Central Reserve Police Force has sought the cover of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) for its men conducting anti-Naxal operations. Even giving a serious thought to such a proposal is fraught with dangers that will have irreparable repercussions. The experience of AFSPA in the seven north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir is a sordid saga of how this law that seeks to give sweeping powers to central security agencies not just brutalizes the society but also erodes much of Indian democracy.
The law allows the armed forces, which by definition of this law includes all central security forces operating in the area, to carry out raids, crackdowns, effect arrests and even kill any person on the slightest of suspicion or in self defence without even informing the police. By virtue of this unbridled freedom and a lack of accountability, offered by the AFSPA, the graph of human rights abuse in these regions is quite high. The armed forces have been getting away with cold blooded murders and cases of torture, even rapes, murders after kidnappings and custodial killings (which by no stretch of imagination can be justified even by any interpretation of the AFSPA). There is absolute denial to hold the guilty men in uniform to task under the pretext of AFSPA – officially, politically and now even by the judiciary, as is evident from the recent apex court ruling in the Pathribal case.
Far from any move to remove this draconian law in the north-east, where it has been the norm for five to six decades, or in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where it is unnecessarily lingering on for more than 2 decades, the government is shy of even diluting some of the provisions of AFSPA. The limited dilution, however, serves no purpose. The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee’s recommendations, five years ago, calling for involvement of police in operations of the armed forces especially in interrogations, have already been analysed by critics of AFSPA as having no potential for offering any relief to the populations affected by this law. Citing the case of shocking rape of Manorama in custody by security forces, activists from Manipur have been arguing that despite safeguards like involving police in interrogation of persons detained by the Army, the provisions had been violated with impunity and without any action against the guilty men in uniform. Making AFSPA less lethal in any way will not end human rights abuse, nor make the legal justice system effective. However, it could be accepted as the first phase of a time bound road map for a complete withdrawal. Yet, the government is not even ready to do that. Even if the political leadership makes the right kind of noises over AFSPA, the move is totally stonewalled by the army, which has maintained that AFSPA continues to be their functional requirement in the conflict areas.
AFSPA should have been dispensed with, owing to its undemocratic character, irrelevant of the security scenario of the given region in which it has been extended. There is nothing that can justify the prolongation of a law that was supposed to be temporary. Neither is there any empirical evidence to show AFSPA’s success in diminishing militancy. Statistics and researches have shown no co-relation between AFSPA and gains in counter insurgency operations. More than five decades of AFSPA in the north-east have only ended up increasing the numbers of militants. And, it is most likely that in the Jammu and Kashmir’s case, where according to official statistics alone, the militants have been reduced to just 300 and that the only threat is of infiltration, the reasons of decline in insurgency may lie elsewhere also. Then why hold the entire state a hostage to a law that is unjust and undemocratic. It is not known why the Indian government feels the need to be armed with a misguided weapon, whose continuance is whipping up anger owing to the pattern of impunity that it encourages even in the face of increasing graph of human rights violations at the hands of security forces? The experiences of both Jammu and Kashmir and north-east add to the country’s informed opinion that once any area of the country is brought under the cover of AFSPA, it is for all times to come and cannot be challenged successfully in the face of stiff resistance from both the political leadership and the security forces.
It remains a permanent blot. The Act which was brought about in 1990 in the Kashmir Valley and militancy hit areas of Jammu and Kashmir was later extended to whole of the state with the enactment of Disturbed Areas Act 1997, though only for a year. However, after it lapsed, it was never ratified and as per a supreme court ruling, no area of the country can be declared disturbed for an indefinite period. Whether or not, the Indian mandarins can manage to challenge this legally or not, the fact remains that the AFSPA is here to stay, unless the government is bold enough to take the much needed initiative.
Eight states of India are already impacted by AFSPA and it has created a severe crisis of absence of civil liberties in these states. The sinister plan to replicate this model in Naxal-affected areas would amount to bringing more than half of the country under this draconian law. The Maoist-Naxalite activities affect at least 80 districts across 9 major states of the country. When laws like AFSPA sneak into some parts of the state, they eventually find their way into the rest of the state, as is evident from the Jammu and Kashmir case. AFSPA in anti-naxal areas would almost turn the country into a partial, if not absolute, state of Emergency. Can a democratic country like India whose very constitution rests on the lofty ideals of human dignity and civil liberties, afford that?