AFSPA: An Act to shoot & kill

With least government accountability, armed forces run amok to play havoc with the innocent lives

On July 5, 1990, the then Jammu & Kashmir’s governor Mr. Jagmohan demarcated six districts in Kashmir and a few regions in Jammu division as “disturbed” under the Jammu & Kashmir Disturbed Area Act(DAA). These districts were Budgam, Baramulla, Srinagar, Pulwama, Islamabad and Kupwara of Kashmir along with Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu division.
Under the “disturbed areas” act, the army and paramilitary forces have been granted sweeping powers to arrest, and search without warrants.

Furthermore there was another dread act which was implemented in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1990s namely Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Act also granted excessive powers to the army. Under section (4) of the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Powers Act, 1990, the army and paramilitary forces have the power to shoot to kill. The act states “If it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death against any person who is acting in contravention of law and order.  It also prohibited the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapon or of fire arms, ammunition or explosive substances”.

This is the law which guards the armed forces and allow them to commit heinous crimes, it is clear that they are worst perpetrators of human rights against the people, this carte blanche given to the armed forces only aggravates the sense of insecurity and fear among the civilians in the valley. From cordon operations, crackdowns, arbitrary searches, torture, extrajudicial killings, human shields, fake encounters to daily harassments, armed forces continue their practice with magnanimity. In some cases armed forces have also been found intimidating the people of dire consequences, if they fail to obey the orders given by them. With least government accountability armed forces run amok to play havoc with the innocent lives.

Under the AFSPA ‘a commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the rmed forces may, in a disturbed area,-

… [can] fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or move persons;
>arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion
exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;

>enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained or confined or any property reasonably suspected…’

However there are chances that such an act can be misused and this is what has actually happened and, is still, happening in Kashmir. To illustrate the point here are few examples which can be quoted:

On January 31, 2010, Wamiq Farooq Wani,13, of Chana Mohalla Rainawari was killed when Assistant Sub Inspector of JKP fired a tear smoke shell, while the deceased was strolling. People said there was no stone pelting going in the area however the day proved fatal for him as he lost his life. He was hit by a teargas and was killed in cold blood. The report filled in the court the police dubbed Wamiq as a miscreant who attempted to murder a policeman.

In another gory incident, a teenager Zahid Farooq,16, of Brein Nishat was brutally murdered by BSF personnel and the man who gave the orders to fire was none other than the commanding officer, R.K. Birdi of 68th battalion BSF. As per reports, Birdi ordered his subordinate, Lakhwinder Singh, a constable, to fire at the boys. One of the bullet hits Zahid at the back and he was killed on the spot. The boys were out to play cricket in the nearby ground.

After few months, another incident took place in north Kashmir in Sopore district. Zubair Ahmad Bhatt, a 17 year old student was forcibly drowned into the river Jhelum. The incident took place when CRPF and SOG surrounded few boys on the Hatisha Bridge. The eyewitnesses said that police chased the boys and tried to arrest them as they believe the boys were pelting stones. The boys, out of the fear, jumped into the river from the bridge to save their lives, four among five managed to cross, but Zubair couldn’t as people claimed he was drowned by the paramilitary forces who targeted him with stones and teargas shells. It’s alleged that one of the stone from troops hits Zubair’s head and he was blooding profusely, it was within few minutes he lost his consciousness and was drowned. Commenting on the incident Inspector General of police Kashmir said, ‘this was an accident of drowning and police or CRPF has no role in it.’

As per the Indian legal system, the punishment for the murder is life imprisonment. However the state government can’t prosecute any security personnel under AFSPA. They can be prosecuted only by central government.  The impunity which the security agencies receive only emboldens and encourages them. They know whosoever they killed be it a lad like Wamiq; a man like Kalaf Khan who was supporting a family of ten children or a beggar, who was dubbed by army as oldest militant, they can easily get away. They can kill whom they want.

Kashmir stands witness as how draconian laws like AFSPA can wreck havoc and make people feel insecure and suppressed. Isn’t the purpose of law to control authority?