Out To Kill
Increasing cases of human rights violation and declining number of cases has blotted AFSPA’s history, writes Ilona Dam.
It has been more than 58 years since the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was enforced. Since then, the Army has taken on a new meaning in the north-eastern states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Meghalaya with 3,579 human rights violation cases registered over the last three years.
The 1958 Act not only provides immunity from prosecution to the Army but also gives it sweeping power to shoot and kill in the name of law and order. While the government doesn’t intend to withdraw from north-easter states, it has seen a 93 per cent decline in number of cases adjudged over the past three years, according to an IndiaSpend report. With no accountability and increasing number of human rights violation cases, a storm has been churning in the Indian states to repeal AFSPA.
AFSPA, an act that turned the Army against its own people was termed draconian by the 2015 Jeevan Reddy Committee.The Act, which gives blind power to the Army shoot on sight based on suspicion has become a symbol of oppression and stands in violation of one’s fundamental right to life.
Thangjam Manorama was a victim of AFSPA. She was young Manipuri woman who was picked up by the 17th Assam Rifles on allegations of being associated with the People’s Liberation Army in 2004. The brutality of her death and possible rape sparked off a unique protest, Nupi Lan, where 12 Imams, mothers, stripped off their clothes demanding justice.
However, with several loopholes in enacted law, the results are appalling. While 40 human rights cases were addressed in 2012-2013, only one saw the light of the day last year.
Previously, in 1987, the notorious Operation Blue Star had enraged the people of Manipur. In more than 30 villages, people were tortured, raped and killed in fake encounters. And yet there have been no convictions, according to Vivek Chadha’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act: A Debate, 2013.
AFSPA’s ability exempt the Army from any sort of legal punishment adds to the citizens’ horror. “Impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA,” the Justice J.S. Verma Committee noted. In other words, Army personnel aren’t subject to the normal legal redress mechanism of a democracy. A law with the stope to abuse fundamental rights must, hence, be repealed. Nevertheless with such loopholes, despite misuse of power convictionshave become increasingly rare as the Army’s powers don’t come with adequate safeguards.
There have been several protests like the Nupi Lan, where the Imams stripped in front of the Kangla Fort, the then-headquarters of Assam Riffles, shouting, “Indian Army come and rape us all.”Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipurwent on a 17-year-long hunger strike against the AFSPA.
The Army’s defence of AFSPA says that they need an act protecting them in areas which are disturbed. However, some of the army officials have also accepted that often, young officers get “carried away.” A retired senior officer, while speaking to The Telegraph said that it is a patriotic zeal that fuels them. “But there are also chances of getting awards if they kill more terrorists. So it becomes an obsession to kill and that leads to rogue operations,” he added.
Thus, the biggest failure of the Act, which is in urgent need of reconsideration, has been its failure to prosecute cases in the public domain with transparency. The continued employment of AFSPA in its present form will only deepen the divide between the Army and the people that it is supposed to protect, with countless human rights violation cases and no accountability.