UAPA arrests, AFSPA and improved law & order
It needs no reminder that Manipur is a very small State and its total population is just a fraction of the total population of bigger States like Uttar Pradesh. Notwithstanding the huge gap in terms of population and territorial size, Manipur does not lag far behind Uttar Pradesh when it comes to arrests made by the State under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Compared to UP’s 361, Manipur made 225 arrests under UAPA in 2020 alone. These figures were tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Home Affairs a few days back. A very confusing picture emerges when one juxtaposes these figures together with the State Government’s oft-repeated claim of improved law and order situation. There is a serious inconsistency, if not total contradiction, between the Government’s claim of improved law and order situation and the fact that Manipur has been ranked third in the whole country in terms of the number of arrest made under UAPA in 2020. Invoking the UAPA 225 times in a year implies that something is not all right with the law and order situation. If the law and order situation has improved remarkably as claimed by the Government, such a large number of arrests made under the UAPA points to abuse of power. Moreover, the Government does not think it appropriate yet to do away with the disturbed area status given to Manipur. Extension of Disturbed Area status has been going on as a routine State affair regularly and periodically for the past many, many years. It needs no reminder that promulgation of Disturbed Area status allows enforcement of the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which gives immunity to the armed forces. 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 situation is rather ironical if one takes into account the oft-repeated claim of the incumbent Government that the State’s law and order situation has improved remarkably since it came to power.
The huge number of arrests made under UAPA and the Government’s unwillingness to do away with the Disturbed Area status indicates that the law and order situation has not yet improved to the desired level. In another word, even if there is peace in the State, it is still quite fragile. 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 colonial rulers on August 15, 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement. 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 yardsticks 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).