AFSPA: Politico-legal sanction for impunity?

It is certainly ambiguous and disturbing. Last month, Chief Minister N Biren went on record stating that time has come to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the State because of the prevailing peace, but time has not yet come to lift it totally. And this month, 22nd to be more precise, the State Cabinet held a meeting and resolved to extend the disturbed area status tagged to the State for another year which means the dreaded and infamous AFSPA will continue to haunt the collective psyche of our people for one more year. When the disturbed area status has been already extended by one full year, what is the point of reviewing AFSPA? This is one pertinent question which demands serious introspection. Although the disturbed area status is reviewed periodically, nothing changes on ground for the same notification (of disturbed area) is issued and re-issued after each review. The constitutionality of AFSPA which has its legacy in the British colonial era has been questioned many times at the United Nations and many other international forums but the Government of India sees no fault in enforcing the Act in some selected territories of the country. The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance 1942 from which AFSPA was derived was first promulgated by the British on 15 August 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement. The North East had its first experience of AFSPA when the Naga National Council (NNC) formed a parallel Government called the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) on March 23, 1956. The Government of India responded by promulgating the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 on May 22, 1958. It was replaced by Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on September 11, 1958. Not long after, the territorial scope of the Act expanded to the seven states of the North-East – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. In addition, the words, ‘the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958’ were substituted by ‘Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958’.
Insurgent activities and violence are the two fundamental premises which determine whether a particular area should be categorised as ‘disturbed’ or not. But the very concept of ‘disturbed’ is not something unambiguous, and we fear its fundamental concepts and understandings are twisted and even distorted to suit the State’s interest. In another word, the State has been employing different yard sticks in different parts of the country for invoking the dreaded AFSPA. Lack of consistency and uniformity when it comes to giving sweeping powers to the military smack of racism and discrimination. This is what is informed by the much softer subjective treatment of Naxalism as opposed to the free hand given to the military in Kashmir and the North East. This does not mean people of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other States affected by Naxal violence should suffer equally with the people of Manipur and Kashmir under AFSPA. Our basic argument is why Kashmir and the North East can’t be spared from AFSPA if the same infamous Act is not necessary in tackling the country’s biggest threat (Naxal movement). By restricting the infamous AFSPA to only Kashmir and the North East for a protracted period, the Indian State has drawn a sharp line of division between these two so-called troubled regions from the rest of the country where peace purportedly prevails. It is really disturbing that impunity is given legal and political sanction or institutional support in Manipur and some other areas in the form of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act 1958. The State Government and the Central Government must at least accept that Manipur is no more ‘disturbed’ than the Red Corridor where Maoists militants have unleashed militancy to the maximum. Juxtaposition of the North East and the Red Corridor gives a notion that either AFSPA is sectarian or racist or both.

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