this day, the ‘search operations, the starvation periods, the regime of curfew and the loss of identity’ sends a shiver down the spine of those who remember it.
If one goes through the provisions of this act, the realisation of how the statute can wreak havoc on innocent citizens will dawn upon him and the fact that people are actually at the mercy of the armed forces and the government. One of the biggest flaws of this law is that the State can be declared as a “disturbed region” for an indefinite period of time and the armed officer need only be of the opinion that an action needs to be taken in order to maintain peace. The AFSPA also provides immunity to the forces in the sense that no legal proceedings can be carried out against them without the permission of the Central Government. In a country where reports about criminal activities precedes every other news, perpetrators of heinous crimes use this provision as a shield and move about freely in the society under the garb of their uniform. The atrocity performed by the security forces is an example of how humanity is getting lost in the world that we have built and how tainted has our soul actually become.
Three people shot by the Indian army at Machil sector in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir; 110 lives of civilians lost in the whole summer unrest of the year 2010; barbarous acts committed by the army personnel to get rewards and remunerations under ‘anti-militancy operations’ and this is just the beginning of how low the officers have stooped in order to violate their rights. These incidents are not even close to the other merciless deeds that the forces have been involved in. In Kashmir, the officers used their power to carry out search operations while the men were held for identification outside their houses, near mosques or in a common ground. Even the basic safety measure of including a women officer was not followed. Similarly, the misuse of AFSPA in Manipur had prompted Ms. Irom Sharmila to go on a fast against the draconian provisions of the AFSPA.
In a country where the democratic voice of “We the People” echoes in every state and in every city, it seems to be getting suppressed under this tyrannous rule. In a land where women are worshipped as Goddesses, there can be no greater sin than exploiting their morale and dignity. In a nation, where every man sleeps soundly having the security that the army is there for protection, it is an utmost shameful act to break their trust and hope. The AFSPA was established as an indispensable tool to counter insurgency in “disturbed areas”. The entire purpose of this act was to give power in the ‘right hands of the right people’. Who would have thought that it would soon turn into a nightmare in disguise and render people absolutely helpless.
What we need is a change, an impetus to completely transform the society to make it a better place to live in. India should not allow the future to be dominated by violent paradigm such as the continuing use of AFSPA. It is time we give space for ‘Democracy’ and its cherished values to re-emerge stronger than ever before so that we can surpass all the evils that have crept into our motherland and rise above such trivialities to truly become a global leader. Quoting Swami Vivekananda, “Arise, Awake and Stop not until the goal has been reached” is the need of the hour. The duty of ever Indian citizen is to repeal acts like the AFSPA and to make sure that nothing, absolutely nothing comes in our way of climbing the ladders of success.
The author, Jaishree Dudani, is a student of Commerce at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.